Friday, August 15, 2014

Wabbit Season!

Fricassee. Not just for cartoons.
My favorite Warner Brothers cartoons are the three known as the “hunting trilogy.” Each of the three[1] has the same basic premise: Elmer Fudd goes off hunting, while Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck try to convince him that the other is in season.
“Duck season!”
“Rabbit season!”
“Duck season!”
“Rabbit season!”
It’s already been duck season at my house (in the sense of cooking duck), so rabbit season couldn’t be far behind. It’s wabbit season!

Rabbit should be the cheap meat that you buy when the budget won’t stretch to chicken[2] and you’re not quite ready to pare all the way down to red beans and rice. Rabbits eat grass, not valuable grain. But, since few people eat rabbit (and they’re probably not congenial to be raised in massive pens, there’s no massive economies of scale pushing the price down for rabbit. That stuff makes organic pasture-raised chicken look cheap in comparison. (If I look around, I might find a more economically priced purveyor of rabbit.) Still, I had to cook some rabbit.

For a recipe, I turned to La Cuisine, since I didn’t want a meal that would leave me utterly frazzled. I didn’t even peek into Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I’m sure Julia Child had fascinating observations to make about rabbit, but I I wanted to keep things fairly simple, so that meant Françoise Bernard.

La Cuisine has several rabbit recipes, and I settled on “sautéed rabbit with aromatic vegetables” (lapin sauté). But what to cook with it? I thought of haricots verts, but forgot to buy any. I bought some leeks, decided they didn’t fit with the dinner I wanted, so I made carrots, purely for the camp value, and sautéd some radishes in butter, since I knew the pink would look nice on the plate, and the flavors would compliment things nicely.[3] And then you get the starch question.

Pommes sautées. Yum
After much thinking (and even contemplating Julia Child’s recipe for garlic mashed potatoes), I decided to stick with Françoise Bernard and go for pommes sautées. I’m going to cut to the chase here: I liked the rabbit, but I found the potatoes addictive. And why not? I think pommes sautées are the ancestor of the potato chip.

It’s funny to think that 150 years ago, potato chips were haute cuisine. I noted recently that an article on the 1910 Universala Kongresso made the claim that a congress attendee ordered “Saratoga chips” at a Washington restaurant. Do we all know the story?
The (Traditional) Potato Chip Story
The tale (which may even be true) was that a guest (who may have been Cornelius Vanderbuilt) at a Saratoga Springs resort complained that the potatoes were too thick, soggy, and undersalted. So the chef cut the potatoes as thin as possible and fried them until they were crisp, and loaded them with salt.

The “Saratoga chip” became a sensation. All the wealthy people wanted these with their meals, and then they became an item for people of simpler means to munch on.
In the defense of the traditional story (of which the last part is certainly true), ketchup used to come to table in fancy restaurants in silver sauce bowls. Actually, I would be fine with a fancy restaurant serving me house-made ketchup as the sauce for a meat. In my house, the only ketchup we have on hand is cranberry ketchup, which I put up in the fall.[4]

But we were talking about pommes sautées, or maybe rabbit. Okay, rabbit.

The rabbit had just come in to the store that day. I got it home, stashed it in the fridge, and ran a few more errands. I should have left it on the counter. A hour later, when I took it out of the fridge, it was still icy. An hour after that, it was still icy. I managed to get the thing unfurled, extracted the livers,[5] and managed to cut the thing into pieces. Then it sat for a bit while I prepped a few more things.

Specifically the potatoes. Oh, what a wonder they were. Bernard calls for these to be parboiled in salted water first, so I took the added step of sending the potatoes, once peeled and cut, into heavily salted water. This washed off a lot of the surface starch. The quick boil did too (bring to a boil, kill the heat, drain, pat dry). They’re an excellent do-ahead item, since you can parboil them and then get on with other things.

Rabbit in the pot.
Rabbit pieces browned in olive oil[6], then set aside while some pearl onions were browned in the oil. Then it all went together with a bay leaf and some thyme, and a little… Here, Madame Bernard called for two tablespoons of water. I blame the translator, though I cannot see how a word can quite obviously say “vermouth” and the translator react as if it said “eau.” How do you mix those two words up? Yeah, I threw in some vermouth. It’s what Julia would have done.

Julia also would have called this a fricassee, which came up in one of the cartoons as a way of preparing Bugs Bunny. Put things in the pot, cover it, and do other things. The “other things” were preparing the side dishes: the carrots, the radishes, and the potatoes. The pommes sautées were incredible. I ate way too many of them.

I patted the potato slices dry and they went into a skillet with a bit of olive oil. James took over on them, shaking them, tossing them, salting them.[7] I think he enjoyed this. I certainly enjoyed the result. They turned out golden and delicious, improving upon roasted potatoes in terms of having a clean edge to them (that is, they didn’t stick together or get all messy with potato starch in the pan). They looked pretty and tasted good. And they’re easy to make. What more can you ask for?

Odd but delicious.
Finally, we reduced the sauce and thickened it with a beurre manié (we do that a lot). Once it was ready, we poured it over the rabbit. Then it was time to plate up and eat. Rabbit, due the expense, is not going to become a frequent item on my table. Those pommes sautées certainly will. I can already see them paired with a bœuf bourgingon or a coq au vin.

What to drink? We had an aged Chardonnay on hand. This is the less usual way of making a Chardonnay. The wines are made to age a bit and are served just below room temperate, as you would a red wine. It was delicious and a perfect accompaniment, though it's always odd to be drinking a brown wine.

You can follow my blog on Twitter (@impofthediverse) or on Facebook.

  1. These are the three:
    • Rabbit Fire (1951)
    • Rabbit Seasoning (1952)
    • Duck! Rabbit! Duck! (1953)
  2. Which had a long history of being expensive, hence the promise of "a chicken in every pot."  ↩
  3. And a thought occurred to my only as I was writing this, that radishes formed part of the diet of Peter Cottontail in the Beatrix Potter story. Lettuce, green beans, and radishes, but no carrots. Was it because Farmer MacGregor didn’t grow carrots, or did Peter not like them?  ↩
  4. Mark Bittman recently wrote that no one uses only homemade ketchup. I do. I once made deviled eggs for a brunch. I made the mayonnaise. People ate them with amazing speed. I grew up on homemade mayonnaise.  ↩
  5. Bernard notes in a recipe for stuffed rabbit that sometimes the rabbit comes with no liver, and as that recipe calls for two livers, she noted that other livers could be substituted. Sort of ironic that, given the recipe I chose didn’t call for livers, that I got two.  ↩
  6. She calls (as Julia would) for butter, or butter and olive oil. Except for the radishes and carrots, I kept away from butter.  ↩
  7. I told you these were the ancestors of potato chips.  ↩

You can follow my blog on Twitter (@impofthediverse) or on Facebook. If you like this post, share it with your friends. If you have a comment just for me, e-mail me at
This blog runs solely on ego! Follow this blog! Comment on this post! Let me know that you want to read more of it!

1 comment:

  1. I remember that my grandmother would serve coniglio every now and then when I was a boy, and it seemed as if you could find it in the markets more regularly years ago. Now it’s a rarity—and as you have correctly noted, pricey, too (but still delicious). The pommes sautées sound divine. :-)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...