[Sorry, friends. My parents came up for their first visit to Boston and I've been away from the computer. I was almost finished with this post when I realized their plane was landing early and just never got back to it. I think they had a pretty good week... more to follow.]
A while back, I came across a recipe in an Alice Medrich book that used a tiny bit of chocolate in lieu of bacon to add savory depth to coq au vin. At the end of the recipe, she mentions that you can substitute rabbit for lapin au vin.
I ask you: What could possibly be a better dinner for Easter than a chocolate bunny (au vin)?
I worked hard for this dish. It had been raining for three miserable days straight when I biked over to the other side of Cambridge to the only place for fresh rabbit... Mayflower Poultry. The rabbits are dispatched on a nearby farm, but they do come complete with head and organs... I mean, they're butchers and they'll happy remove such things it to order, but I kind of like butchering meat myself -- or in this case, watching closely as JG does it.
I'm streamlining the recipe below. I do think it's best to cook it the day before to allow all of the flavors to meld and to separate the fat out of the broth, but you can certainly do it in a day if you must. You could increase the amount, but it would probably take it into novelty food territory... as it stands the chocolate gives the meal nice earthy undertones without being too much of a departure from a more familiar dish.
Recipe: Chocolate Bunny Ragout,
Lapin au Vin et Chocolat
Adapted heavily from Bittersweet by Alice Medrich
I use a decent amount of oil for browning, but it all gets skimmed off at the end. Do whatever your conscience dictates. If you're comfortable using more pans and tending multiple things at once, you can brown everything concurrently in separate pans, but this can lead to disaster if you're not prepared to flip mushroom caps and rabbit legs at the same time... Actually, let's just say the rabbit should be browned with your undivided attention.
1 bottle fruity red wine (I used 1/2 rioja, 1/2 merlot... party leftovers)
2 carrots, 1/4" sliced
1 large yellow onion, 1/4" slice
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
4 tbs olive oil, divided use
1- 3lb rabbit, head and organs removed, cut into ~12 pieces [here's a good video if you're doing it yourself]
2 tbs flour
1 lb frozen pearl onions, thawed, or fresh and blanched
1 lb mushrooms (preferably cremini, button will work), stems removed and reserved
2 cups water
2 tablespoons cocoa powder (preferably Dutched)
1 lb pasta (preferably whole-wheat egg noodles or gemelli), cooked
1 tbs flat leaf parsley, chopped
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add carrots, onions, mushroom stems, and salt and brown, stirring occasionally, until richly colored, ~7-10 minutes. Deglaze with 1 cup of wine [or a few glugs], scraping the pot bottom to remove any stuck bits, and transfer contents to a large Dutch oven or good-sized stock pot. Cover the pot and place on a back burner of your stove over medium-low heat. [You'll be adding to it as you go.]
Reduce heat to medium and add another tablespoon of oil. Dust rabbit pieces with flour and then add to the skillet [in batches, if necessary] and brown until golden on all sides (don't go too dark or you might make a tough bunny]. As soon as each piece is finished [the legs will take longer than the rib meat] transfer them to the pot with the carrots and onions. Once the skillet is empty, add another cup of wine [a few more glugs] to deglaze the pan again and add that liquid to the pot.
Still at medium heat, add another tablespoon of oil and add mushroom caps in a single layer. Saute on one side until deep golden brown, then flip to the other and continue cooking until 2nd side is browned and mushrooms stop releasing liquid ~5-7 minutes.[The volume should be reduced by about 1/3.] Transfer mushrooms to a large airtight container. [It'll be joined by the pearl onions and rabbit pieces.]
Without deglazing, increase heat to medium-high, add another tablespoon of oil and the pearl onions, and saute, shaking the pan occasionally, until golden brown all over, ~10 minutes. Transfer onions to the airtight container, return the pan to heat, and deglaze with a few more glugs of wine or some of the water if you've run out. Scrape up all the browned bits, and transfer the liquid to the pot. Add any remaining wine and water to the pot. The rabbit should be mostly covered; add a little extra water if it's not. Increase the heat on the pot to medium-high until it comes to the boil, then reduce to a steady simmer.
Cook 50-70 minutes or until meat pulls apart. Transfer meat -- removing any clinging stew vegetables -- to the container with the mushrooms and onions and refrigerate until the meal assembly.
Strain the liquid into a large measuring cup, press the vegetables against the strainer to release as much juice as possible, then discard the solids. You should have ~2 cups of liquid. If you have significantly more, return it to the pan and simmer another 10 minutes or so until reduced further. Return liquid to measuring cup (or fat separator), cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until the meal assembly.
Bring water to a boil and cook pasta.
Meanwhile, pull rabbit meat from the bones in as large of pieces as possible from the body and in similar sizes shreds from the legs. Scrape off the white fat layer from cooking liquid and discard. Transfer liquid to an appropriately-sized pot over medium heat. (It'll be pretty gelatinous from the bones; this is not fat and it'll quickly thin.) Bring to the boil and whisk in cocoa powder. Stir in meat, mushrooms, and pearl onions and simmer until everything is completely heated through. Adjust salt and add black pepper to taste. Serve immediately over warm pasta, garnished with chopped parsley.
[We had Vichy carrots and a fennel-celery salad on the side.]