Chef Emily Peterson of Astor Center in New York City suggests that Rabbit Cacciatore - braised rabbit with tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, herbs, pepper and wine - is one of the best and least intimidating ways to try rabbit for the first time or cook it at home. You can give it a Mexican twist by seasoning with salt, pepper and olive oil and grilling. Shred and load it into a warm corn tortilla, building flavor with red onion, sour cream, pickled jalapenos. Or, make it French by searing, then braising it with bacon, onion, garlic, thyme, parsley, bay leaves, stock and red wine. Add chervil, tarragon or chanterelles if you want.
2 T Unsalted Butter
1/2 cup olive oil
1 rabbit, about 4 1/2 pounds, cut in serving pieces
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
4 oz pancetta, diced
2 medium onions, sliced
1 large carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
4 whole garlic cloves
A bundle of fresh, woody herbs like rosemary, sage, thyme, and bay leaves, tied with butcher string
2 cups Italian red wine like Nero d'Avola
1 cup rabbit stock*
1 rabbit liver*
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup packed flat parsley leaves
3 sage leaves
2 salted anchovy fillets
Melt the butter with the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over high heat. I use my Le Creuset enameled cast iron pot for this. Sprinkle the rabbit with salt and pepper. Add the rabbit pieces to the hot pot and brown the meat on both sides. Tips for browning: Only move the meat once, to flip. Moving too frequently will inhibit the browning process. Also, don't crowd the pan, work in batches if necessary. Remove browned meat to a plate and reserve.
Turn the heat down to medium and add the pancetta. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. To the pot, add the onions, carrot and celery and cook until the vegetables begin to soften, stirring occasionally, for about 4 minutes. Add the four garlic cloves, bundle of herbs and the reserved rabbit. Add the red wine and the stock to just cover the meat. Reduce the heat to just a simmer, cover and cook 1 hour.
Meanwhile, chop together the liver, two garlic cloves, parsley and sage leaves and the anchovies.
After the rabbit has cooked 1 hour, remove the rabbit pieces to a warm serving platter and cover with foil to keep warm. Turn the heat under the pot up to high and stir in the chopped herb-liver mix. Simmer 10 minutes, until the sauce has thickened slightly. Taste and add salt and pepper as necessary.
Spoon the sauce over the rabbit pieces and bring the plate to the table and serve family-style. Excellent side dishes would include roasted potatoes and grilled asparagus. Drink a medium-bodied red wine, like the Nero d'Avola you cooked with.
*Chicken stock and chicken liver can be substituted if rabbit stock and liver aren't readily available.
From Chef Emily Peterson, Astor Center, New York, New York