Bunny Delights – Coniglio alla Cacciatora
Living in Europe has been a steep learning roller coaster. Although my amazing ancient India is blessed with a multitude of cultures and religions with their very own varied foods, food habits and taboos, and my beautiful pristine New Zealand supplies probably some of the best food stuffs on our planet, it was only when I moved to Europe that I began to understand just how much geography, climate, history and circumstances determine what people end up eating.
Due to the chilly climate in Middle and Northern Europe there is generally a lot less variety not only when it comes to fruits and vegetables, but even sea food and meats. Livestock is confined to stables much of the year and simply cannot eat what natural pastures usually provide. What is more, the population density in Middle and Northern Europe tends to be high which has lead to the ‘industrialization’ of agriculture, compromising quality and taste. Yet, the foods that are on offer are high energy foods – and this means carnivore – nutrition needed to survive winters that can see temperatures plunge to -20 degrees. Doubtful, if a vegetarian could have lived through Mid and Northern European winters in days without reliably heated houses and cars.
The Mediterranean core states, Spain, France, Italy and Portugal on the other hand all have cool to temperate Northern areas which supply many of the foods we know from Middle Europe. At the same time Southern European countries boast extensive coast lines and even reach into the subtropics and include thinly populated desert-like areas which provide plenty of space to semi-wild cattle and wildlife. Here the diet is ‘naturally’ more varied and generally also less heavy on high protein and energy red meat.
Green & Healthy Bunny …
My first experience with Rabbit meat was in Spain. At one of my favourite markets, the Mercado de Abastos in Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia. While walking around checking out the different varieties of food on display in this provincial town, we came across a kind of cute to weird rabbit counter.
At first I cringed a little, avoided a direct look and moved on even though the cook in me was curious. This act did not go unnoticed, but once back home at the cortijo Peter delved into the rabbit topic and announced that he would prefer rabbit to the chicken staple – 🙂 but thought I was too chicken and laughed. Not stopping there he went on to say how amazed he was at women’s reaction, because it looked more like a reaction expected of them than genuine horror. After all, rabbit meat is not much different from other meats normally cooked but actually more healthy. Peter believed that beyond the understandable female sensitivity towards furry animals it was 😉 morally 😉 not more reprehensible to other kinds of meat. He laughed … again and shook his head and that did it for me … I started reading about rabbit, who consumed it and why and how to cook it.
I turned on the Google baba research engine and found a number of convincing facts about rabbit as a healthy food option.
- Rabbit meat is regarded as white meat, not red
- It is the leanest of all common staple meats
- Rabbit meat is high in easily digestible proteins, contains the least amount of fat i.e. less calories, but is richer in calcium and phosphorous content compared to other common meats
- It has the best meat-to-waste ratio of all meats, thus more meat for your money
- Rabbit meat is an environmentally friendly solution as larger farm animals use more resources to produce and stock go through longer gestation periods
- Rabbit is used in countries with food shortages to improve nutrition because the animals are easy to maintain, even for the poorest of the poor as they need little space, can be fed simply with grass and multiply rapidly
In Southern and Western Europe, especially Italy (“coniglio”), France (“lapin”) and Spain (“conejo”) is widely consumed and can be found in many restaurant menus and as I discovered for very good reason. So I quickly shook off my naivety or even hypocrisy.
… Yet Spurned
My research also unearthed the reasons why rabbit meat has become a lot less common in Europe in the past decades. In earlier days rabbit meat was easily available at the local butcher, but with the spread of supermarkets and mass produced frozen chicken, the much more delicious and nutritious rabbit option became less practical. Nowadays rabbit meat is mostly sold with other type of game meat at specialized stalls at farmers market.
Coniglio alla Cacciatora (Rabbit Hunter’s style) – the recipe
Rabbit is best browned in olive oil or butter and cooked with herbs and vegetables doused in wine and cooked for at least half an hour depending on quantity. The meat should come off the bones easily – otherwise it is under-cooked. Try to get youngish rabbit, below eight months; older specimen take more time to become tender.
My favorite is a simple version of the Italian classic rabbit “hunters style”. If you follow the instructions below the result will be relatively crisp and dry; add vegetables, if you prefer a more stew-like consistency.
- Prep: 0.5 hours
- Cook: 1 to 1.5 hours
- Challenge: medium
- Serves: 2 or 3 medium eaters
- Download PDF
- One rabbit cut into 6-8 pieces, or 6 legs
- Salt to taste
- Freshly ground pepper
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon (tbsp) red paprika powder
- chilli flakes (hot, optional, if you like it spicy)
- 3 tbsp fresh, finely chopped rosemary leaves
- 3 tbsp fresh, finely chopped sage leaves
- 1 tbsp garlic paste
- 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar and tomato paste (if not handy, use ketchup)
- 1 cup red wine (white dry wine is also used, but I prefer red)
Olive oil and/or butter as per need for refinement.
- Use a knife to make incisions in the rabbit pieces; rub in salt and pepper and stand the whole lot aside
- Chop up all the herbs and mince garlic
- Heat olive oil onto medium heat and add the bay leaves and rabbit pieces. Brown the rabbit pieces on all sides. Do a few pieces at a time to avoid overcrowding and steaming
- Reduce heat
- Add the paprika powder, red chilly flakes, finely chopped rosemary, sage and minced garlic in the oil with the browned rabbit pieces and stir for a minute until all is mixed and the rabbit pieces are coated with the herbs
- Add the wine, de-glaze the pot in case the herbs and spices are slightly stuck to the bottom to avoid burning and let the wine evaporate on a medium heat
- Once the wine has almost evaporated leaving enough liquid to not burn, add 2 cups of water and the balsamic vinegar/ tomato paste (or ketchup) and lower the heat; cover and let it simmer for about 45 minutes stirring occasionally; add a little water in case it is drying out
The resulting rabbit meat should be very tender, almost coming off the bones. Can turn out dry enough so you can just pickup the pieces and nibble; do not forget to dip the bread in the saucy bit at the bottom
*** ENJOY ***