So we all know the Bugs Bunny episode, right?
Our hasenpfeffer dinner started as a running joke with Josh’s older brother. For years now, I have been telling Matthew that I would make hasenpfeffer for his birthday dinner. Why? Well, mostly because it’s fun to say, and partly because when Matthew discovered that hasenpfeffer was rabbit–and that his mother was dubious about cooking Peter Cottontail–it became all the more of an intriguing meal for him. This year and last, we were intent on actually making the dish, but finding rabbit when you want it isn’t always that easy. It’s not impossible to get rabbit in Atlanta (more on that below), but our full service butcher seemed to have them only in late winter/early spring. By the time Matthew’s birthday would roll around, all of Atlanta’s rabbits would seem to have scampered away. So much for late March Hares.
But this year–success. Or partial success, at least. As the old rabbit recipe saying goes: “First, catch your hare.” Be forewarned: when buying a frozen rabbit, ask from whence your rabbit came–you may, in fact, be purchasing 兔子. When I picked up my rabbit at an intown market with a butcher shop known for its snout-to-tail offerings, I had assumed the rabbit would have been locally sourced. Not quite. Don’t get me wrong–there was nothing wrong with the Chinese import, but given the choice, I would prefer meat that hasn’t traveled from quite literally the other side of the world. The next time I make up rabbit, I will search a little harder (and a little more carefully) and buy local product.
As odd as the name is, hasenpfeffer is not really a very complicated dish to prepare. It does require planning, however, since you will need to marinade your rabbit for a good 48 hours. The recipe below draws off of my 1973 paperback edition of The Joy of Cooking, which also has a nice section on cleaning and preparing squirrel. I’ve modified the marinade considerably, but the simple approach of the Joy of Cooking recipe struck me as the most appealing version I could find.
2 tbs olive oil
2-3 stalks of celery w/tops, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp of whole black peppercorns
1/2 tsp of whole allspice
1/2 tsp of whole cloves
1/2 tsp of black mustard seeds
1-2 cloves garlic
3 bay leaves
2 cups red wine
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
The Rest of the Dish
1 rabbit, around 2-1/2 lbs
2 tbs each of bacon drippings and canola oil
flour, for dredging
1 medium onion, cut in thin slices
1/2 tsp salt
Heat the olive oil in a deep pot. Once hot, add the roughly chopped celery, onion, and carrots. Add the salt and saute until the onions start to sweat, then add the remainder of the marinade ingredients except for the liquid. Saute another 3-4 minutes. Add the wine and the vinegar and heat until the mixture is just under a boil. Lower and simmer for another half hour. Let the mixture cool to room temperature, and then strain into a glass bowl.
Wash (and if necessary, clean) your rabbit and pat dry. Cut up your rabbit into 9 pieces: divide the rear legs at the joints, but keep the front legs intact. Divide the body into three evenly sized pieces. Once your marinade has reached room temperature, submerge the rabbit in the marinade, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for two days (rotate the meat after day one to ensure everything is well marinaded).
After two days soaking in red wine and vinegar, your rabbit will look…well, purple. Not to worry. Things are going to get nice and brown really soon. Remove the rabbit from the marinade and pat dry. Set aside your marinade.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a large, stainless steel frying pan, heat up your bacon drippings and your canola oil. Dredge each rabbit piece in flour, shaking off any excess. When your oil is hot, brown each piece on both sides. You should not crowd the pan, but given the size of a 2-1/2 lb rabbit, you could probably brown all the pieces in one go.
When you are finished browning the meat, remove to a deep casserole dish. Add the sliced onions and about a 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the frying pan. Cook on medium for several minutes, scraping up as much of that lovely, brown goodness as you can. When the onions have started to soften and pick up a good color, add the marinade and raise the heat to high. Deglaze the pan and keep on high until the liquid begins to boil. Leave at a boil for two or three minutes.
Transfer the liquid and the cooked onions to the casserole dish. Cover and cook in the oven for an hour and a half. Serve over dumpling noodles or spaetzle.
After Matthew’s first bite, his comment to me was: “We are definitely having this again next year.” Maybe with a little effort, we can actually have it in the same month as his birthday. No surprise that Josh approved of the dish–or even that little sister liked the little that she tasted. The big surprise: the kids even managed to convert their mom!
And did I mention how low in cholesterol rabbit is? Yes, even cooked in bacon drippings.