I was in the front yard one morning when my buddy Thumper drove slowly by and tossed a package out his window at me. I experienced a flash of gratitude, remembering that in this neck of the woods, I don’t need to be afraid of car bombers and drive-by shooters. I held out my arms and caught Thumper’s package.
“I’ll see you tonight,” he hollered, speeding away.
It was a dressed and frozen rabbit, which I placed, still wrapped in plastic, in a big bowl of hot water to thaw. Then I had all day to think about what to do with it.
The rabbit was from Mill Creek’s Mountain Meadow Farms, owned by Dynah Geissal and Bob Koss. “We raise our own livestock,” says Bob, “and we raise a little more to sell to friends.” They also sell goat cheese, eggs, pigs and cows. And they sell rabbit pelts cheap. If you want to make friends with them, call their pager at 329-9049. They’ll call you back.
I saw rabbit on a menu recently, roasted with tarragon and rosemary, and I was struck by how it resembled the way one might serve chicken. I’d always heard that rabbit tastes like chicken.
But why, I wondered, would a rabbit taste like a chicken? A rabbit is a mammal, like a cow, or my cousin Brian. A chicken is a bird. “Rabbit’s a little drier,” says Bob, “not as fatty. But you can do anything to rabbit that you can with chicken. We always have some rabbit stock simmering on the wood stove.”
I hit the Internet in search of interesting ways to cook rabbit. When I found http://diju.tripod.com/Rabbit/recipes.html I stopped looking elsewhere, because it’s a goldmine. I was tempted to try “Beer-Butt rabbit,” in which open cans of beer are stuffed with chopped garlic and onions, and the rabbit—rubbed in spices—is draped over the beer cans on a grill. But I had only three cans of Pabst left, and I didn’t want to split the last one with Thumper. Nonetheless, I caught an interesting glimpse into the mind of the rabbit eater when I read, “Grill for two hours, or until legs and wings wiggle freely.”
Was that a Freudian slip, or are the front limbs of rabbits really called “wings?”
I was reminded of the common assumption that all cats are “she,” regardless of their true sex. When my cat Goose, a boy, was hit by a car, I took him to the vet. Before announcing that Goose would live, the vet noted, “She’s bleeding out of her penis.”
Anyway, I finally settled on a recipe for braised rabbit with prunes. If you want the recipe exactly as it appeared, you can find it on the aforementioned web page. I however, modified it in a few key ways: I substituted breadcrumbs for flour; added whole garlic cloves; and most importantly, I swapped fresh plums for prunes.
Plums! Now is the season, and my 5-year-old tree is finally producing fruit. How could I go to the store and get dried plums (aka prunes) when the real fresh deal is hanging ripe on the tree?
I cut off the rabbit’s arms and legs, which really did resemble wings, drumsticks and thighs. I sliced across the long torso, through the vertebrae, until I had manageable chunks. The rabbit came with liver and heart, which I treated like everything else: seasoned with salt and pepper and dredged in breadcrumbs. In a large cast-iron skillet, I melted four tablespoons of butter on medium heat and slowly browned the rabbit parts. Once everything was brown and crispy I placed it all in a big cast-iron pot and added three cups of chicken stock (either two cans or two cubes in three cups boiling water). I added about two pounds of fresh, pitted plums split in half (more plums would be fine). Finally I added a few whole cloves of garlic and another 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs. I stirred it all together and baked it with the lid on at 375 for about 2 1/2 hours, or until the rabbit was falling-off-the-bone tender, stirring occasionally.
Thumper came by with a container of fresh feta cheese from Mountain Meadow Farm. We made a salad while the rabbit cooled to an edible temperature.
It was an Atkins evening of rabbit and vinegarette, which complemented each other beautifully. All the ills of the world were temporarily relieved as we feasted on an entirely local meal. The best part was the liver, drenched in plum sauce.
The next day I marinated a piece of salmon in soy sauce, garlic and ginger. Meanwhile, I cooked some chopped bacon and added fresh plums and cider vinegar. When the plums dissolved, I added the salmon and the marinade and fried it home. Ooo la la.
Yes, the plum and the rabbit have taught me plenty. And if anyone tries Beer-Butt rabbit—or chicken—please let me know what happens!