Cook! COOK! Where's my Hasenpfeffer?

Sadly, I don't have any rabbits to cook, so you get a stock photo. I have made this dish many, many times.
Sadly, I don't have any rabbits to cook, so you get a stock photo. I have made this dish many, many times.

It's wabbit season in Mission Viejo, where the City Council last week allowed the hunting of rabbits with air-powered pellet guns. Should you hear the pop-pop-pop of a gun, Mission Viejans, once you've picked yourself up off the floor and got over your panic, don't reach for the phone but the cooking pot. Rabbit is lean, nutritious, good-tasting and sustainable (just ask the Palmia Neighborhood Association).

NOTE: Behind the jump, there are graphic descriptions of how to prepare rabbits for the cooking pot. If meeting your meat up close and personal makes you uncomfortable, please skip to the recipe; you can always buy a frozen rabbit from a meat market, though you'll probably still have to cut it up yourself.

If you are going to prepare your own rabbit, you need to take certain steps to prepare it. You'll need to discard any flesh that contains pellets, so try to aim for the head, which is essentially unusable anyway. This is the dressing method taught by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which is where I learned.

Immediately upon shooting the rabbit, hang it over a tub by its hind feet, remove the head and allow it to bleed out. Discard the blood. Once it has bled out, cut off its tail and forelegs, which do not have much meat on them. Starting from the tail end, remove the skin and pelt. If you intend to take the pelt, make a clean cut at the head end.

Once the pelt has been removed, cut around the anus and then down the stomach until you get to the ribs. Remove the insides. You can eat the liver, kidneys and heart, though you should purge them in milk first; throw out the viscera, glands and lungs. Take the rabbit down and cut the hind legs off at the joint. Wash the rabbit assiduously in extremely cold water to remove any lingering hairs, then pat dry and cut into sections. If you are concerned about gamy taste, soak the rabbit pieces in milk for thirty minutes, then discard the milk and pat the rabbit dry.

Hasenpfeffer

Ingredients:

6 slices of thick-cut smoked bacon, cut into small pieces
1 rabbit, about 3-4 pounds, prepared as above
1 c. flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
1 small onion, minced
1/4 c. high-proof brandy (80 proof or better)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pint chicken broth
1 glass big, bold red wine
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig tender young rosemary
3 sprigs fresh savory or oregano
1 fresh bay leaf
6 whole juniper berries
12 whole black peppercorns
3 whole cloves
6 whole allspice
1 stick cinnamon, about 2 inches in length
4-6 gingersnaps, crushed into powder
1 Tbsp. currant jelly (use plum or raspberry if currant is unavailable)
Salt

Preparation:

1. Place the bacon in a cold Dutch oven or heavy skillet and set over medium heat.

2. When the bacon has cooked through and the fat has rendered out, remove the meat. (Use it in a salad or another side dish.)

3. Dredge the rabbit in the seasoned flour and knock off the excess.

4. Turn up the heat and brown the rabbit on all sides in the bacon grease (add oil if needed).

5. Remove the rabbit from the pan and reserve.

6. Turn off the flame, pour in the brandy, and ignite (carefully, and make sure you have a fire extinguisher).

7. When the flames subside, stir with a wooden spoon to loosen all the fond from the pan.

8. Add the onions and garlic and cook over medium heat until translucent.

9. Tie the thyme, rosemary, savory and bay leaf into a bundle with kitchen twine.

10. Place the juniper berries, peppercorns, cloves, allspice and cinnamon into a bundle with a clean cotton handkerchief, then tie off with kitchen twine.

11. Return the rabbit to the pan, along with the broth, wine, herb bundle and spice packet.

12. Bring to a boil, then cover and drop to lowest heat for 1½ hours.

13. Remove the rabbit, herbs and spices from the pan, bring the broth up to high, add the gingersnaps and jelly and correct for seasoning.

14. Serve over spätzle (German wheat dumplings) or boiled egg noodles with lots of gravy.


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