When stewed, the rabbit meat is moist and tender, like chicken, but with an extra layer of flavor.
3 rabbits (about 3 pounds each)
2 tablespoons olive oil plus additional if necessary for cooking vegetables
1/2 cup flour, plus additional if necessary and desired for thickening
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
2 cups coarsely chopped onions
1/2 cup coarsely chopped carrots
1 cup white wine
1 sprig of thyme
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
a few cups chicken stock
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1 pound fresh plum tomatoes
3/4 pound brine-cured green olives
3/4 cup capers
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. Cut the rabbits in 6 pieces each (the meaty hind legs, the bonier forelegs, plus the center loin, called rablé in french, cut in two). Or have your butcher do it for you. In an ovenproof sauté pan wide enough to hold the rabbit pieces in one layer, add the olive oil and place over moderate heat. (If you don't have a pan big enough, you can use 2 and divide the ingredients.)
3. Put flour in a flat dish. Brush the rabbit pieces with the mustard and then dip into the flour, shaking off any excess. Add the rabbit pieces to the hot oil and cook until golden brown on both sides. Remove rabbit from the pan and set aside.
4. Add the onions and carrots to the pan (or pans) and cook over moderately high heat until onions are lightly browned. (You may need to add a teaspoon of olive oil if the pan is too dry.) Sprinkle the leftover flour, if there is any, into the pan, and stir well to blend with the onions. Deglaze the pan with the white wine over high heat and mix well. Add the thyme, bay leaf, tomato paste and garlic, and mix well.
5. Return the rabbit to the pan (or pans). Add enough chicken stock to cover the meat and vegetables by an inch (you may combine the stock with water, if desired). Bring to a boil and add the salt. Cover and braise in the oven for 1 1/2 hours, or until the meat is just cooked enough to start falling from the bone.
6. While the rabbit is cooking, bring a small pot of water to boil. Remove the stems from the tomatoes with the tip of a small knife. Make a small crisscross on the other side of the tomato. Plunge the tomatoes into the boiling water for about 30 seconds, or until skin begins to pull away. Refresh under cold water and remove the peel. Cut in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Chop coarsely and reserve until needed. Rinse the olives in cold water. Reserve.
7. When the rabbit is ready, carefully remove the pieces from the pan and set aside. Strain the sauce through a colander. Discard the vegetables and herbs.
8. Return the sauce to the pan and bring to a boil over moderate heat. Add the tomatoes, olives and capers. Reduce the heat, and simmer the sauce until it is reduced by about half. Thicken with flour, if desired.
9. When the sauce is ready, check the seasoning. Add the pieces of rabbit back to the pan to warm. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve right from the pan, on a platter, or divided among 6 individual dinner plates.
It's not for nothing that old-timers used to talk of rabbit stew; slow-cooking the lean rabbit is a great way to tenderize it. Now that rabbit's growing in popularity, we hope the stew idea will come back. When stewed, the rabbit meat is moist and tender, like chicken, but with an extra layer of flavor. That flavor stands up perfectly to the strong-tasting mustard, olives, and capers in this delicious, winter-weight party dish. Decide on the thickness of the sauce yourself; we like it somewhere between a soup and a stew, but you can make the sauce thicker by adding instant flour (Wondra), or beurre manié. Delicious with rice. Serves 6