A few weeks ago, M called me excitedly to tell me that rabbits were on sale at one of our favorite online gourmet food purveyors, D’Artagnan. The young, whole rabbits were 50 percent off if you purchased four. I’m no stranger to cooking rabbit, but what’s a girl to do with four rabbits? Conill Amb Ceba (Catalan Rabbit with Onion), of course.
Rewind twenty years, and you would have never caught me eating rabbit. In the early 90s, I was the proud owner of the Buffalo County Best-of-Show Rabbit, a mini rex named Guinevere (after the queen consort of King Arthur). My family spent our weekends traversing Nebraska to participate in regional rabbit shows put on by the American Rabbit Breeders Association. When we weren’t showing rabbits, we spent hours perfecting our presentation skills and breeding rabbits for our ZAB Rabbitry, named after me and my sisters: Zoe, Alexis (me) and Brianna. The rabbitry business never really took off, and it fully collapsed in the mid-90s when my sisters and I moved on to other pursuits—dance classes, video games and the Interwebz.
I had my first taste of rabbit in Germany, at the beginning of my courtship with M. It was at a fine-dining restaurant, Zur Tant, near his home in Köln. The rich, meaty leg was simply adorned and served with spätzle and red cabbage. Since then, I’ve eaten and cooked rabbit as often as I can. M and I have both surprised each other with braised rabbit birthday dinners, and last year I made a show-stopping rabbit leg confit for our anniversary.
Eating rabbit is common all over Europe. It’s loved by the Brits, Germans, Belgians, French and Spanish. In the U.S., however, rabbit is mostly eaten in rural areas where hunting is popular. It’s popularity among American home-cooks is growing, however. According to this 2014 ABC.com article, Americans are consuming more rabbit now than at any time since World War II.
Compared with pork, beef, chicken, turkey and lamb, rabbit meat has the highest percentage of protein, and the lowest percentages of fat and calories per pound, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It’s also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. But let’s not forget that it’s absolutely delicious.
Today’s recipe comes from the Catacurian Cooking School near Barcelona. Catalan Rabbit with Onion (Conill Amb Ceba) is an easy preparation that’s full of flavor. The recipe requires two rabbits, cut into six pieces each. If I haven’t convinced you to try rabbit, go ahead and substitute with one four-lb chicken.
The meat is caramelized in a terra cotta dish or ovenproof pan (I’m using my deep Le Creuset skillet) and then flambéed with a glass of brandy. If you don’t have Spanish brandy on hand, go ahead and use your favorite whiskey or bourbon. Garlic and earthy lard are added for a layer of unctuous flavor. When the garlic is golden, a traditional Spanish sausage, sobrasada, is added.
If sobrasada isn’t available, substitute your favorite spicy sausage, such as andouille, chorizo or spicy Italian sausage. After the sausage is browned, the onions are added and cooked until soft and golden.
Chopped tomato, pine nuts and raisins are then added, along with the browned rabbit, and lightly stewed. After a generous seasoning of salt and pepper, the stew is covered and braised in the oven for 30 minutes.
The combination of sautéing and braising ensures that the rabbit is tender and juicy when it comes out of the oven. Garnish your rabbit with caramelized onions and a sprinkle of pine nuts, and serve it in a bowl with a big hunk of crusty bread to capture all of the juice from the onions and tomatoes.
Find rabbit meat at your local gourmet grocery store or online. In Lincoln, Nebraska, rabbits are available at Ideal Grocery and Whole Foods. My favorite online source for rabbit meat is D’Artagnan. I’m a big fan of both their frozen rabbit fryers and rabbit legs. If you’re still not convinced, go ahead and make this recipe with chicken. If you do make this recipe, send me a photo at email@example.com and be sure to tag any posts with #lexibites.
- 2 (2-3 pound) rabbits or one (4 pound) chicken, cut into 6-8 serving pieces
- 1½ ounces brandy or whiskey
- 3 pounds white onions, cut into thin slices
- 4 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
- 8-10 cloves (1 head) of garlic, each clove peeled and smashed
- 1 tablespoon of pork lard, duck fat or olive oil
- Olive oil
- 4 bay leaves
- 2 ounces spicy sausage, such as sobrasada, andouille or chorizo
- 2 ounces pine nuts
- 2 ounces raisins
- Salt and black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Heat olive oil in an oven proof terra cotta dish or deep skillet over high heat and add the meat. Brown until golden. Add the brandy or whiskey and flambee. Remove the meat from the pan and reduce the heat to medium.
- Add pork lard, duck fat or more olive oil and garlic, cook for about five minutes. Add the bay leaves and sausage. Cook until sausage is lightly browned or cooked through.
- When the sausage is browned, add in the onions and cook until soft.
- Add the meat back into the pan and then add the tomato, raisins and pine nuts, reduce the heat and cook for about 10 minutes.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper and then cook in the oven for about 35 minutes.