I cooked rabbits.
I know, I know, But before you say "But eating bunnies is so cruel! Wook at their widdle faces!" I'll just say this-
Yes, bunnies are really cute, but then so are pigs, chickens, pheasants, lambs, cows and even prawns. The rabbits I cooked were wild and so as free-range as you can get. They're a fabulous source of lean protein and super cheap, at a mere £2.50 each from a game supplier at my favourite local farmers market.
I'll admit that for many years I couldn't conceive of eating bunny, as I'd had them as pets growing up but I would much rather that than cook any of the millions of factory-farmed animals that never see the light of day or live any kind of natural life.
*Give me a second to climb down from my soap box....*
I've only cooked rabbit a handful of times before, having tried Jamie Oliver's Essex Fried Rabbit once with tough, dry results and a few casseroles and stews with marginally better texture and flavour.
The problem with rabbit is similar to those we all experience with many game birds in that if the whole rabbit is cooked in the same way, you end up with at least one tough and chewy component.
The legs benefit from long, slow cooking much the same way that duck legs do, while the loin turns to dry, splintery nastiness when given anything more than a quick flash in the pan or oven.
I bought Flopsy and Mopsy home without any real idea of what I wanted to do with them, but I knew it had to be something different from my previous attempts and that if the result wasn't satisfactory, I would probably leave bunnies alone from here on out. I thought about it for a few days and decided to give the rabbits a little bit of a Chinese treatment, slow 'red' cooking the legs and then giving the loin a quick stir-fry with some carrot (of course!) and cashew nuts. Simple right? You'd think so....
Wow, look! I somehow ended up back on my soap box!
So I felt pretty guilty while washing residual fur from my rabbits and really didn't think I'd be able to eat them, especially cooked Chinese style. I told myself that I was being silly and that these rabbits had had happy, hoppy lives and had been dispatched in a humane way and that I couldn't stop cooking Chinese food just because of a horrible video. I forged ahead and I'm glad that I did, because the result was by FAR my best rabbit result to date. If you do cook rabbit, I would definitely give this a try. If your childhood memories of Peter or the Velveteen Rabbits are still too fresh, then skip this post and stick around for the completely animal-free one coming tomorrow.
If you dig on swine, the red cooking is traditionally done with pork belly and is seriously out of this world.
serves 4, takes 2 1/2 hours (only 20 mins or so work)
4 each front and back rabbit legs (either wild or free-range)
2cm piece of ginger, sliced approximately 2mm (1/8") thick
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tbsp caster or granulated sugar
3 tbsp ground nut, canola or sunflower oil
3 star anise
3 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
3 tbsp light soy sauce
500ml (1 pint) chicken stock (home made or good quality bought)
It's best to leave the meat on the bone, but if you have family members who whine when you leave bones in messy meat dishes (as I do) you can remove them. It may also be necessary to cut the legs into pieces to make it easier to remove any buckshot. Leave the meat on the bones of the front legs.
In a hot sautee pan or wok, heat the oil over a med-high heat and add the sugar, stirring for a minute until the sugar has melted. Add the rabbit pieces to the oil and stir-fry for a few minutes in the sugary oil until you have a nice, brown colour all over. Add the remaining ingredients to the pan, bring it to a simmer, then cover the pan, lower the heat and let it cook for about two hours, checking now and then to make sure there's still liquid in the pan. When the two hours is up, remove the lid and turn up the heat to allow the remaining liquid to reduce into a thick, syrupy sauce.
serves 4 (as part of the 2-part dish) takes 20minutes
4 rabbit loins (from two rabbits) silverskin removed
1/2 cup raw cashews
8-10 small Chantenay carrots, topped and quartered
1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns, crushed
3 spring onions (scallions) sliced about 2" long
2cm (3/4") piece of ginger, julienned
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp preserved black beans
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp Szechuan rice wine
1 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp corn flour
2 tbsp ground nut or other flavourless oil
Slice the rabbit loin into 1 inch pieces.
Mix together the soy sauce, rice wine, vinegar, black beans, peppercorns and corn flour together in a bowl and add the pieces of rabbit loin, set aside to marinade while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
Heat a wok or frying pan over a high heat until smoking, then add the oil. Toss in the garlic and ginger, stir-frying for a few seconds until fragrant but not brown. Add the marinated rabbit pieces to the pan, leaving the marinade behind and stir-fry for a minute or so, until beginning to brown on the surface all over.
Add the cashews, stir those in and then add the scallions and carrot, stir-frying for a further minute-90 seconds. (if you prefer your carrot soft, add it before the cashews) Add a couple tbsp of water to the marinade and pour this into the pan, cooking for another minute until the sauce has thickened and coats all the ingredients well.
Serve both rabbit dishes on either side of a pile of plain boiled rice with some extra sliced spring onion.