Winter. Cold and white this February. We have seen -2F (-19F) several nights, which, for us, is cold, and it’s been sustained. There are days where the high temperature nudged 15 or even 20F ( -9 or even 77C). Even the Chesapeake is frozen in place preventing boats from reaching tiny Tangier Island!
Few clients are entertaining and, with snow on the ground, there is no outdoor gardening. There are only so many seeds you can start in the greenhouse … So… I cook (and I write a little more)
Long simmered dishes call to me on those bleak days – or on those piercingly clear and cold days. When I have rabbit, I generally roast it, but recently, I made a rabbit stew, which just reminded me how good rabbit is. Especially when a little cream is thrown in the sauce… and then something almost magical happens. Because, you see, rabbit does not taste like chicken, it tastes like rabbit! And that’s good.
The dish is white – sorts, off – muted in color is a better description: I used peeled potatoes as well as Hakurei turnips which I had on hand, but any young small turnips will do. Just don’t go for those old shriveled things that have been sitting in the produce bins. Carrots would certainly work, although they would bring sweetness instead of a slight bitterness to the stew – and will also break the whitish color of the stew. But the important point is: don’t get hang up on the specifics of the ingredients! Just make the stew. It will taste great and comforting.
It’s rather soupy stew; if you want it less soupy then decrease the amount of liquid. It’s critical however to use a really good chicken broth, that means homemade. If you decide to decrease the amount of liquid, you may omit the potatoes, add more turnips, and serve the rabbit over grits or rice. Otherwise, pass the bread!
A Winter Rabbit Stew With Mushrooms and Hakurei Turnips
3 Tablespoons homemade lard, butter or oil (more as needed)
1 3-lb rabbit
1 lb of mushrooms, sliced thinly
2 medium onion OR 4 large shallots, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (or ½ t dry)
2 Tablespoons flour
2 Tablespoons vermouth (optional)
2 cups dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock (or rabbit/chicken stock or rabbit stock)
¼ cup Dijon mustard
2 bunches small Hakurei turnips (about 8-10 turnips per bunches)
8 medium waxy potatoes
½ cup heavy cream (optional)
Fresh minced parsley for garnish
Salt & pepper to taste
- Cut up the rabbit in serving pieces. Hank Shaw has perfectly illustrated cutting instructions here. I cut mine similarly, except I leave the ribs in – I don’t mind using my fingers to eat the rib meat. If you do mind, then cut them off and use for stock, as Hank instructs.
- Pat the rabbit pieces dry and season well with salt & pepper.
Melt the lard (or butter) in a large heavy bottom Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown the rabbit pieces without crowding the pan (you may have to work in 2 batches ), cooking until each side is nicely browned, maybe 5 to 7 minutes a side depending on the size of the piece. Remove from pan as they brown and set aside in a bowl.
- Add more fat to pan if needed. Saute the mushrooms on high heat until they shrivel and start giving up liquid – about 8-10 minutes. Stir often to prevent sticking.
- Add the onions/shallots to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to soften, about 5-10 minutes.
- Add the thyme. Sprinkle with flour, mixing it well, and cook for a minute or two. Deglaze the pan with vermouth, then add the wine and stock to the pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Scrape the bottom well to get all of tose lovely stuck bits. Whisk in mustard and cream, then lower heat and return the browned rabbit pieces (and any accumulated liquid) to the pot. Cover, and simmer for about 45 minutes.
- While the rabbit cooks, trim the turnips (save the leaves for braising for another dish, if they are healthy) and halve the larger ones; peel and dice the potatoes (keep them submerged in water until ready to use so they don’t oxidize). Add the turnips and potatoes to the pot, mix gently and simmer another 30 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Adjust seasoning if needed. Add the parsley and cook for another 2 minutes.
- Serve hot with lots of crusty bread to mop up the soupy liquid.