Braised Rabbit and Mushrooms with Champagne Sauce

Serves 4

Rabbit is an under-utilized meat here in America, mainly due to the fact that they’re so cute (“If it can be a pet, it shouldn’t be food”). However, in many ways it’s a better option for meat eaters and for the environment than most other proteins we consume. Nutrient dense, high in protein, and low in fat, rabbit’s extremely healthy,* and furthermore, breeding them can leave an almost non-existent carbon footprint.  

Since it’s not as widely sold here in the United States as in say, Great Britain or Italy, Japan or China, your best bet for finding rabbit meat is at an Asian grocery store, a local family farmer, or even to hunt for it. I’m like enough to always have access to frozen rabbit at our nearby Chinese-run Asian Market. It’s usually sold whole, but breaking it down isn’t much harder than breaking down a whole chicken.

In this recipe, tender braised pieces of rabbit are dressed up in a sauce of mushrooms, champagne, and creme fraiche, brightened up at the end with fresh parsley and basil. It pairs really well with a side of sautéed escarole and cannellini beans.

*If for some reason you were subsisting solely on rabbit meat, its low fat content would actually eventually cause a condition known as “fat hunger,” also called “rabbit starvation.” Since there’s no reason any of us should expect to be eating rabbit and absolutely nothing else, though, this shouldn’t be a concern!

Ingredients:

Olive oil, to coat the pan

1 (3-5 lb) rabbit, broken down into serving pieces, rinsed, and patted dry

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 onion, chopped

1 lb cremini (button mushrooms), sliced, or beech mushrooms, bottoms trimmed and hand-torn into pieces

8 gloves garlic, finely chopped

3 sprigs fresh thyme

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

2 bay leaves

1 cup chicken stock, divided

1 ½ cups champagne, divided, plus more to deglaze

2 TBSP all-purpose flour

1/3 cup heavy cream or creme fraiche

2 TBSP fresh parsley, chopped

1 TBSP fresh basil, chopped

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 200F. Lightly drizzle the bottom of a large cast iron skillet with olive oil over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the rabbit pieces generously with salt and freshly ground pepper, then add half to the pan, pressing to get a good sear and browning well on all sides. Remove to a plate and set aside; deglaze the pan with a generous splash of champagne, add a little more olive oil, and sear the rest of the rabbit, adding it to the plate as you finish browning it.

Deglaze the pan again with another splash of champagne, then turn the heat down to medium and add some more olive oil to the skillet. Stir in the onion and mushrooms. Sauté until the onion is softened and semi-translucent, and the mushrooms have begun to release their liquid (about 10 minutes). Sprinkle with a bit more salt and pepper. Add the garlic, thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves; cook for another 30 seconds or so, until the aromatics are fragrant.

Place the rabbit pieces back in the pan on top of the mushrooms and pour in half the chicken stock and half the champagne. Cover the skillet with an oven-safe lid and move the skillet into the oven. Cook for about 2 hours, or until the flesh is tender and its juices run clear when cut against the bone.

Turn off the oven. Remove the rabbit pieces to a clean plate, cover lightly with aluminum, and place back in the oven to stay warm. Discard the thyme and rosemary sprigs.

Replace the skillet with mushrooms and liquids on a burner over medium high heat and sprinkle with the flour. Cook for two minutes, then whisk in the the remaining chicken stock and champagne a little bit at a time, until all the liquid has been added. Turn the heat to medium and cook down, stirring occasionally, until a fairly thick gravy has formed and any lumps have been whisked out (about 15 minutes). Turn the heat to low and stir in the heavy cream, parsley, and basil. Taste and add more salt and pepper, as desired.

Serve the rabbit immediately, generously smothered with the mushrooms and champagne sauce. 

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