Coniglio alla Cerines

A great way to get excited about meat is to eschew all of those standard choices (not chicken, again!) and  go outside of the box. Once you understand there is a world of protein beyond chicken, pork and beef, suddenly you have options. Rabbit is a wonderfully flavorful meat, and adapts to slow-cooking if prepared correctly. Wild rabbit is hunted here in Cyprus but it is also commercially raised. Like elsewhere in continental Europe, fresh rabbit is available in the meat market alongside chicken and other fowl.

It’s sold with the head on, the primary reason why most people pass it over. If chickens were sold in the same manner, home cooks would feel equally squeamish about decapitating the animal before cooking it. Since a whole chicken comes packaged without the head, the neck and gizzards neatly bagged and stuffed into the cavity, somehow it’s just an ingredient.

This should never stop anyone from enjoying this meat. (Solution: You can ask the butcher to remove the head so you can avoid that necessary task.) Apart from it being totally delicious, of all the other white meats, it is lowest in sodium and cholesterol and boasts the most easily digestible protein due to its low amount of fat. Rabbit = yum + health bonus.

Inspiration for this recipe came from what we have in the garden here at Cerines: great herbs, lemon, capers  and olives. Prepare this dish after breakfast on a lazy weekend morning and you’ll have a sumptuous lunch or dinner that will warm your insides.

Coniglio alla Cerines
(Braised Rabbit, Cerines-style )

In a large skillet (that has a cover), saute until just caramelized:
2 large onions, chopped into strips
2 large fennel bulbs, stamens removed and sliced
4 cloves garlic, sliced

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Remove to a platter and set aside.

Season with salt and pepper:
1 whole rabbit, cut into 6-8 pieces (not including the head)

In the same skillet (or high sided pan that has a cover) heating the surface of the pan over high heat. Lower heat, drizzle with olive oil and immediately place 2-3 pieces of rabbit in skillet. Sear for 2 minutes each side or just until color has developed, adjusting heat so that the remnants on the bottom of the pan do not burn.  Repeat the process in batches until all pieces have been seared. Remove to a platter.

Remove any excess oil from the pan. Quickly return pan to heat and deglaze with:
250 ml/8 oz. white wine (like a good-quality, inexpensive vino da tavola)

Scrape up the bits with a wooden spatula. Reduce the wine by a third. Add the onion/fennel mixture to the pan. Place the thighs on top of the mixture first, ending with the breast pieces.

Add:
12 black olives, halved
2 T capers
3 sprigs rosemary
1 bay leaf
zest of one lemon

1/2 cup chicken stock, warmed

Continuing to cook until mixture bubbles slightly and turn heat to low. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes. Check for doneness. Remove the rabbit pieces carefully to a platter.  Over a large bowl, pour the remaining contents of the pan through a fine strainer. Pour the stock back into the pan and cook over medium heat until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Return the solids along with the rabbit to the pan and heat through. Remove to a platter, garnish with sprigs of rosemary, lemon zest and chopped parsley.

POINTERS FOR SUCCESS:
•Because of the low fat content in rabbit, it is necessary to use onions and fennel to give the meat additional moisture. Without these aromatic vegetables, rabbit tends to dry out and loses its flavor when overcooked.
•If cooking in a brick oven or slow-cooking in the oven, cook at 100°C/210°F, covered, for 2 1/2-3 hours. Finish as per the directions above, allowing additional time to reduce the liquid.

Luxury touches:
•Serve with polenta, puré di patate or crema di cannellini.