Unfortunately rabbit is a not hugely popular dish in the UK, yet across Europe and other parts of the world such as South America, it is widely eaten. Indeed in France and Italy is treated similarly to chicken.
The dish I am describing today works well with both farmed and wild rabbit, although clearly the stronger flavour of the wild rabbit comes through. Wild rabbit can usually be found in butchers from July onwards, beware though that rabbits in excess of 1kg in weight can tend to be a little tough and require longer slower cooking.
1 rabbit (ideally just below 1kg) - please keep the rabbit liver, chop and set aside
60 ml good quality olive oil
5 white onions
6 thick slices smoked streaky bacon, cubed
400g ripe tomatoes, quartered
3 bay leaves
1 decent sized sprig of rosemary
500 ml white wine
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Let's start by jointing the rabbit, although you can always get the butcher to do it for you!However if you prefer to do it yourself, begin by cutting the hind quarters away from the body and separating the legs. Now halve the leg joints. Cut the body (saddle) horizontally through the backbone into two or three portions, stopping at the rib cage. Finally cut lengthways through the breastbone and divide the ribcage section in half.
Now pre-heat the oven to 180 C.
Take a large flameproof casserole dish, add half of the olive oil, bring up to a good heat, not burning though, and brown each of the rabbit pieces. Remove from the dish and set aside.
Now add the remaining oil and cook the sliced onion, and the cubed smoky bacon until nicely caramelised. Place the browned rabbit joints back into the dish and add the tomatoes, bay leaves, rosemary and finally the chopped rabbit liver. Immediately de-glaze the casserole dish with the white wine, season with a little sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, place the lid on and put in the oven.
After 1 hour, remove the dish from the oven, lift the lid (it will smell fantastic) and remove the rabbit portions. Place the lid back on and return the casserole to the oven for a further 20 minutes cooking.
Finally return the rabbit pieces to the casserole and warm through on the stove for a further 10 minutes.
I served this dish with individual portions of lyonnaise salad, that is frisee lettuce, croutons, lardons, a poached quail egg and a dijon mustard dressing - absolutely delicious, there was not a scrap of food left.
For the less adventurous, this dish could be made using chicken thighs rather rabbit meat, but the rabbit wins hands down every time in my book!