Our garden rabbit made a nice stew. We used a few homemade ingredients to prepare it, though only one of them (other than the rabbit) came from the garden.
Riffing on a recipe from the The River Cottage Meat Book, I started by browning some of my homemade smoked lardo in olive oil, and put that in a slow cooker. Then the jointed rabbit was browned on all sides in the leftover fat, and added to the slow cooker. Next, fat slices of onion were browned in the fat and put in the slow cooker. To all that were added big chunks of peeled carrot, fennel, some bay leaves, kosher salt, white pepper, a bit of honey, thyme from our garden, and two bottles of my husband's hard cider (from our own apples) that had been aging in our cellar for two years. I added just enough water to cover the ingredients. The rabbit that frisked and nibbled in our garden around 8 am was in our cook pot before 9:30 am. The cats got the liver and kidneys.
Since it was so hot on Sunday, I got an extension cord and put the slow cooker on the porch. Because of my concerns about tularemia, I let the stew cook on low heat for a good portion of the day. I don't know that this disease is even a concern in my area, and there were no spots on the liver, but it didn't seem problematic to cook the meat thoroughly. (We also wore latex gloves - a recommended precaution - when butchering the rabbit.)
When the stew was cooked, I strained off the liquid, reduced it in a skillet, finished it with some cream, and added the meat and veg back in to warm again. The reduced sauce brought everything together nicely. If we'd had potatoes, I would have served it with mashed spuds. Instead we had it over pasta (parboiled, of course - handy on such a hot day) with a salad of spinach, fennel, and marinated strawberries. The meaty stew went surprisingly far as a topping for pasta. I think the quantity of vegetables in the stew could easily have been doubled and it wouldn't have felt skimpy on the meat. We found it quite good.
I was pleased to note that I had nary a moral pang about killing and eating this rabbit. I know it ate well, since it was eating from my garden on a regular basis. I also know I gave it plenty of chances to go away. The rabbits around us are utterly brazen. They laugh at the fencing I've used to protect the garden in past years. They are nonchalant about being shooed or chased away. They barely stay six feet ahead of me when I try to run them out of the yard. I can see this working out as a viable alternative to the hassle and effort of raising rabbits for meat. Instead, we can just shoot the wild ones, and protect our garden in the process. There is, after all, neither a limit nor a season to rabbits, though I expect they'd be best in the fall. My husband knows my rule - we don't kill it unless we're prepared to dress it, butcher it and eat it. (I might make an exception for crows though; they're giving me a very hard time with my popcorn plants this year.)
I don't have to figure that there are more rabbits where this one came from. I know it for a fact. Which is good, because it means we'll probably be able to try out the awesome sounding grilled rabbit that Wendy mentioned in the comment section of the previous post. Other cookbooks I own list a few other rabbit recipes I'd like to try out, including curried rabbit and a ragu of rabbit over pappardelle. Maybe wild rabbit will become a fixture of our dinner table. There's an indescribable satisfaction in eating a varmint that tried (to an extent successfully) to eat my garden. May this be the first of many.
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