First we had duck season. Now it's rabbit season. (Duck season! Rabbit season! Rabbit season! Duck season! Shoot!)
Our good friend Alisa hosted another gourmet potluck this weekend and the imaginative theme she suggested was aphrodisiacs or Food That Makes You Feel Sexy. Well, park my baby at home with a sitter and count us in! I was at a bit of a loss for ideas, as I really wanted to come up with something original. Chocolate, oysters, ginger and pepper all came to mind and were dismissed. I knew Alisa was covering the chocolate and oyster angles, as well as champagne and sexy martinis. And then I thought of a different slant: why not cook something that is known for its sexual prowess? Maybe some of its sexy energy would enter the dish and qualify. In addition, one of the lists of aphrodisiacs I found online included mustard as one of the magical elements. Perfect: lapin à la moutarde for 16.
Hm. For 16, that was the problem. It's no more difficult to cook for 16 than 8 really, but when the number is that high you can be fairly sure (unless you are dining with the Windsors) that you will not be sitting down at a table. I toyed with the idea of making little mustard bunny pies, using the same kind of crust as a British steak-and-kidney pie. But I couldn't find disposable pie tins to match the three in my baking drawer. And so instead I opted for a "deconstructed" pie. Has anyone else noticed that this is the buzzword of the day recently? For us amateur cooks it's just a way to make the last-minute substitution sound classy. Oh yeah, I meant to do it that way. Oh, yeah.
Deconstructed Mustard Bunny Pies (serves 16 as part of a gourmet buffet)
This is essentially my recipe for lapin à la moutard but with a few twists to make it easier for guests to eat. Unfortunately, this means more work for the chef, but it really is worthwhile. You'll end up with a stew that is full of flavor, with meat that is meltingly tender. I've decided that from now on this is how I will always make the dish, because it really is much nicer than the traditional way. Not only did I remove the bones before serving, I also let the stew cool down in the refrigerator so that I could skim off the fat that rose to the top.
1 1/2 bunnies (about 1 1/2 kilos of meat cut in pieces on the bone)
Lawry's salt (you can substitute normal salt, but I thought the Lawry's went especially well with the bunny meat)
6 onions, sliced in half rings
6 cloves of garlic
12 white mushrooms
1/2 a small zucchini/courgette (optional - tossed it in because I had one handy)
1/2 cup French mustard (I use smooth, but you could use grain. I find the smooth has a sharper flavour.)
2 Tbs dried tarragon
a few sprigs of fresh tarragon
1/3 cup crème fraîche
1 bottle sparkling demi-sec Vouvray wine (substitute a light white wine or any sparkling wine but don't waste the good stuff)
1/2 liter chicken broth
2 Tbs flour (optional)
a little olive oil
For the deconstructed pie crust
2 pie crusts
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup grated hard cheese - Parmesan or Comté or Gruyère
Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and in a large stock pot (unless you have a frying pan or stock pot that can accommodate all the pieces in a single layer). Dust the rabbit pieces with Lawry's salt and quickly brown them in the oil on a high flame. While they are cooking, crush half the garlic cloves and toss them in with the meat. Once the pieces of rabbit are browned on all sides, turn off the heat under the stock pot and put them all in it. In the frying pan, cook the onions until soft. You might want to remove the garlic cloves to the large pot before you start so that they don't get too toasted. Once the onions are soft and maybe even a little browned here and there on the edges, add them to the stock pot. Pour a little of the wine into the frying pan to deglaze it, scraping up any bits of rabbit or onion that may have stuck to the bottom. Turn off the heat under the frying pan and carefully pour the wine into the large stockpot with the rabbit and onions. Add the carrots, peeled and sliced. Add the rest of the garlic, pressed. (I cooked some of the garlic in large pieces with the meat so that it would pick up the flavor, but didn't want to have too many big chunks of garlic floating in the stew. This way I was able to add some more garlic flavor tot he broth without leaving so many garlic-bombs in the stew.) Stir in the mustard and the dried tarragon. Add some more wine and stock, to cover the meat. Turn on the heat under the stock pot and bring the stew to a boil, then lower the heat so that it simmers.
Simmer for a couple of hours, adding wine and/or broth as you go along, to keep the meat covered. Add soft vegetables such as mushrooms and zucchini after an hour or so, as they will not need to stew. When the meat is falling off the bone, turn off the heat and remove the pieces of meat with a pair of tongs. Put the broth in the refrigerator to cool.
Allow the pieces of rabbit to cool until you can handle them and then remove the meat from the bones. You'll find there are a lot of gelatinous bits that can be removed. It's a messy job, and not very fun. Do not ponder what part of that cute little bunny you are dealing with as you go: it will make you feel very, very bad. At the end, though, you'll have a pile of lovely tender lean meat. Reserve it in a covered bowl in the fridge.
Once the broth has cooled (it will take an hour or more) use a spoon or a couple squares of paper towels to remove the fat from the top of the broth. There won't be a huge amount, but it is nicer if you remove it. I started spooning it away and then realized that floating a couple of paper towels on top would be much more efficient.
This next step is something I wish I had thought of doing and didn't until it was too late: heat the meat-less broth and use a strainer to sprinkle a few tablespoons of flour into it. Stir until smooth and simmer until the broth is slightly thickened. (You want to do this before you put the meat back into the broth because it is so tender it is falling apart at this point and you want to maintain some bite-sized pieces.) Put the meat back into the sauce to heat. Add the crème fraîche and chopped fresh tarragon a few minutes before serving.
Serve in deep bowls with croutons made out of the pastry: I washed them with a beaten egg, grated a little nutmeg over them, sprinkled them with finely grated cheese and then cut them in long strips with a sharp knife. On a diagonal with the long strips, I made a few cuts to make long diamond-shaped croutons. Once they had baked for 20 minutes in a hot oven and cooled, it was easy to break them apart into pieces. (See a picture here if all this is confusing!)
And there you have it: a deconstructed pie. If you have oven-safe dishes, I think it would be even nicer if you just cut the pie dough into rounds and placed them on top of a bowl of the filling and baked in the oven. With plastic disposable bowls, however, this is not recommended.
It was a great party at Alisa's and I wish I had remembered to bring a camera so I could show you all the guests and the great food they brought. In particular, I'm looking forward to seeing the recipe for the asparagus and strawberry tart on Clotilde's site, Chocolate and Zucchini! It was an unusual combination and worked surprisingly well, the sweet and savoury complimenting each other delicately. It's making my mouth water remembering it!
(Note: Clotilde has already posted the recipe here. Try it, it's delicious!)