For my Basque Stage Candidate Post I decided to do my take on a traditional Portuguese dish, Coelho Bravo À Caςador, or Wild Rabbit Hunter Style. I’ve taken elements from my grandmother’s and mother’s recipes, a recipe found in my 1977 Portuguese cookbook (left), and from my own classic French training. The recipe requires a bit of time and effort, but it’s totally worth it, I promise!
One thing I never compromise is the quality of the ingredients, especially the star of the dish; the rabbit. So I purchased my rabbits from a small butcher or “Galinheiro” in my area in Newark, NJ. Galinheiro is the Portuguese term for hen-house. They are very common in Portugal. There, if you don’t already own your own chickens, you go down to your local Galinheiro, choose the chicken you like and they slaughter and butcher it on the spot. I did the same: picked two rabbits from the pen and ten minutes later they were ready for the pot. To tell you the truth it’s not the most fun experience because they’re awfully cute, but you can’t beat the quality. Shorty’s Poultry Market truly is a gem in this city.
Now that I have my rabbits, first thing I want to do is remove the organs, excess fat, and silver skin. Next, they must be quartered. That means separating the front and back legs, the belly meat, and the loins. If you are not familiar with butchering rabbits you can ask your butcher to quarter it for you, but make sure you keep the bones as well. Season the meat pieces with coarse salt and put them in a shallow dish with white wine*, minced garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, and fennel seeds. Give it a quick mix with your hands to make sure the ingredients are well combined and let the rabbit marinade in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, but overnight is best.
With a cleaver, chop the bones into small pieces. Season them with salt and give them a light coating of vegetable or canola oil. Put them in the oven at 425°F until they are dark golden brown. This coloring is the result of the Maillard reaction which is responsible for that unctuous flavor of meats cooked at a high temperature and will give the stew that same unctuous quality.
Once the rabbit has finished marinating, strain the marinade and reserve the liquid. Add white wine to the reserved liquid as needed so that you have two full cups. Dry the rabbit meat well. Coat the bottom of a dutch oven with extra virgin olive oil and turn the heat to high. Once the oil is very hot, add the rabbit meat in one layer. Turn the heat down to medium high heat and brown the meat on all sides. Do this in batches if you can’t fit all the meat in one layer. Once the meat has browned, remove it from the pan, deglaze with some of the white wine and scrape the bottom of the pan to pick up the “sucs” or as I like to call it, the good stuff. Reserve that liquid.
Coat the dutch oven with extra virgin olive oil. Add the slab of bacon and the aromatic vegetables, season with salt and pepper and caramelize. Add the tomato paste and cook for two minutes, stirring. Add the tomatoes. Sift the flour over the vegetables and cook another two minutes to cook out the raw flour taste. This is a French technique called “singer” and is just one of many ways to help thicken the stew. Next, add the white wine and reserved sucs liquid. Reduce by half. Add the chicken stock**and veal stock*** mixture, tomatoes, rabbit meat and roasted rabbit bones.
Add the bouquet garni. Make a sachet by placing the BG ingredients in cheesecloth and tying it with twine. Bring the stew to a boil and reduce to a low simmer. Cover with a parchment paper lid (click for how-to) and pan lid. Cook on low heat for 1 1/2 hours. Check on it from time to time to make sure it’s not boiling. Low and slow is key!
Meanwhile prepare the garniture. Cut the mushrooms in half, or quarters for larger mushrooms. Saute in butter until golden brown. Season with salt and pepper and reserve. Cook the pearl onions “glacé à brun”. This is a French technique in which the onions are cooked in a small pan with water, a pinch of salt and sugar, a pat of butter, covered with a parchment paper lid, and cooked until the water has evaporated and the onions are tender and caramelized. Reserve. Cut your bread of choice into the desired shape, toast them in a pan with some butter until golden brown. Reserve.
Once the stew is finished and the meat is fall off the bone tender, remove the rabbit and bacon slab from the pan. Strain the liquid, pushing for total extraction, degrease and return to the pan. Reduce the liquid until it reaches the desired consistency. Allow the rabbit to cool slightly so it can be handled. In the meantime, cut the bacon slab into lardons (narrow strips) and cook in a bit of oil until crispy. Separate the rabbit meat and discard the bones. Once the sauce has thickened nicely add the shredded meat, onions, mushrooms and bacon lardons to reheat. Add one tablespoon of parsley and squeeze in some lemon juice. The acidity from the lemon juice will brighten up the stew. Taste and adjust seasoning. Dip one end of the toasted bread in the stew liquid then dip into remaining chopped parsley for a nice garnish. Serve the stew with a side of your choice. I can’t think of anything better than creamy mashed potatoes, but rice or boiled potatoes work too.
This recipe serves about 4. Remember, the left overs will taste even better the next day!
*Red wine can also be used for a deeper color and more robust flavor.
**Homemade chicken stock is best.
***Veal stock gives the stew a robust quality, but it can be hard to find. You can substitute it for another cup of chicken stock instead.