People who know me would tell you that it's hard to tell which I like more: gardening or cooking. I'd say it depends on which I'm doing at the moment. Anyway, French cooking and French gardening go hand in hand. For me, cooking is an on-going adventure. Join me here on my culinary explorations, where I share with you both my old favorites as well as new inspirations. It's my fondest wish that these recipes serve as a springboard for your own new creations.
01/22/2007 Rabbit with mustard sauce (Lapin à la moutarde) Clay pot
1 farm-raised or wild rabbit, cut into serving pieces, including the head if possible 1/2 c. smooth Dijon mustard (moutarde forte) 1/2 c. old-fashioned grainy Dijon mustard (moutarde à l'ancienne) Kosher or flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper 1/2 c. dry white wine, such as Chablis 1 c. crème fraîche 2 T. snipped fresh chives
1 T. olive oil 1 onion, chopped 1 leek, sliced 1 medium carrot, coarsely chopped 2 leafy stalks celery, sliced Bouquet garni of 6 parsley sprigs, 1 bay leaf, and 6 leafy thyme sprigs 6 peppercorns
Optional: A dozen or more freshly pulled white onions 1-2 inches in diameter, peeled but left whole, cooked with water to cover, 1 T. butter, and 1 1/2 t. sugar until the water is evaporated and the onions starting to caramelize.
Make the stock: In a heavy dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat, and brown the parts of the rabbit that have very little meat (the front of the rib cage) as well as the head if available. (Reserve the saddle, cut in 3 pieces, the thighs, and the forelegs for the dish.) When the rabbit pieces are browned on all sides, add the vegetables (except the bouquet garni), and brown lightly, stirring, for 5-10 minutes. Add the bouquet and water to cover. Bring to a boil and skim. Turn the heat to low and partially cover the pot. Simmer 3-4 hours. Strain, pressing down on the solids and discarding them. Return the stock to the dutch oven or medium saucepan if it is already somewhat reduced, place over medium heat, and reduce by 2/3. Pour into a small saucepan and continue reducing until 1/3 cup remains. Reserve.
Meanwhile, three hours before serving, combine the two mustards with a generous pinch of salt and grindings of black pepper. Smear the remaining rabbit pieces with the mustard, thoroughly covering them, and arranging them in a single layer in a gratin or baking dish. Set aside in a cool place for 2-3 hours.
50 minutes before serving, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the rabbit, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Open the oven and pour the wine and the reserved reduced rabbit stock over the rabbit, then bake 20 minutes more. Remove the dish from the oven and drizzle the crème fraîche over the rabbit. Return to the oven for 5 minutes more. If using the onions, gently strew them over the dish. Sprinkle with the snipped chives. Serve with homemade pappardelle noodles or simple steamed potatoes. Accompany with a top-quality chablis or better yet, a Chassagne-Montrachet.
Note: I certainly didn't invent this most classic dish of Burgundy farmhouse cooking, but I can remind you just how sublime it is when correctly made. Its success depends on using the freshest mustard possible, and on not overcooking the rabbit. It is more than worth it to buy new jars of mustard to do honor to this dish. (When I plan to make it, I tote my washed, clean mustard jars to the Maille store in the Place de Madeleine and get them filled fresh from the mustard pumps. But opening new jars of Maille mustards just before cooking is the next best thing.) Rabbit and Dijon mustard is one of those marriages made in heaven. Please try it! You can use thoroughly defrosted frozen rabbit if fresh is unavailable.