Cidered Rabbit

This recipe begins with Joan Miró’s The Table (Still Life with Rabbit), 1920 with its mix of realistic details and slightly Cubist perspective, and a paragraph from Feeding Hannibal: A Connoisseur’s Handbook by Janice Spoon.  On page 181, under the title “Pappardelle Sulla Lepre,” I read,

In Contorno, Inspector Pazzi and his young wife, Allegra, share a tenderly home-cooked dinner with Jack and discuss honor, marriage, and values.  This meal, like all meals in Hannibal, is a time of truce–a momentary pause in killing and maiming to reflect and savior the moments that pass too quickly in these tragic, changing lives.

How similar this sounds to all the moments in Homer’s Odyssey, when a meal offers refuge from violence and an ascension of civility, manners and storytelling.

Choosing two from thence, he brought them in and slew them both, and singed, and cut them up, and spitted them. Then, when he had roasted all, he brought and set it before Odysseus, hot upon the spits, and sprinkled over it white barley meal. Then in a bowl of ivy wood he mixed honey-sweet wine, and himself sat down over against Odysseus, and bade him to his food, and said: “Eat now, stranger, such food as slaves have to offer, meat of young pigs; the fatted hogs the wooers eat, who reck not in their hearts of the wrath of the gods, nor have any pity. Verily the blessed gods love not reckless deeds, but they honor justice and the righteous deeds of men. Even cruel foemen that set foot on the land of others, and Zeus gives them booty, and they fill their ships and depart for home—even on the hearts of these falls great fear of the wrath of the gods.

In Book 14 (translation by A.T. Murray), Odysseus has arrived back in Ithaca, however he must conceal himself as a beggar as it is not safe for the king to boldly walk into his former hall when it’s filled with around one hundred and twenty suitors who want him dead and to stay dead.  In the poem, there is a turn to direct address when Odysseus stays at his swineherd’s small house.  And you answered him, Eumaeus, my swineherd in Stanley Lombardo’s translation.  This sharing of meat is personal to Odysseus and the comfort that Eumaues offers this stranger, because Eumaeus does not recognize his king, will be rewarded and is honored in the poem as a stay against the storm.

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As you can tell, cooking and eating for me connects to books, so as I decide that a rabbit sounds just right with all the fresh vegetables in my kitchen, I began to look through my cookbooks.  I begin with The Professional Chef from the Culinary Institute of America and follow their guidelines on disjointing a rabbit.

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Lapin separates into legs and saddle with the use of kitchen scissors, and now it’s time to gather ideas for the meal. Fergus Henderson’s “Jugged Hare” from The Complete Nose to Tail, offers an idea of browning pieces of rabbit, a variety of vegetables, and something alcoholic.  The “Jugged Hare” recipe in Simone and Ines Ortega’s 1080 Recipes, includes bacon and lots of red wine.  Both call for flour.  England to Spain, a new version of the Spanish Armada sailing to the British Isles and my reading blends cuisines, finds common cause.  Cuisine and literature ignores borders, walls.

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“Lapin a la Chasseur” (Rabbit Hunters’ Style) from The Picayune’s Creole Cookbook browns the rabbit, adds flour and ham and half a bottle of Claret wine.  Edna Lewis’ “Smothered Rabbit” in The Taste of Country Cooking, also features flour and bacon.  So, with my tomes read it’s time to start cooking.

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I melt duck fat and sizzle hickory smoked bacon slices.  A variation on the above recipes and a carryover with the bacon.  I mean, how can you not use duck fat?

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This is going to be one sweet rabbit so I extend my Martin Picard phase and coat the rabbit in maple syrup.

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I’ve sprinkled sea salt flakes, white pepper and paprika on the rabbit and then browned all the hippy-hoppity cuts.

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Ah, a stack of browned rabbit pieces.  Time for the vegetables.

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Into the duck fat, smoked bacon, and rabbit juices go onions, carrots, golden beets, red turnips, sweet potatoes and leeks.  All tumble together and wear a shining coat of goodness.

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I coat the vegetables with a liberal pouring of flour, stir until everything is “floured” and then add a can of Austin Eastciders Texas Honey Cider . . . or two.

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A nice, creamy texture and a thickening agent mixed with the sweet apple cider taste. Time for a couple more cans of cider.

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I add the rabbit and now begins an hour long warm bath where the alchemical secrets of cooking with fire and water mix and accent all the tastes.

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Of course, I can’t resist adding some butter (still working Martin Picard) and dipping a spoon in there’s a well-rounded sweetness from the maple syrup and honey cider, rounded by the animal fat, butter and browned goodness of all the vegetables.  Also, I’ve thrown in some small red peppers so there’s a heated kick.

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Here is a plated Cidered Rabbit with vegetables in sauce, or maybe what you could call a Cider, Smothered Rabbit.  And with a third and final nod to Martin Picard, how about a French Canadian Waltz and Jig featuring Dermot Byrne: Accordian,  Frankie Gavin: Fiddle, Steve Cooney: Guitar, and  Carl Hession: Piano.  Bon Appétit!

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