Rabbit leg civet, rabbit saddle ballotine and fondant potatoes

For my last birthday in September, I got a gift that I appreciated a lot, and when I say a lot, this is a lot! A rabbit!!!

Pet or poultry?

For different reasons, alimentary, cultural, historical... rabbit is by far not as popular in the USA as it is in France, as a food, I mean. To summarize it, rabbit is considered as a pet in the USA and as poultry in France. I should admit that, even in France, this is a meat that is less consumed than in the past. When I was a kid, this was a dish that was frequently on the menu at home. At least once a month. The reason being probably that this was a not expensive meat, easy to find (then), and also very healthy as it is said to be the leanest of all meats. For the record, it is still very healthy.

There was also an historical reason to this popularity. During WWII, when the food restrictions were very severe (it was rationed with a system of food stamp), rabbit was a protein easy to raise in the countryside and even in the cities where people were raising rabbits in theirs cellars. After WWII, people continued to raise them and I remember that, when I was a kid, my grandmother had a population of around a dozen of rabbits in her garage. Those were not pets!

The traditional way to cook them was à la moutarde, where the rabbit was rubbed with mustard and served in a sauce made of the cooking juice, mustard and crème fraîche, hunter (shallots, mushrooms, wine...), with lardons (bacon dices), in civet (a stew with red wine), etc.

I "tapped in those memories" to prepare this rabbit today, cooking it two ways (in civet for the thighs, stuffed in ballotine for the saddle), and serving it with a fondant potato:

Leg civet:

Civet is in fact a term that theoretically applies only to rabbits and hares, which consists in marinating and cooking the rabbit in/with red wine. Well, with a rooster, this would be a coq au vin, or with beef, a boeuf bourguignon, just the proteins and the cooking times change, so to say. 
Here is the recipe:
  • Marinate the four legs (front and hind) for a couple of hours in red wine with herbs, spices, celery, carrots... 
  • Then, let them dry a little while in a strainer before searing them with duck fat in a pan. 
  • When seared on each side, put the legs in an oven dish, cover them with the marinade, complete with some extra wine if need be, and let cook (with a lid or a foil on the dish) for around 40 minutes at 350 F. 
  • Around 10 minutes before the end, add some olives. 
  • When done, I let the civet rest for around 15 minutes while straining a part of the cooking marinade (and keeping the olives), reducing it and enriching it at the end with a tbsp. of mustard (à l'ancienne, i.e. with seeds) and with a tsp. of butter to make a fantastically flavorful sauce.

Stuffed saddle ballotine:

  • With the meat from the ribs and other unused parts of the carcass, make a finely hashed stuffing, mixing it with mushrooms, olives, shallots, spices...
  • Take the saddle, remove the spine bone in the center and some nerves here and there, put it flat on a cling wrap, season it inside and outside
  • Spread the stuffing on the inside, before tightly rolling the whole in a cling wrap.
  • Poach for around 7 minute in near boiling water, before taking it out of the water, carefully removing the cling wrap, enveloping it with duck bacon stripes, and wrapping it again, furthermore tightly, in a foil.
  • Cook it like that for around 10 minutes in a preheated 375 F oven, before letting it rest.
  • Just before serving, unwrap the foil partially and alternatively, and sear the apparent side of duck bacon in a pan till nicely colored and grilled.
I served the whole with a fondant potato, a few sautéed mushrooms (chanterelles, shitake, baby bellas) and the sauce with the olives.

I definitively I love rabbit