I’ve been trying to up my meat game lately. I know how that sounds. What I mean is, I’d like to cook proteins other than beef, pork, lamb and chicken. I’d also like to learn how to break down a chicken, but we’ll get to that later. I recruited Space Cadet to help me come up with an interesting dish to cook, initially suggesting duck. I was abruptly shot down and told that we would be cooking rabbit. So we hopped down to Fatted Calf to scope out their meat case, and we we’re very pleased with our findings. We picked out the smallest rabbit and asked the butcher to break it down for us. He happily obliged – because this place is awesome and their staff is really helpful – and suggested that he remove the rib cage so we could use it for a stock. He also packaged up the offals (liver, mostly) for us. You should be able to get your rabbit quartered from your butcher, but if not I’m sure there is a video on YouTube that will teach you. In fact, next time I will attempt myself – after some serious knife sharpening.
Rabbit Ragu (serves 4-6)
- 1 small rabbit (about 2 lbs), quartered with the rib cage removed (reserve for stock, along with offals if available)
- 2 TB vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup flour
- 4 carrots, peeled and diced
- 3 celery stalks, diced
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp Bavarian seasoning
- 2 cups medium-bodied red wine
- 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes with basil
- 1 TB tomato paste
- 4 cups water
- 5 fresh thyme sprigs
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- salt and freshly cracked pepper
- frilly pasta of your choice, or creamy polenta
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving
Preheat the oven to 400. Place the rib cage on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, place flour in a shallow bowl and season with salt and pepper. Heat vegetable oil in a large pot over a medium-high flame. Dredge the rabbit legs and loins in flour and transfer to the pot, searing the meat for 2 minutes on each side or until browned. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
In the same pot, add carrots, celery and onion and season with dried herbs. Cook until softened then add wine, tomatoes and tomato paste. Bring to a boil then add rabbit back to the pot and submerge into the sauce. Lower heat to a simmer and cook, partially covered, for 2 hours. If it needs to thicken up more, remove the cover entirely and continue to cook at a slightly higher heat for another 30 minutes.
For the stock, heat 4 cups of water in a large pot. Add braised rabbit rib cage, offals, thyme sprigs and garlic and bring to a boil. Reduce the stock to a cup and add directly to the sauce. Stir to combine but be careful not to disturb the rabbit meat.
Once sauce is done, remove rabbit meat and place into a bowl one at a time. Using two forks, pull meat off the bone. Place the meat back into the pot and discard the bones. Repeat with all pieces of rabbit, then stir to combine and season to taste.
Boil a large pot of salted water. Add 2 cups of pasta and cook for about 8 minutes. Drain out most of the water, leaving about 1/4 cup in the pot. Transfer pasta back to the pot and add 3-4 cups of sauce. Reserve remaining sauce in a sealed container. Simmer and stir frequently until pasta is fully cooked. Transfer to shallow pasta bowls and top with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Space Cadet and I enjoyed this meal with Galvan Family Cellars 2012 Viejo (also the same wine that went into the sauce). It’s a Solano County red blend of mostly Zinfandel, Syrah, Gamay Noir and Petite Sirah. The wine had a nice complexity with layers of crushed red fruit, baking spice and a strong acidic backbone – the perfect foil for a ragu!
I really enjoyed the ragu and will certainly make it again, although I will hope to be in less of a rush so that I can allow the sauce to cook for longer, building more complexity and flavor. That being said, it was quite delicious as is. Space Cadet agreed, and she’s pretty hard to please.
UPDATE: I used the leftover ragu the following night when I made dinner for another dining companion (who happens to be a chef, so I was pretty nervous about making a meal that was up to his standards). I added 1/2 a cup of water and simmered the ragu partially covered for about 90 minutes. I served it over Parmigiano-Reggiano polenta, which proved to be a much better pairing than the pasta. And my chef friend seemed pleased, even though he did pull out one or two little bunny bones.