As the green shoots of wheat push through the ground, word seems to have spread around the local rabbit population that there’s a free banquet to be eaten every night over on the Wheaton farm. If you drive along our chase any night, they are everywhere – some sit quietly nibbling away, others zig zag suicidally in the car headlights and others just hop away to a find another spot to eat.
Before they get the chance to eat all the crops (estimates vary but six rabbits can graze as much as one sheep) numbers need to be controlled, which is done by using cage traps that are baited with carrots (cut lengthwise, not sliced across). The rabbit follows the trail of carrots into the cage where its weight triggers the mechanism that swings the door down behind it, thus trapping it.
So, what do we do with all these rabbits? Well, wild rabbit is very tasty so we eat some and we give some away. Unfortunately, many people are reluctant to eat rabbit despite the fact that it’s completely free range and lean, which means we end up eating rather a lot of it.
Rabbit Three Ways
I dealt with the last batch of rabbits three different ways. There’s not much meat on the front legs so I used them to make Potted Rabbit (or rillettes) which you can read about here, complete with a photo that explains why there is no good picture of rillettes anywhere, not even on pinterest. We eat the Potted Rabbit like a pate.
The saddles were hot smoked and either eaten cold (they make a good sandwich) or will be used in stews to add another dimension.
I used the back legs to make Preserved Rabbit or rabbit confit. The preserved legs will sit under their layer of fat in the fridge for a couple of weeks, but I put them in the freezer if I’m keeping longer (though old recipe books imply they’ll keep for months). When I want to use them, I put them somewhere warm (the back of the aga usually) until the fat softens enough to lift the legs out. The meat is soft and falls easily from the bone – sometimes too easily, in which case I just pull the bone out. I like to fry the legs in a little of the fat and eat them with green salad. The fat left in the container is very good for toasted sandwiches.
Preserved Rabbit Recipe
50g sea salt
2 bay leaves
Sprig rosemary chopped
4 sprigs of thyme – leaves stripped
1 teaspoon Sichuan pepper
4 rabbit legs
Lard – about 500g
Crush the sea salt, bay, rosemary, thyme and pepper. Take a plastic box that’s big enough to pack the rabbit legs in one layer and put two thirds of the salty mixture in the bottom. Place the rabbit legs on top and then sprinkle over the rest of the salt mixture. Cover and leave in the fridge for 24 hours.
Next day, remove the legs and wipe with a bit of kitchen paper and discard the liquid in the box.
Melt the lard in the saucepan and add the rabbit legs – the legs need to be just covered with fat – and heat until the lard is almost at simmering point. Cover and cook in the oven at 130C for 3 – 4 hours until the legs are meltingly soft.
Lift the legs from the liquid and drain on a wire rack while you strain the herbs and stray bits of meat from the liquid. Leave the liquid to stand a while so that the juices and fat separate; the juices can be used in gravies and stews as you only need the fat to preserve the legs.
I like to pack my rabbit legs in pairs as that’s the amount we use in one go, so hunt out some suitable sized plastic boxes (or wide mouthed jars) and spoon enough fat into the bottom to make a 1cm layer. When that’s set, lay your rabbit legs carefully on top and then completely cover with fat. Each leg needs to be completely encased in fat and not touching the sides or the other leg.
Put the lids on the boxes and store in the fridge.
Some other ways to eat rabbit …
Rabbit Curry, using rabbit instead of chicken. There’s no skin on rabbit so it has a tendency to dry out if not kept well lubricated and curry seems to work particularly well.
Pot-roasted rabbit with rosemary, thyme, sage and lemon – Glenda at Passion Fruit Garden has some recipes for cooking rabbits including this pot roast.
If you only try rabbit one way, I urge you to make a rabbit pie. I use the recipe from my very battered and food spattered copy of Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course (also online here) though I take the meat off the bone before putting it into the pie dish.
I wonder, do you eat rabbit?