Inspired by a comment from Helen at Beyond Salmon on my Braised Beef Short Ribs post, I decided to cook a rabbit for the first time. I followed my usual procedure when venturing into a new ingredient or preparation, researching about a dozen recipes from all sources and then closing the books and leaving the computer and just cooking. By the way, most of the recipes I read included tomatoes, but since I've been on a braised meat jag lately, doing Short Ribs and Lamb Shanks in the last few weeks, and both of those included tomatoes, in the interest of variety I cut the tomato component in this down to a squirt of paste, to deepen the color slightly without giving it so much tomato flavor.
The sauce was excellent (my last-minute impulse to throw in a piece of cinnamon worked particularly well) but the rabbit itself was a bit chewy, I'm sure because it started out frozen. Tana at Small Farms has been urging me (and everyone else) to seek out the small-farm local suppliers, and I'm edging my way closer to doing that, and this is a prime example. I've had tender rabbit in restaurants, and I know that fresh rabbits must be available near me. According to the excellent article in the Times Style Magazine last Sunday ("The Two Portlands"), Maine has "one of the highest percentages of organic farms in the country." (The article is heavy on Fore Street, Duckfat, Browne Trading, Hugo's, Flatbread and Standard Baking Company, all among the best Portland has to offer, so they pretty much hit the high points.)
I served this with the Camargue Red Rice with Almonds, Herbs and Braised Leeks and a salad of baby spinach, red onions, tomatoes and goat cheese, with fresh chives and a simple Dijon vinaigrette. Very nice for a casual Fall supper.
1 rabbit, about 3 lb
2 cups flour
2 tsp salt
1 medium onion, chopped
1 T tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 T fresh rosemary, minced
2 T flatleaf parsley, minced
zest of one lemon
2" cinnamon stick
1-1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
1 cup hearty red wine
1 T cognac
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
hot sauce to taste
Cut the rabbit into 6 pieces and trim, reserving the internal organs. Put the rabbit pieces, flour and salt in a plastic bag and shake well to coat. Lift the rabbit pieces from the bag and discard the bag and remaining flour.
In a heavy ovenproof pan, large enough to eventually hold all the ingredients, brown the rabbit over high heat on all sides, about 4-5 minutes. Remove to a side plate.
In the same pan, sauté the onion slowly in some olive oil on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and rosemary and stir another minute or two. Return the rabbit to the pan and add the parsley, zest, cinnamon, tomato paste, chicken broth, red wine and rabbit organs. Cover and simmer very slowly about an hour.
Remove rabbit to a warmed plate. Remove rabbit organs, mince and return them to the pot. (If desired, for a smoother sauce, scrape the sauce from the pot, deglaze with the cognac and 1/4 C water and scrape all the bits into the sauce, then purée; wipe out any remaining bits in the the pot and return sauce to the pot.) Raise heat, add the cognac (if you didn't choose to purée the sauce) and vinegar, and reduce sauce slightly, stirring. Correct seasoning.
To serve, place a pool if the sauce on a warmed platter and top with the rabbit pieces. Spoon more sauce over the rabbit if desired. Garnish with parsley or rosemary sprigs.