Saturday while I was browsing the farmer’s market, I was stopped by the manager, and among other things, was asked to talk to a local farmer who has just diversified into raising rabbits in addition to hogs and chickens about possibly working on his behalf to get local chefs to feature his rabbits in their fall menus.
I agreed, and when I stopped by to talk with Rich, he told me that when he first started bringing rabbit meat to the market, he expected that most of the folks who would buy it would be, in his own words, “Hillbillies like me who grew up throwing rocks at rabbits and bringing them home to Mamma to cook for supper.”
Much to his surprise, most of the folks buying his rabbits were more what he called, “Health conscious, upscale folks who go to restaurants and like to cook special foods.”
In other words, folks like myself.
I told him that I would do what I could to promote his rabbits among the local chefs I know, and that I would develop some new dishes showcasing the lean, moist delicious meat just as examples of what can be done with it.
Rich handed me a packaged, cut up rabbit and said, “I look forward to seeing what you can come up with.”
The photograph above represents my first experiment–Green Tandoor Grilled Rabbit with Summer Vegetable Rice Pillau and Cooling Tomato Cucumber Chutney.
It looks pretty good, doesn’t it?
And if the happy sounds made by my taste testers are to be believed, it tasted mighty fine, too. (Kat loved it, too, though I have to admit to telling her it was chicken.)
The marinade is a simple mixture of a huge amount of ground cardamom pods and seeds, fennel seeds, a bit of black pepper, coriander seeds, and fresh local serrano chilies, garlic and cilantro leaves and stems mixed with lime zest, lime juice and fresh yogurt. This brilliant green mixture got rubbed into the rabbit meat and left to marinate for about forty-five minutes; I didn’t want to leave it longer as yogurt can tenderize already naturally tender meat to the point of mushiness.
While the meat was left to rest in its bath of yogurty green goodness, I put together the rice pillau and chutney.
Into the rice cooker went basmati rice sauteed in ghee, grated fresh ginger, grated lemon zest, a half teaspoon of ground turmeric and a half teaspoon of garam masala, and of course, water. While the rice cooked on its own, I sauteed thinly sliced red onions, red sweet pepper strips, julienned carrots and bias-sliced bits of haricot vert–those slender, tender delicious summer green beans–in ghee with brown mustard seeds and whole cumin seeds.
These got cooked together until the onion and cumin were browned, the vegetables were browned in spots and the mustard seeds popped. When the rice was done, the vegetables were stirred in along with a pinch of salt and a sprinkling of freshly minced cilantro and Aleppo pepper flakes.
The chutney was made from a mixture of many-colored local fresh tomatoes, cut into thin wedges, as well as a small cucumber cut in half longitudinally and thinly sliced, seasoned with salt, thinly sliced chili pepper, minced cilantro, grated lime zest, a squeezing of lime juice, salt and toasted mustard and cumin seeds.
By the time the rice and chutney were done, the very hot fire Zak made in the grill was ready.
We popped the rabbit hind legs, forelegs and saddle (the breast/back section sans ribs) onto the grill and let them sear on one side before turning them. Zak basted the pieces often with the leftover marinade, and added some soaked hickory chips for an added smoky zing.
I estimate we cooked the bits between fifteen and twenty minutes, but I am not certain because in the middle of cooking, some friends showed up unexpectedly to pick up Kat’s old crib for use with their first baby who is due in spring.
Then, all that was left was to take the rabbit bits off of the fire, and plate up the resulting trio of Indian-inspired dishes.
The rabbit was delicious–moist and tender, the inner juicy flesh contrasting beautifully with the seared, crispy, well-spiced and highly flavored exterior. The rice pillau was also lovely, though it really shone when paired and eaten with the chutney–the tart, crisp and meltingly soft vegetables in the chutney contrasted perfectly with the musky-browned sweetness of the vegetables in the rice pillau
And the array of rainbow colors in the entire compositions was quite lovely.
I can’t wait to take Rich a photograph along with printed out recipes for him to post at his booth.
I’ll be taking other photographs around to area chefs with Rich’s contact information in the next week.
Look for other rabbit recipes in the near future, but for now, here is how to make the trio of pretty dishes you see above.
Green Tandoori Rabbit
50 green cardamom pods
2 tablespoons coriander seed
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1-2 large cloves fresh garlic
2 cups tightly packed cilantro leaves
1 green serrano chili, stem removed
zest of two limes, finely grated
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
juice of 1 lime
8 tablespoons yogurt, well-stirred
1 rabbit cut into two hindquarters, two forelegs and one saddle/loin
Grind the dry spices into a powder with a spice or coffee grinder. Add to a grinder, mixie, food processor or bender jar and add the garlic, cilantro leaves, chili and lime zest. Grind into a fine paste. Add the lime juice, salt and yogurt and blend until combined into a creamy pale jade green frothy liquid.
Rub rabbit pieces liberally with as much marinade as the skin will hold. Reserve the rest of the marinade to use for basting while the meat is on the grill. Marinate for about forty-five minutes, but no longer than an hour.
Start a very hot fire on your grill. When the coals are covered with fine gray ash, place the rabbit pieces on the grill and sear well on both sides. Then baste with the reserved marinade and close lid of grill and cook, turning once or twice more, until the rabbit is done. You can tell it is done by piercing with a fork–when the juices run clear it is done. Also the flesh will spring readily back when poked with a finger when it is done–just like chicken.
Summer Vegetable Rice Pillau
1 tablespoon ghee, butter or canola oil
2 cups basmati rice
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
3 cups water
2 tablespoons ghee
1 small red onion, finely sliced
1/4 cup thinly sliced red sweet pepper
1/2 cup julienned carrot
1/2 cup haricot vert, trimmed and sliced into 3/4″ pieces on the bias
1 1/2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons brown or black mustard seeds
salt to taste
minced fresh cilantro for garnish
Heat ghee or oil in a heavy bottomed skillet. Add rice and cook, stirring until the rice is lightly browned. Dump rice into rice cooker with the turmeric, garam masala, salt, ginger, lemon zest and water and stir well. Close the cooker and turn on, and allow rice to cook all the way.
Wipe out the same skillet to remove any errant rice grains. Add the second measure of ghee and heat, then add the onion slices, and cook, stirring until the onion is transparent and soft. Add the pepper and carrots, and cook, stirring until the onion is browned and the pepper and carrot are soft and browned on the edges. Add the haricot vert, the cumin seeds and the mustard seeds, and cook until the beans deepen in color and soften slightly, the cumin seeds turn nutty brown and the mustard seeds pop.
Turn off heat under vegetables and when the rice is done, stir the vegetables and spices in, along with salt to taste and garnish with minced cilantro.
Fresh Tomato and Cucumber Chutney
2 cups fresh tomatoes of various colors, cored and cut into thin wedges
1 cup cucumber peeled and cut longitudinally, then thinly sliced
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
1 fresh serrano chili, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
juice of 1 lime
finely grated zest of 1 lime
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted in a dry pan over medium heat until they are brown and fragrant
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds toasted in a dry pan over medium heat until they pop like popcorn
salt to taste
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
Toss all ingredients up to the salt together gently to avoid mashing or deforming the tomato wedges. Salt to taste and then toss again with the cilantro.
Chill before serving.
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