I don’t know how many times I have been ridiculed for eating jackrabbit. I find most people are very hesitant to cook them either because they’ve been told their whole life that it will give you worms, that it tastes terrible, or they have tried cooking it before and failed miserably. Life is too short to be afraid of cooking a dadgum bunny. Keep an open mind and try new things.
It is true (but rare) that rabbits can contract Tularemia, a bacteria that results in flu-like systems, not a worm. You can detect the bacteria by checking the skin of the animal for ulcerations, and by checking the liver and meat for white or yellowish spots and swollen organs. I have never come across this yet, but to be safe, wear gloves when processing the meat to avoid physical contact and cook the meat throughly to kill the bacteria. Honestly, there is no better way to cook tough meat like jackrabbit than to cook it low and slow for hours until it begins to shred and fall apart.
I channeled my inner Julia Child with this recipe (voice impressions and all) and made a variation of her classic French Bourguignon recipe with jackrabbit instead of beef. I used the saddle of 3 large jackrabbits for this recipe and the meat came out incredibly tender, I bet most people wouldn’t realize it wasn’t beef. You could also use a whole rabbit, keeping the bones on the legs, just know that you will need to spend some time getting the silver skin off and cook it a little longer to get it as tender as the saddle meat. Be sure to give a generous sprinkle of salt 24 hours before cooking, this “dry brine” will make a pretty dramatic difference in the tenderness of the meat.
The recipe itself is pretty simple, you just braise the rabbit with lots of aromatics, carrots and wine in a large dutch oven or pot. To refine the dish a little, I like to add in an extra step. I remove the meat from the stew, strain the solids out from the braising liquid and reduce it to a lovely sauce. I add roasted pearl onions, mushrooms and carrots at the end for serving. Roasting adds more depth of flavor and texture. Doing it this way also gives a really nice presentation, if you have guests over I guarantee they will be very impressed! The recipe below gives instructions for doing it this way. However, if your anything like my husband, you would skip the straining step to save yourself from doing extra dishes and just eat it right out of the stew pot.
Make sure to buy a quality bottle of Burgundy wine because there will be leftovers for drinking!
- 2 - 3 Jacks (I used just the Saddle but you could use the whole rabbit) silver-skin removed, cut into large serving pieces and salted up to 24 hours before cooking
- 3 carrots, roughly chopped
- 2 celery ribs, roughly chopped
- 1 onion, roughly chopped
- 1 large leek, sliced
- 4 Cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 T. Tomato Paste
- 3 T. Flour
- 2½ C. of Full Bodied Red Wine (such as Burgundy)
- 2½ C. of Beef Stock
- 2 bay leaves
- handful of fresh thyme
- Oil for cooking - I used 1 T. of Duck Fat, but traditionally you would render fat from bacon.
- 8 oz. of Mushrooms
- 2 C. Pearl Onions - fresh or frozen See Notes Below*
- Splash Sherry Vinegar (Substitute with Red Wine Vinegar)
- More Thyme for serving
- Additional roasted Carrots, Potatoes or Bread for serving
- Add a Tablespoon of duck fat to a large dutch oven or pot over medium high heat. Once hot, add the rabbit and brown it on both sides. Remove the rabbit and set it aside. Add the onions to the pot and brown for a few minutes, or until it begins to caramalize, then add the leeks, carrots, celery. Cook for an additional few minutes, then add the garlic. Cook another minute or until fragrant. Add tomato paste and flour, stirring to combine. Return the rabbit to the pot and add the liquids, bay leaves and thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 3 hours or until the meat becomes very tender. If the liquids run low add a little more stock to the pot.
- Preheat Oven to 350.
- Use tongs to remove the rabbit from the stock pot and reserve. Strain all of the solids from the liquids and pour the broth back into the stock pot. Return the meat and keep on low heat, allowing it to simmer gently and continue to cook down for another 30 minutes while the mushrooms and pearl onions are roasting. The broth should be very rich and the meat should be falling apart.
- Meanwhile, season the mushrooms and pearl onions with salt, pepper, a splash of sherry vinegar and coat with olive oil. Spread across a large sheet pan and roast for 20 - 30 minutes until browned.
- Serve the rabbit with the roasted mushrooms, pearl onions and extra thyme. You can also roast extra carrots or fingerling potatoes at this time to serve.
*If you are using frozen pearl onions, be sure to let them totally defrost and pat completely dry before roasting. If you are using fresh pearl onions, blanch them in a pot of boiling water for about a minute and then shock in cold water. This will make it easier to remove their skins.