Louisiana is known as Sportsman’s Paradise because of its many fertile waterways and dense woodlands. In this part of the country, hunting and fishing is a way of life for many and the number one extracurricular activity for the majority of those who don’t make a living off the land. If you grew up around these parts, chances are you were introduced to a wide array of fresh seafood and wild game at a young age. Both are regional staples on family dinner tables and restaurant menus. If you grew up elsewhere and did not have similar experiences, let me encourage you to expand your culinary horizons.
Of all the small game animals hunted in South Louisiana, rabbits are probably the most popular from both a sport and skillet perspective. I can’t speak much to the sport because I’ve never been rabbit hunting. From the skillet angle, however, I have plenty to offer. Let’s start with the value of the meat. According to the USDA, rabbit is one of the most nutritionally sound meats you can eat. It’s predominately white meat that’s higher in protein and lower in fat than beef, pork and poultry. The meat is tender and full-flavored. But you don’t have to be a hunter or know a hunter to reap the benefits. Because of the meat’s growing popularity, rabbit farms have popped up all over the country and you can usually find good quality domestic rabbit meat at most major supermarkets or speciality food stores.
Domestic rabbits are smaller than their wild counterparts and taste slightly sweet. Wild rabbits are bigger, a tad tougher and mildly gamey. However, both the toughness of the meat (which is unnoticeable by most accounts) and wild flavor can be tamed with an overnight marinade (see note in recipe). This sauce piquant preparation, with its low and slow cooking and sharp seasoning base, is perfect for either species. I hope you’ll give it a try and let me know what you think!
Rabbit Sauce Piquant Recipe
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon white pepper
6 cups rabbit or chicken stock (or chicken broth)
3/4 cup canola oil, divided
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped green bell peppers
1/4 cup chopped celery
1 large fresh jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 large rabbits, cut into serving pieces
1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes
2 bay leaves
Baked Rice, for serving
In a small bowl, thoroughly combine seasoning mix. Season rabbit with 1 tablespoon seasoning mix; set aside. Reserve remaining seasoning mix. In a large Dutch oven or stockpot over medium-high heat, bring stock to a strong simmer. Meanwhile, in a large heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, make a roux by heating the oil over high heat until it begins to smoke. Gradually add flour, whisking carefully and vigorously after each addition until smooth. Continue whisking until the roux is the color of milk chocolate. Add the onions, bell peppers, celery and jalapeño peppers. Cook, whisking constantly, until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and tomato paste. Cook, whisking constantly, an additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Once stock has come to a strong simmer, gradually whisk in roux mixture. Add rabbit, chopped tomatoes, bay leaves and reserved seasoning mix. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until rabbit is tender, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Remove rabbit from sauce and let cool slightly. Once rabbit is cool enough to handle, debone and cut meat into bite-size pieces; discard skin and bones. Return meat to pot and adjust seasonings if necessary. Serve warm over Baked Rice. Makes 6-8 servings.