Braised Rabbit with Prunes
Have you ever made the Silver Palate 80’s classic, Chicken Marbella? It’s chicken cooked with prunes and olives. It’s amazing how the sweet prunes just melt into the chicken drippings. Prunes are an underutilized ingredient in my opinion. They’ve gotten such a bad rap that they aren’t even marketed as prunes anymore, but as dried plums, which is, in fact, what they are. Just dried plums. Like big fat raisins. Used in cooking, they can bring a deeply sweetly rich note to anything, especially meats. Rabbit cooked with prunes is a classic French dish, known there as “lapin aux pruneaux”. In this version we sear the rabbit pieces first in a little olive oil and butter, and then braise them in white wine with shallots, garlic, thyme, and prunes. Have you ever prepared rabbit? It’s a lot like chicken, both in the cooking and in the eating. In fact almost any recipe that can be made with chicken can be made with rabbit, and vice versa. The taste is just more subtle, and not “chicken-y”.
An optional step in this recipe, and one that I highly recommend, is to take the rabbit liver that should have come packaged with the rabbit, and purée it with a little vinegar, and then whisk it into the sauce at the end. Believe it or not, the liver does not impart any taste of liver to the dish, it just makes it richer, and the sauce thicker with a deeper flavor. This recipe works great for leftovers, much like a stew improves over a day or two. The prunes fall apart into the sauce and the flavors just blend together so every bite is wonderfully savory and sweet.
Rabbit is available at many specialty markets, if not fresh then frozen, or can usually be ordered from your local butcher. Whole rabbits are harder to break down than chickens, so ask your butcher to part it out for you (you may need to call ahead so they can defrost one, if all they have are frozen rabbits). Or you can check out Hank's steps for cutting up a rabbit. This is a pretty basic rabbit with prunes preparation. You can easily dress it up with some stewed tomatoes and or olives. Some recipes call for soaking the olives in cognac and adding them in at the very end, which would be good too.
- One 3 to 3 1/2 pound rabbit, cut into six to eight serving parts
- Olive oil
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 3-4 large shallots, sliced, about 1 cup
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 cup dry white wine (or chicken stock with a tablespoon of vinegar)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 7 ounces (200 grams) pitted prunes (dried plums)
- Several sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 rabbit liver (optional, should be sold with the rabbit)
- 1 Tbsp vinegar (optional)
1 Heat 3 Tbsp olive oil in a large thick-bottomed Dutch oven (I used a 5 quart) on medium-high heat. Add a tablespoon of butter. Pat dry the rabbit pieces, sprinkle all over with salt, and working in batches, brown on all sides in the pan.
2 Remove the rabbit pieces from the pan. Add the sliced shallots, reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the minced garlic clove and cook for 30 seconds more. Add the white wine and increase the heat to high. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Let the wine boil, until reduced by at least a half.
3 Lower the heat to low (you may want to move the pot to the smallest burner on your stove). Arrange the rabbit pieces, prunes, thyme, and bay leaf in the pan. Sprinkle with black pepper to taste. Cover tightly and let cook for 45 minutes. (Cooking time assumes you are starting with a rabbit that has been brought to near room temp before cooking. If you are using a rabbit straight from the fridge, it may take a few more minutes to cook through. Also, if you keep lifting up the lid to check on the rabbit, it will increase the needed cooking time.)
4 After the rabbit is cooked through, if you want, you can intensify the flavor of the sauce using the rabbit's liver. The liver should have been included with the rabbit from your butcher, just like whole chickens come with the giblets. (Don't worry, the liver won't make your dish taste like liver. You can even try just a little amount to taste to make sure. The liver acts as a "liaison", thickening the sauce and making it richer.) Purée the rabbit liver with 1 Tbsp of vinegar (I used wine vinegar, but cider or white vinegar will do). Remove the rabbit pieces, prunes, thyme sprigs, and bay leaf from the pot (discard thyme and bay leaves) to a serving dish. Whisk the puréed liver vinegar mixture into the sauce in the pot and cook for another 10 minutes. (If the sauce is still too thin, you can thicken further with corn starch or flour.) Then drizzle the sauce over and around the rabbit and prunes.
Great served over egg noodles.