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Alpine Rabbit Stew

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Gorgeous traditional Italian stewed rabbit in a fragrant sauce. Serve over polenta to forget any winter blues!

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Rabbit is often dry and boring. In my beloved Swiss canton of Ticino as in most Northern Italy, rabbit is stewed with herbs and tomatoes until the meat nearly falls off the bones. It makes a delicious, tender, comforting dish that reminds of woods and mountains and springs.

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The rabbit should come with its head and guts. You can do with a headless heartless rabbit but at the very least get the liver. It is most important in building up the flavor base.

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To make this dish a success you need a good rabbit. Here I used a farm rabbit from the Gruyère, and the flesh is juicy and delicious. Of course you might not have access to such quality rabbit, or just don't like to idea of eating the flesh of such a friendly furry animal. You can definitely substitute the rabbit by a well-fed pampered city cat. Choose one that has led a happy life of leisure- the last thing you want these days is to be accused of animal cruelty.

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Even the finest rabbit needs a proper aromatic base to make an outstanding braisé. Clockwise from the left : onions, celery stick, air-dried bacon, bay leaves, juniper berries, garlic and a large stick of cinammon. Not pictured - finely diced carrot.

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The herbs, thyme, marjoram or oregano and rosemary.

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Here is the mise en place (layout of the ingredient before you start cooking, known as the meeeeez in US kitchen jargon). Clockwise from the left: half a bottle of Ticino red wine, a can of tomatoes, herbs and aromatic garnich, the pot and finally the rabbit cut into large pieces along with a pair of kitchen tongs.

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Gently fry the finely diced bacon with a little butter for about 3-5 minutes or until soft (photo)

 

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Carefully lay the rabbit into the pot so that each piece of meat will lay on the pot bottom. If they don't fit, do this in as many batches as it takes. Add the remaining rabbit pieces and continue to sauté over high heat. This process does not "seal the juices in" or other nonsense. What you are doing is create new flavors through the browning of the meat using the Maillard reaction. If the pot is not hot enough, or you put too much meat or there is too much meat and it gives off its juices, then no browning will occur and all you will have achieved is drying out the meat.

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Salt the rabbit and add a few dried herbs if you have them. Toss and reserve the rabbit in a covered dish.

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Add the aromatic garnish to the bacon. Do not use the herbs at this stage. Fry over medium-high heat, moving constantly.

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Add the chopped rabbit liver and let it color. It will turn from red to grey.

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When the liver has turned in color, add the wine and let it bubble.

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If the alcohol content is high you can even light it with a match and flambé for a moment. When the flame subsides you'll know all alcohol has evaporated and you can move on. Otherwise just smell from time to time and proceed with you can no longer smell any alcohol.

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Add the tomatoes. I am a shameless user of canned tomatoes, but like fresh tomatoes, they come in all kinds. These are slow-food approved San Marzano tomatoes from the slopes of the Vesuvio in Naples, Italy. A fine can indeed.

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Now we add our herbs, possibly tied in a buch to facilitate later removal. Let the rabbit dive in and join his garnish. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce the flame to obtain a very gentle simmering. Let it cook for at least one hour or as long as it takes for the rabbit to be really soft.

 

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Meanwhile let's prepare the polenta, here with commercial coarse polenta. Just bring to a boil 2 liters of water with a tbsp of salt. Add the polenta and mix so that the polenta does not pile up at the bottom.

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You need to have a smooth mixture and in the first 30 minutes of cooking that means you need to vigorously mix it with a kitchen whip or a wooden spoon every couple minutes. Reduce the flame to a low simmer, cover and let it cook for at least one hour.

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When the polenta has turned into a yellow paste that falls off the sides of the pot and is no longer grainy. Remove from the fire, add a large piece of butter and mix it in. Add as much freshly grated Parmesan as you like and mix it in.

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When the rabbit is cooked through, remove all the large spices and herbs. Bay leaves, cinammon stick, peppercorns, juniper berries and herbs. Their job is done.

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You can finish the sauce in 3 ways:

  • Natural style - Just serve the rabbit with the rustic sauce with its chunks of bacon and vegetables. It is quite impressive for the guest as he sees what's inside. You can even leave the cinammon and juniper berries for effect.
  • Sophisticated style - Filter the sauce with a conical sieve (chinois) and emulsify some butter to make it shiny.
  • Rustic - Use a plunging mixer mash to a pulp all the chunks left in the sauce. This is the option I have taken today, the result is quite rustic but the guests no longer see how the sauce was made (photo)

     

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    Serve on a bed of polenta. The rabbit's meat falls off the bones, making this a rich, fragrant Alpine confort food.

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    73 Comments

    • #1
    • Comment by Derek
    I reminisce about rabbit all the time; I haven't had one in years, and this recipe looks great.  My comment is about your suggestion of substituting with a cat.  I've eaten cat in Cuba, and my hometown market has a rule that rabbits be sold with the ears on to prevent people bringing in cats instead.  But until your comment, I've never found anyone seriously mention cat.  If you were joking, you should consider the substitution if you get the chance.
    • #2
    • Comment by Marmoset
    Love the cat comment, made me laugh out loud.I think that I'm definitely going to try this dish out as soon as I've moved into a larger kitchen (ie next week)!!
    • #3
    • Answered by fx
    This is one easy dish to make and if you get the proper rabbit - or cat - you can't fail. Let me know how this works for you!
    • #4
    • Answered by fx
    A joke it was indeed, but somebody I know once served cat to his guests making them believe it was rabbit. Bad taste but great meat or so I'm told!
    • #5
    • Comment by Ure
    The idea of stewing rabbit turns me off. But hey, the cooked meat looks delicious.Sidenote : fx, you are a bit off track on updating your blog
    • #6
    • Comment by Martin
    I actually have a recipe for cat. It comes from 19th century collection of recipes, this one being attributed to the community of beggars of Pressburg (Bratislava). If anyone is interested, I can post it.
    • #7
    • Comment by Derek
    Martin: I'd be interested in both the recipe and the name of the book you found it in.  Sounds interesting.  Thanks!
    • #8
    • Comment by ariun
    #6 MartinLet's see it!
    • #9
    • Comment by M.
    Calvin W. Schwabe gives in Unmentionable Cuisine [ISBN 0813911621] several recipes for cats [& dogs]. Wild cats should be replaced by chicken, domestic cats by rabbit.
    • #10
    • Comment by Macha
    That really does look tasty. I wish I could get my hands on a rabbit! But, I *might* just be able to get half a litter of milk-fed kittens for that other recipe of yours.
    • #11
    • Comment by Martin
    The book is 'Z kuchyne stareho Presporka' but unfortunately it's in Slovak only. It's a collection of original hand-written recipes passed from mother to daughter in 19th century, having a nice pittoresque atmosphere. Here goes my translation of the mentioned one:DACHHAZ (ROOF RABBIT)I've gave some old clothes to Ezerczaky Palne and she in turn brought me a skinned tomcat. When I've tested her ouvre I've decided that I can offer it for a dinner to Mittelhausers, who came for visit that evening. They've liked it very much and asked for a recipe. Even now they prepare "poacher's rabbit" every now and then.Skin and gut a cat. Clean it thoroughly and leave it in heavily salted water whole night to get rid of uncommon smells. On the next day cut it into 6 pieces, dry it, coat it in flour mixed with dried parsley greens, thyme and mint. Use teaspoon of each of thyme and mint, two teaspoons of parsley. Brush a roasting pan with butter, put the pieces of God's creature inside a cover it with 3 onions, cut into chunks or rounds. Clean and wash 0.3 L glass of fresh mushrooms. Cut it into somewhat thicker strips. Make a layer of them over the onion, salt it a bit and sprinkle it using one teaspoon of tarragon vinegar. Peel 1 kg of potatoes, wash them and cut them into rounds half a centimeter thick. Put them over the mushroom in an even manner and salt it slightly. Cover the potatoes with 2-3 millimeter thick strips of smoked bacon (0.1 kg should do). Sprinkle it all with another teaspoon of tarragon vinegar. You can use common vinegar at worst. Put the pan into oven a roast the tomcat. Lower the heat after 15 minutes, cover the dish with another roasting pan and roast it slowly for about 2 hours. To keep the meat tender, pour 0.1 L of whipping cream over it 1/2 hour before it's ready and continue to cook it uncovered so that bacon turns golden and crispy.Comments:1. Term 'mushroom' is locally used for wild forest mushroom rather then champignons.2. Smoked bacon is made by smoking - no boiling is involved. That gives the bacon more intense smoky flavour.
    • #12
    • Comment by Ariun
    Wow, it actually sounds tasty. Thanks. You never know when you'll need a receipe for cat. :)
    • #13
    • Answered by fx
    Ure you ought to try stewing rabbit, it is the only way I know to eat rabbit and not have a dry meat. I am sorry about the update, I was on vacation and will post 3 articles this week to compensate. Thanks.
    • #14
    • Answered by fx
    I have this book, they even have a Swiss recipe for dried dog. The Chinese do dry dogs, why not us Swiss?
    • #15
    • Answered by fx
    Martin this is a highly unusual and intriguing recipe! Thank you so much! I must say that the beggars of Pressburg seem to enjoy a relatively affluent lifestyle if they use tarragon vinegar to prepare their cats. I hope our discussion about cat-eating will not offend cat lovers, I understand that they make lovely pets. But are rabbits any less likeable?
    • #16
    • Answered by fx
    If things go 'Delicatessen' on us we will certainly be able to improve our diet with these fine cat recipes.
    • #17
    • Comment by mauro
    I am puzzled...the pix showing adding salt and herbs, after the rabbit had been sauted, shows that the rabbit has not being sauteed or browned...and the next one shows the bacon and "battuto" not as suteed as one would assume after having had the rabbit sauteed in it. Is this the right sequence of the pixes.While I laughed at the cat jokes I think it only reinforced the quesineess of many....not your intent I hope.Mauro
    • #18
    • Comment by Martin
    Yes, I was quite surprised myself that a dish attributed to beggars has that many various ingredients. However, after giving it a thought, most of them are available for free: Cat (catch it), potatoes & onion (dig it out in a field), mushroom (find it in a forest), thyme & mint (get it on a meadow). That said, we are left with bacon, butter, cream, tarragon vinegar and bacon as ingredients there were not commonly available to beggars, however, note that only a small amount of each is needed. Given, that begging in 19th century was not a gather-coins-in-a-plastic-cup style of begging, rather going around houses and asking for some food, it might have been that there were small amounts of stale ingredients passed to beggars. That may be the explanation IMO.
    • #19
    • Answered by fx
    Mauro I will need to increase by standards to live up to your scrutiny! You are right, my browning was only partial, but the text is what you should follow rather than the picture which is only an imperfect incarnation of a perfect Platonic ideal. Next rabbit I do will be extra browned in memory of your comment. As for the salt it would be best to salt right before sautéeing. About the rabbit-vs-cat I think many people these days are just not so confortable eating meat, let alone seeing the whole animal. Cat or rabbit is not the question, people have both of them as pets. Thanks and keep the scrutiny, this helps me improve and correct my articles!
    • #20
    • Answered by fx
    Fascinating Martin, indeed in the 19th century in Paris there was a whole industry of trafficking in rich people's leftovers, and there was a profession called the Arlequin who would sell you leftovers from his perpetual pot. 'A bit of loster for you my prince, mixed with some frog bones and a piece of chicken - all this for one sou!'. Stray cats (who have gone feral) is, legally speaking at least, fair game in Switzerland. I have never seen or heard of them being killed nor eaten, but you legally could do so in any season.
    • #21
    • Comment by parshu.narayanan
    Pl let me add M2b to the cat trivia. One of my buddies, in the Indian Police Service, briefly trained in an Indian jail, where the standard fare is rice or chapaties ( Indian tortillas) and watery Dal (lentils). They had a bunch of Thai fishermen in, who had been detained for illegally fishing in Indian waters. To his amazement, he found them fortifying their diet with jail cats.The cats unfortunately ran out before their terms did. :-)
    • #22
    • Comment by parshu.narayanan
    If you had been visiting the South India, fx, you could have tried Moyal Kari (rabbit in tamarind chilli sauce) with rice at Ponnuswami's an iconic non-vegetarian restaraunt in Madras (Chennai). your alpine recipe seems awesome, is it available in mainstream swiss restaurants? Just for me of course, The womenfolk in India (except my 2 demoness sisters), are too delicate in general to eat these furry friends.
    • #23
    • Answered by fx
    Parshu, rabbit is rarely served in such a rich fashion in Swiss restaurants. Simple restaurants use low-quality rabbits and expensive ones do not stew their rabbits. I have eaten what looked like cat curry in Munnar but they claim it was duck carcass. I'll look out for this restaurant of yours in Madras next time I'm down there. Thanks for the tip!
    • #24
    • Answered by fx
    Did your friend the policeman get any Thai cat recipes?
    • #25
    • Comment by Derek
    Can you suggest a substitution/alteration for the juniper berries?  I can't get those here in Korea, and I'm not sure what might work differently but just as well.  Thoughts?
    • #26
    • Answered by fx
    Derek, this Alpine Rabbit Stew's spirit is to use the herbs and berries available to the farmers who would cook it. Juniper is widely available in our mountains but a person from Sardegna, for instance, would replace it with myrtle berries. Now I understand that myrtle berries are no easier to find in downtown Seoul. But I am confident there must be many dried berries with a discreet but characteristic taste that can be found in Korea. If not, just omit them and add some whole peppercorns. But tell me Derek, can you find rabbits in Korea? Do the Koreans eat rabbits regulary? How about cats?
    • #27
    • Comment by Derek
    Thanks fx.  I'll have a look around and see what I can find.  There certainly are lots of berries available here; seems it's time for some testing.It wasn't hard to find rabbits here, but I don't think too many people eat them. They're mostly served in restaurants, though I've never seen them on the menu.  I've also heard it's not too difficult to find pigeon, so I may try the pigeon pie you posted a while back, too.  As for cats, no, they don't eat cats.  Dog, yes.  Cat, no.  Dog is tasty, but served fatty.
    • #28
    • Comment by Beatrice
    Derek, I suggest you flame a jigger of gin in the pan before adding the wine.  Gin contains enough juniper berry flavour to make up for your lack of the actual berries!
    • #29
    • Comment by Derek
    Thanks, Beatrice.  That's not a bad idea.  Although, I'm feeling inspired to try some of the dried berries I see all around me, something I've never really done much of.
    • #30
    • Answered by fx
    Derek, if I ever visit Korea I'll be very keen to learn about unusual Korean dishes and ingredients! Pigeon can be prepared in so many different ways, you could also make it into a pasta sauce like my Duck Ragù recipe. Good luck!
    • #31
    • Comment by Catherine
    Your English is excellent and so I almost hesitate to point it out, but the word is "comfort" or "comforting," not "confort" and "conforting." I'm a nonnative English speaker myself, lest you think I'm being a total English elitist. ;)
    • #32
    • Answered by fx
    Catherine, thank you so much, I am much coMforted to see my spelling improved by fellow English learners! Please do not hesitate if you see more in the future and hope to see you back on my blog.
    • #33
    • Comment by David
    Wonderful recipe! I tried it out this past weekend and I was amazed... the rabbit turned out absolutely perfect. I had wild rabbit and I cooked it in a cast iron pot for about 4 hours... wish I had some of the sauce left, I would drink it like wine:) Thanks, and keep up the great work!
    Great rabbit show.Photos unbelievable,Was this a "rabbit" (american cottontail),or since you may be in the alps,is it a hare? I will be doing variable hare (changes to white in winter) hare (when I get him next fall).Would there be any changes for hare-like maybe not use quite as many pine cones as was in my past hare. P.S.Do you know if it could ever be possible to make from scratch, bundnerfleisch, outside of Grison. I ruined a $40 beef top round trying, in coastal Oregon. Definitely not the high Alps.  thanks Don Siranni
    • #35
    • Answered by fx
    David, amazing that you could get wild rabbit, this is not so common around here any more. Where did you find your wild rabbit? If it was a bit tough you can marinate it in red wine with some spices and carrots for a night before cooking. Thanks for visiting!
    • #36
    • Answered by fx
    Don this was indeed rabbit and not hare. If you use hare you might want to marinate it in red wine, vinegar, carrots, onions and spices for a night before using. Do you actually use pine cones to cook hare? Where do you put them? For the meat I used to make some with my uncle Harvey, we would rub it in salt and spices to cure it, then hang it in a meat drying room. Basically it's a room with vents top and bottom for good air circulation. If you have good ventilation and proper curing you should not fail I think. Good luck anyway!
    • #37
    • Comment by David
    I live in midwest of the US, and as such, I know several hunters, and I was given some wild rabbits. I have had them grilled, smoked, and in soups, but I always wanted to have them in a traditional stew. Your recipe was very good. It was a pretty lean rabbit, but after the 4 hours of cooking, it was very nice and tender. Wonderful flavor. I will try marinating overnight the next time, thanks for the tip!
    • #38
    • Answered by fx
    David, how luck you are to get your game directly from a hunter. I would love that! It must be magical to cook such a wild animal and to prepare it from scratch. Good luck with the marination if you try it!
    • #39
    • Comment by Ann
    Your website is evil. I am so hungry now. :)
    • #40
    • Answered by fx
    Ann, is appetite such an evil thing?
    • #41
    • Comment by French girl
    Thanks for this, I live in France where rabbit is in every supermarket. Bugs bunny is on the menu tonight.
    • #42
    • Answered by fx
    French girl, good luck with your French bunny and let me know how it turned out! J'espère qu'il ne te posera pas un lapin!
    • #43
    • Comment by iep
    Made this last night, twas very good but tis even better today!
    • #44
    • Answered by fx
    Iep, well-done with the rabbit!
    • #45
    • Comment by Keith
    A side note, the early editions (as late as the 1960's) of the Joy of Cooking had recipes for woodchuck, racoon, turtle and other traditional American small game.  Unfortunately, the New York publishers edited those recipes out in the most recent edition saying that no one eats those things any longer.  I sent them a note saying not true.  I get questions on small game all the time.  I have eaten Armadillio in Bolivia at a roadside stand.  Our cuisine is becoming, like a lot of things, too homogenized and sterile.  Good on you for the cat alternative!
    • FX's answer→ Keith, this is very interesting, I need to buy an early edition of that book and find myself a fat turtle!

    • #47
    • Comment by Edc
    How much polenta do you mix with 2 liters of water?  Thanks
    • FX's answer→ Edc that would be 500 grams.

    • #49
    • Comment by Nola
    Delicious! I had this in Ticino years ago, and have now relocated to Switzerland (yay!). We bought lapin on the weekend, and I am cooking this as I write. Yum! Thank you for the great recipe, entertaining directions and lovely photos.

    Buon apetito
    • FX's answer→ Hope this worked fine for you guys! Let me know how you liked it.

    • #51
    • Comment by Andr
    This was my first ever attempt to cook the bunny and what a success! Thanks for the recipe.
    • FX's answer→ Glad it worked for you!

    • #53
    • Comment by Dave
    Can't wait to make this dish this weekend...... Are you using the whole bottle of wine for this dish?
    I made a rabbit last night in a similar - but not identical - method.  brown rabbit, add aromatics, cover in liquid, simmer for 1-2 hours.  it was still fairly dry & tough.  i used a larger rabbit, which certainly accounts for most of the resulting texture.  is it simply a situation where the longer you cook it, the more tender the meat becomes?  
    • FX's answer→ It depends a lot on the rabbit, try to get a rabbit that saw the color of the sky for a better meat and improved karma!

    Hello, I've just awakened (before dawn) from a night of restless sleep thinking about Italian rabbit stew (which I've never had) & Googled up your website's alpine recipe. I'm quite impressed by your website's aesthetic design & perfect photography. Thank you for doing it. - Bill Costley, Santa Clara (northern) CA.  
    • FX's answer→ Thanks and good luck with the rabbit. Buy the best rabbit you can, this is not worth making with a battery rabbit.

    • #58
    • Comment by Stephane
    Just came back from hunting and got a nice rabbit here in Massachusetts, the recipe is great !!! and maybe next tie I will try it with my cat instead of the rabbit, she is driving us crazy lately :)
    • FX's answer→ Wild rabbit stew sounds fantastic, I wish I could have tasted your dish!

    "Battery rabbit"??  Nobody wants to eat the Energizer bunny, honey!

    In the US, most rabbits raised for meat have plenty of space in their cages, good care, good food, and no drugs are used in food or medication to promote growth, no hormones are supplemented.

    US rabbit is likely the most simply raised and cleanly ethical meats around. :)  Not to mention very well muscled and extremely tasty. :)
    • #61
    • Comment by korre
    About the turtle eating - i live in Japan and apprentice at a traditional Kaiseki restaurant in Kyoto. Last month (Feb) snapping turtle (suppon) nabe was on the menu, it is part of the old emperor cuisine from Kyoto and much loved by the royals for close to a thousands years! It is supposed to give you stamina and very good for your skin since its full of collagen, very tasty indeed, a taste i cant say resemble anything else. We got the turtles delivered to the restaurants daily in boxes alive, the prep of them was very exotic and interesting indeed.

    PS i love your site and hope to see you take it back!
    I love the cat comment as well, I was just looking on Craigslist and saw they have a multitude of cats for free!  Just a coinsidence;)  Anyway, the recipe looks wonderful and since I raise my own rabbits, I think I may have to try this for a family of 6 that are coming for supper on Saturday.  
    • #63
    • Comment by Richard F. Rebel
    This is an excellent recipe.  I hate to give comments on a recipe I didn't follow exactly, but since I was somewhat close I figured I would.

    I'm watching cholesterol and didn't have bacon I thought would fit this recipe, so I thought that cips, black trumpets, and morels would add a nice woodsy background.  I reconstituted those in warm water.

    I didn't have decent tomatoes so I used diced sun dried tomatoes, same quantity (8 halves).

    I used a decent Chianti and the scant cup of mushroom liquid I had from soaking them instead of the wine you mentioned.

    I didn't have all the herbs that you listed fresh, but between fresh and dried I had them all.  I just made a bouquet de garni with cheese cloth.  Yes, I used the cinnamon and juniper berries too :)

    I did peel, quarter, and rinse well some floury potatoes and threw them on top.

    Instead of simmering on the stove once assembled and brought to temp, I covered and plopped into a 325f degree oven for 2.5 hours as I didn't want to mind it.

    Once done, I removed the potatoes and rabbit to a large serving bowl.  I fished out the bouquet and cinnamon stick and discarded them.

    I used a stick blender on the remaining liquid and veggies (liver bits in there too) and poured over the rabbit and potatoes

    It was served family style with a simple salad of baby arugula and sliced fennel tossed with extra vecchio balsamic vinegar and cold pressed imported olive oil.

    Aside from one guest asking for "shaker cheese" and one using the pepper grinder (who doesn't love pepper), it was wolfed down with abandon, and I personally loved it.  The rabbit was tender, the dish flavorful, and still reminiscent of rabbit (so many rabbit dishes completely overload the senses to the point you have no idea what you are eating).

    BTW, the potatoes absorbed so much of the aroma of the wine and herbs they were delicious even though they sat above the liquid.

    Thank you kindly for inspiring a delicious dinner.
    • #64
    • Comment by Carolynne
    The photos were amazing. Just like being in a cooking lesson. Question- how much polenta to cook ???
    • FX's answer→ I use 200gr of polenta flour for 3 large portions.

    • #66
    • Comment by Linda Bel
    Sounds both delicious and feasible. The cat comment had me laughing aloud and looking closely at my furry baby. But no. That would be wrong.
    • FX's answer→ When cats become too big, they start being afraid of kitchen pots..!

    • #68
    • Comment by Anna
    Hi, thank you for a wonderful recipe. I bought two rabbits, cooked one using a different recipe but it was a failure. Now I am keen to try yours with the second rabbit. Could you please kindly advise if I can use any substitute for rabbit's liver? I cannot especially go to a farm and all our butcher shops sell only cleaned rabbits. Any other liver I can use? Chicken? Ox? Lamb? Veal? Thank you.
    • FX's answer→ Thanks, you could use chicken liver instead, or foie gras, or even leave it out altogether

    Do you add the head to the stew as well, and then actually serve it up?
    • FX's answer→ Well you certainly could, but I don't.

    • #72
    • Comment by Jonny SHenge
    OK it s simmering for the hour now .
    First taste of  flammebed sauce is F******* aAWSOMMMMM.
    More yum later
    JSHenge
    • FX's answer→ Great to hear this worked for you!


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