I’ve been at my current place of work for almost eight months. During that time, I’ve established myself as a food-oriented person, as I tend to do wherever I go. Mostly because I love to talk about food, and I love hearing other people talk about food. However, with cooking itself, it’s sometimes best to let actions (or flavors) speak for themselves.
When I first met my coworkers several months back, a chili cook-off appeared out of nowhere, maybe a week after I arrived. I completely missed it. I vowed to never miss a potluck at work again, and I wouldn’t hesitate to make something awesome. At some point, another event came along, and I stole my old catering chef’s recipe for onion & goat cheese tarts. Those went over quite well, but that’s a creation for another day. I’m here to talk about the potluck last week.
Allow me to establish that potlucks are awesome. I enjoy cooking and being cooked for – potlucks offer the best of both worlds. In this case, the theme was foods that begin with the letter “R.” So, Rice. Risotto. Radishes. Roasted anything. Romaine. Rabbit. That last one was mine.
I had to make rabbit. I got some odd reactions when I mentioned it…
“Rabbit? You’re kidding.”
“Nope, not kidding. Totally making rabbit.”
“Where will you get it? How will you cook it? What the hell are you thinking?”
This post will cover my answers to all three of those questions.
Just like any specialty meat, the best place to get it is the place where specialty foods are king: the Pike Place Market. For my readers outside of Seattle, ask around at any somewhat high-end market. Look around in the freezer section, too – some markets have a rabbit or two in the frozen meat aisle. Pike Place was amazing, however – ask for rabbit, you get a rabbit. No questions asked. They even cut it up for me, saving quite a bit of manual labor.
Cooking was another question entirely. For inspiration for this dish, I looked to Gordon Ramsay’s Rabbit Fricassee – since this would be many of my co-workers’ first experience with rabbit, filling the dish with bacon and cream seemed like a pretty solid choice. Also, if any culture can cook rabbit, or any small game-meat for that matter, it’s definitely the British.
The dish itself was pretty simple. A fricassee is just small chunks of sauteed meat braised with a white sauce. The hard part was tackling the rabbit. I’m glad the butcher gave me a head start, because these things are tough to get a knife through. I followed Chef Ramsay’s lead and only took a knife to the center piece, separating the loin and belly flap from the outer bones. Everything else could be poached, and separated easily from the bones after some long, slow cooking. I covered the legs and ribs with chicken stock, along with a bit of parsley, bay leaf and black pepper. I poached these for an hour, set aside some of the stock, and let them cool. In the meantime I sauteed the loins, liver and kidneys in a pan until golden brown and cooked through. Once cool, I pulled the poached meat right off the bone – no painful butchering required.
Once the meat was cooked, off the bone and in bite-size pieces, the dish was a very simple process, again following Chef Ramsay’s lead: cook bacon and shallots together in a pan until nice and brown, then add some quartered mushrooms. Once these were cooked, I started on the sauce – I added white wine to deglaze and reduce by half, then chicken stock to reduce by half, then some cream to reduce until thickened. I finished the sauce with mustard, rosemary, thyme and parsley, and finally combined all of it with the rabbit chunks to complete the fricassee.
This was a great dish for a potluck, and not just because it was a bacon-filled crowd-pleaser. I did everything the night before – All I did after this was put it in the fridge. In the morning, I transferred it to a crock pot and gently reheated it before the potluck. I finished the whole thing off with some egg noodles I had cooked that morning.
I like pushing the envelope and challenging expectations about food. Even if it’s just in a small way – making a classic dish with a kind of meat someone may not have had before – being a little playful and adventurous with food is part of what makes cooking so much fun. Call it risky to take this kind of experimentation to a potluck, but I don’t regret a thing. Also, foods that begin with “R”? I took the low-hanging fruit, as far as I’m concerned.
That being said, the dish went over very well! The only thing I took home was an empty crock pot. Rabbit is easy to dress up – the flavor is basically a more interesting chicken. Lean, delicate, and ever so slightly gamey. I was even bold enough to throw the liver and kidneys in the pan, which, amazingly enough, got some good reviews. My coworkers are refreshingly open-minded about food; now I can’t decide if I should use that as an excuse to do something even crazier next time.