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Xing Nian Kuai Le! 2011 is the year of the rabbit. And that is exactly what I cooked.

17 Feb

I have to echo everyones enthusiasm for our evening’s dinner on 2/5.    These dinners are a fantastic idea and like JDavid, I felt that I was getting a lot of great food (and company) for minimal cost & effort.

It was a pleasure to meet with Francine & David again after our sole, chance meeting on the lonely dempster highway.  Since I moved to the NYC area, I have been trying to duplicate dinners in my own home just like this one.  Only it is a bit rough when you are a one woman show.   Both for the pocket and the labor involved.  It ends up feeling a lot less fun and more like work.  This dinner was just the opposite.  Fun all around, just a little bit of effort and learning things along the way, as well as meeting new people.  Oh and eating!  A lot of it!  And drinking!  I couldn’t have dreamed up a more perfect event. I can’t thank you enough for the invite and for keeping up with this blog and organizing it the way you do. I don’t think I have ever seen such an organized person!

I love the idea of themes for meals!  Initially, I was excited that this theme was chosen because I felt it kind of forced everyone to be a bit creative.  So it’s a bit ironic that I chose a very literal interpretation for my dish.  But with good reason.  I never cooked rabbit and have barely eaten it.  I tried my first rabbit recently in Portland, in sausage form.  It was surprisingly mild, not at all gamey as I was expecting it to be.  I have wondered since then how it would be to cook it.  So this was a perfect opportunity.  I had a small feeling of regret for cooking a poor bunny.  But I decided it would be best to stray away from this way of thinking!

I was worried that if I cooked it the day of, I would screw it up since I had no prior experience with the meat.  For dinner parties, I usually like to keep safe inside my repertoire of dishes.  Do what I do best.  So I was a bit hesitant going outside of that but that was part of the point of the FMC.   A few recipes I leafed through warned that it can be easily overcooked.  Not an enticing prospect for a nervous cook.  I figured I would take a practice shot, so I went off to the meat hook, (my highly recommended favorite nearby butcher) to see if I could score a fresh rabbit.  They had one left, so I asked the butcher to cut it up for me and went home to test my luck.  I only used half the rabbit in my test and figured if it bombed then I would just use the rest to try something else.

Many of the recipes I had come across were braises or ragu’s.  I often braise short ribs in a simple manner of red wine, aromatics & herbs.  I thought why not apply this to the rabbit?  But I didn’t want to just serve a plain braised rabbit or put a ragu over pasta.  It was too boring.  I eventually came across a recipe that called for putting the rabbit ragu in a buckwheat crepe.  It was on a website for gluten free living and the braise called for white wine.  I really wanted to use red wine for the dish, so I decided to make up my own recipe.

I followed a standard method for braising meat in liquid.  I browned the rabbit in hot oil, added in some onions, carrots, celery & garlic.  A touch of tomato paste, red wine & a handful of fresh herbs.  I finished it up by covering it in some chicken stock & braised it away for about 3 hours.  What I had left was tender, flavorful rabbit.  The braising liquid was delicious-I was very happy with the turnout.  The dish only lacked texturally.  It needed some bite.

So the day of the dinner, I got another rabbit, a whole one.  I used the other half I had practiced with.  I found some buckwheat flour at the meat hook & mixed it with some AP flour & a few eggs & milk.  Some melted butter finished it off. I didn’t follow a recipe for the crepes-I just made it up.  I know crepes should be made ahead of time so the batter can sit.   Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking, explains that this allows “the proteins and damaged starch to absorb water,” ensuring the crepes will be tender.  Crepes should be the consistency of heavy cream, so I added milk until it was just that.   I wanted to serve it with a sauce, so I thought since the braising liquid came out so flavorful, I would just reduce it over high heat & it would thicken up nicely.  As for the texture issue, I decided mushrooms & carrots would go nicely.  I found some lovely heirloom purple carrots at the meat hook, some crimini mushrooms & I sauteed them with some shallots that Laurent wasn’t using for his dish.  The mixture was tasty & I thought would add just the right texture (and flavor) to complement.  I packed up the mixture to take with me.

It was easier for me to brown the meat & braise the rabbit in my own kitchen.  So around noon that day, I did just that.  I braised it just like I did in my practice run & let it simmer for 3 hours or so.  Then I took the meat out of the pot & pulled it off the bone.  Returned it to the sauce & packed it up.  I packed up the crepe batter & the extra sauce too.

I already decided I would use a Malbec wine to pair the dish with, since that is what I used in the braising liquid.  It is not necessary to do this but I really thought a Malbec would go nicely with the bold flavor of the sauce.  Misterio is a Malbec I’ve had dozens of times & I love the flavor.  So I picked up a bottle of that on my way out.

When I arrived to the dinner, I heated up the rabbit and tried to reduce the sauce.  It wasn’t quite getting as thick as I wanted.  It could be that I was impatient.  So I made a quick roux with the help of Francine getting me the things I needed.  I added the roux to the sauce & it thickened perfectly.  Also, it added a nice depth of flavor.  Laurent did his dish before mine & he had used creme fraiche.  I saw it sitting there and thought a dollop would finish the sauce off nicely.  It added a nice silky flavor in your mouth, so I was glad I did it.   I made the crepes after Laurent took his turn with the scallops.  The slow pace of the dinner was perfect for allowing me to make the crepes fresh. The first few crepes were a disaster (I am not a very good crepe maker, I’m afraid).  But I got the hang of it & I ended up with 8 edible crepes.

Thanks to everyone for helping me plate it, even though I was a bit of a stickler about making sure the rabbit wasn’t too soupy before adding it to the crepe!  : )

I felt it was a successful dish.  The flavors worked nicely together, the wine a good pairing & the presentation even looked quite fancy-or not.   As Kelly pointed out, a rabbit burrito!!  It’s true, it kind of did look like a burrito.  Anyhow, thanks again for a fabulous evening, I can’t wait for the next time!

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