I’m once again writing from a plane over the central US. In the “According to Jim”-quality sitcom of my life, the episode where I traveled to Las Vegas for a jewelry trade show would likely end up as an audience favorite. I know earrings go in ears because the word “ear” is right in the product name, but other than that I am pretty clueless. I’ll let you know how this all goes.
A couple of days before Memorial Day weekend, Kristi discovered a block of dark baking chocolate in our cabinet. It was leftover from a monster box of expensive baking items that our downstairs neighbors Hollye and Steve left us when they moved out late last year. H&S were great neighbors and always had ingredients that recipes called for and I didn’t own, and now those spices and ingredients are all in our cabinets. Anyhoo, For some reason when I saw the chocolate my first thought was a Sicilian dish called coniglio al cioccolato that I’d heard of, never seen on a menu, and wanted to try. So that is how on a beautiful Memorial Day, a holiday synonymous with grilling, I ended up cooking a rabbit in dark chocolate on my stove top.
I think I first saw this dish on a food show, likely a Bizarre Foods Italy episode. As I’ve become more of a fan of Mexican mole and other savory chocolate sauces, my interest in cooking this one myself grew. It sounded awesome with the bitterness of chocolate and vinegar balanced with the sweetness of raisins and wine. Plus I had a rabbit in the freezer.
I hadn’t cooked rabbit since a camping trip in 2009 when I roasted one whole over a Hermit Island campfire. That one was decent, but more recently I’ve enjoyed a few chicken fried variations in restaurants and an awesome braised rabbit pasta last week. I knew I would have to break down this rabbit before cooking so I removed it from the package and gave it a good rinse in the sink.
The inside had been cleaned of the lungs and all parts of the digestive tract but still had the heart, liver, and kidneys attached along with some loose fat in the belly. Very easy to remove, and although I hadn’t planned on it, I knew I would end up having to at least sample them.
Back to the rabbit. I watched a couple youtube videos on how to break down a rabbit before getting started. The top result was filmed from about a football field away and was the least helpful thing I’ve ever seen, but the second was a helpful hipster type with good tips.
The front legs come off easily since they are seemingly only connect by muscle. The rear legs were also easy to remove but required a little more work starting with cutting back toward the legs along the ribs. Then folding the rear legs towards the front, snapping the back bone and separating with an easy cut.
After getting the legs off, the final step was separating the ribs from the loin and belly meat (apparently called a backstrap), then cutting each section into two portions. I struggled a bit with what to do with the loin; remove and cook on it’s own or braise it with everything else? No animal loin braises well from my experience, it always ends up a little dry, and some would say that rabbit loin is the best part (though I prefer the rear leg). Anyway, I decided to leave it all intact since I didn’t have ideas on how to cook the loin if it wasn’t going to braise with everything else.
The recipes I referenced all recommend soaking the rabbit for a few hours in white wine, olive oil, and bay leaves. Since I was trying to do this one authentic, I was going by the book with recipes which made me feel like stupid jerkface Brother Tim. Look! I’m cooking what I am reading everybody!!! And now you are reading about me reading and cooking!!!
The rabbit headed into the fridge for a few hours and I moved on to cooking my lunch of rabbit offal. Got started with a tablespoon of butter in a hot sautee pan before adding the seasoned heart, kidneys, and liver.
After a few minutes, I gave the offal a flip and added a pour of white wine to deglaze the pan and cook down for a couple minutes. The heart and kidneys I ate straight out of the pan pretty much. The heart was a little chewy and minerally, not my favorite, but the kidneys were soft and had a nice mild liver-y flavor. Pretty dece. The livers went onto toasted pieces of the only bread I had in the house: Thomas’ English Muffins.
The livers were mild and livery like most other small animal livers. Pretty delicious with the white wine and brown butter sauce over the top. Pretty good lunch.
After a couple hours in the marinade, I heated up a little olive oil in a large pan to brown the rabbit pieces. After removing the bag from the fridge, I shook the excess liquid off of the rabbit pieces, loaded into the hot pan and reserved the leftover marinade. Once all pieces had some good color, I threw chopped onion, carrots, and celery into the pan and cooked until transluscent, then added the rabbit pieces back to the pan.
Once the rabbit was well nestled back in, I added the leftover marinade, bay leaves, a half cup of white wine vinegar, salt, crushed red pepper, and more cloves than I’ve used in any other dish. The lid went on and the pan was left to simmer over low heat for an hour.
When the hour was almost up, I chopped down a few squares of the dark chocolate to make it easier to melt.
The chocolate went into the pan with a half cup of currants (replacing raisins) and a half cup of pine nuts. I also added a few pinches of sugar to combat the lack of it in the chocolate. I was surprised that it immediately melted but I struggled to get it well stirred in without the meat falling apart since it had already braised tender.
Once all ingredients were well combined, the pan was left to simmer for another 30-40 minutes and reduce the sauce a bit. Regardless of how much it reduced, I recognized pretty quickly that this was a lot of sauce for a wittle wabbit.
The other thing I recognized was that I was not being super considerate to my wife by serving her an animal she wasn’t comfortable with in a sauce she wasn’t comfortable with. So, I got going on a mushroom risotto that started with a lot of truffle butter, onions and garlic.
The rabbit was looking and smelling pretty good despite the odd combo of aromas in the kitchen. It was like I was making truffle chicken brownies or something. I wish the sauce had reduced a little bit more, but it looked ready to plate and the rabbit was very tender.
I gave Kristi and I each a rear leg since that was the meatiest piece with the least bones and I took a piece of the backstrap/loin as well. I topped both pieces with a big spoonful of the rich and chunky sauce then piled up some risotto on both plates. Was pretty cool seeing the extremely white pieces of meat once we cut into the dark sauce.
For me, a pretty delicious dinner. The truffle flavor on the risotto wasn’t very strong but you got some nice waves of it here and there. The rabbit was tender and juicy but the normal knock on rabbit is how lean it is and not filling, which the sauce braising liquid more than made up for. The chocolate sauce was very rich and had a lot of flavor from the wine, currants, cloves, and mirepoix plus the combined bitterness of the chocolate and vinegar. The carrots and celery still had a bit of crunch texture that was a good contrast to the soft meat.
Kristi struggled a bit and couldn’t quite get into the flavor of meat and chocolate. I was under the impression she liked Mexican mole but I probably should have asked before I started cooking. She powered through though and ate the whole leg while the rest went to work with me for easily the oddest lunch I’ve ever consumed at my desk.
Next week will involve the grill I’m thinking.