You needn’t starve working on an orchard. Leaving aside the veritable fruit salad growing on the trees, the orchard serves as home to all manner of edible flora and fauna: wild blackberries, mushrooms, puha, watercress; eel, duck, peacock (use the feathers to enhance the appearance of a hat!), sheep (make sure they’re yours), cattle (they have to be on your side of the fence), hare and rabbit.
Rabbit is an under-appreciated meat in this country. It is, unfortunately, abundant and easily accessible. Rabbit cooks well and lends itself to rich, bold sauces. Young rabbit isn’t particularly strong in flavour, almost resembling factory-reared chicken; older rabbit is much more flavoursome while not being overly gamey.
With spring having sprung, rabbits are plentiful. The beasts are also looking rather plump too, and not having eaten rabbit in a long time, it seemed the perfect opportunity to reacquaint myself with the taste.
Kerry, being the resident hunter and firearms expert, agreed to take me out hunting. Armed with a .22 rifle, it was into the station wagon - being nice and low, it made it easy to spot rabbits under the apple trees (stealth however was sacrificed for comfort). We set off, two men engaged in the age-old struggle of man versus
We saw a lot of hares but no rabbits. Night would have been a more ideal time for hunting as they are nocturnal (er, rabbits are actually crepuscular - most active around dusk and dawn) but I wanted photos. Two hours later, Kerry bagged a couple and it was back to the house for skinning. This is best done outside as the smell can be quite musky.
Removing the pelt is relatively easy. With the rabbit lying on a flat surface, pinch the skin on its underside and carefully insert your blade there, cutting to create a slit. Put the knife aside and insert your fingers, separating the skin from the rabbit. Go all the way around the rabbit (see below). Now tear or cut the skin so it is separate from the head.
Grasping the loosened edges of skin, pull down until the front legs are free.
Continue pulling down until the back legs are free.
To remove the organs and digestive tract, carefully insert the knife at the base of the stomach and slowly move the blade up until you reach the sternum, being careful not to cut the intestines. Pull apart the covering and remove the contents starting from the top and working your way down to where you started with the blade.
Examine the organs for anything unusual, such as lumps, bumps, odd-looking growths or cysts - discard the rabbit if you find any. Carefully pull the lower intestine through the anus and discard the guts in a secure rubbish bin - failure to do so may result in your neighborhood pets spreading their stinky goodness around your yard. Composting them may be an option but I'm not sure how - ask around or take a look online.
Cut off the head and the lower joint of all four legs. To remove the tail, cut a V at the point where the tail connects with the body.
Now check the body for cysts or lumps and again discard the animal if you come across anything unusual. Give the rabbit a quick rinse under running water, then cut into sections. Place in a sealable bag and leave in your fridge to settle for a few days.
Voila! Fresh rabbit, prepped for cooking.
After going to all this effort, I wanted to do something rather fancy. After digging through my library, I found this recipe in an old English game cookbook. Butter, eggs, cream, brandy... Ignoring the sudden crushing sensation in my chest, it was off to the kitchen.
Rabbit in Mustard Sauce
2 rabbits (about 2 1/2 pounds each), cut up
About 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter
3 tablespoons brandy, warmed
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
1/4 cup minced parsley
1 pound small whole mushrooms; or large mushrooms quartered
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 cups whipping cream
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
Rinse rabbit and pat dry. Sprinkle rabbit pieces with salt, then dust with flour. Melt 5 to 6 tablespoons of the butter in a wide frying pan over medium-high heat. Add rabbit, a few pieces at a time (do not crowd pan); cook, turning as needed, until browned on all sides.
Transfer rabbit to a shallow 3 1/2 to 4-quart baking pan. Move frying pan into an open area, away from exhaust fans and flammable items. Add brandy and ignite (woohoo!); shake or tilt pan until flame dies. Pour brandy mixture over rabbit in baking pan; set aside.
Melt remaining 2 to 3 tablespoons butter in frying pan over medium heat. Add onions, minced parsley, and mushrooms; cook, stirring often, until onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in mustard, cream, and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Pour sauce over rabbit. Cover and bake at 190 degrees C (375 degrees F) until rabbit is tender when pierced, about 45 to 55 minutes.
Drain cooking liquid into a wide frying pan and bring to a boil; boil for 1 minute. Beat some of the hot liquid into egg yolks, then return yolk mixture to pan. Cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened - do not boil. Season to taste with salt. Transfer rabbit to a serving dish. Pour sauce over rabbit and sprinkle with chopped parsley. I served this with sugar-glazed carrots with sesame seeds, and creamy mashed potatoes.
It was delicious! Very creamy and rich, and the rabbit had sufficient strength of flavour to hold its own amongst the clamour of the other ingredients. Well done, me!
Dessert was a vat of blood thinner.