Rabbit Stew with Mushrooms

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I'll be honest. I didn't grow up eating rabbit, and as an adult have had plenty of it that didn't do a thing for me.  This, though... THIS is heaven in a bowl, and made a believer out of me.  This is a great dish for a slow Sunday afternoon when you want to try something a little out of the ordinary.

The way to keep this recipe (relatively) simple and (extraordinarily) delicious is to have a few key ingredients on hand - chicken schmaltz (recipe here) and chicken stock (recipe here, scroll to the bottom) being the most important.  These two items live in my refrigerator or freezer year 'round, and I use them in just about everything.  We also buy a big jug of dried mushrooms from Costco and keep it on hand - it's the perfect flavor for this recipe. 

This recipe works with either a stewer rabbit or a fryer.  Stewers are bigger and will have more meat available relative to the bones.  Fryers are easier to come by.  Use whatever you can get your hands on - you're looking for about 4-5 lbs of rabbit.  More won't hurt.

INGREDIENTS

1 oz dried mixed mushrooms

2 large heads of garlic

1 T olive oil

4-5 lbs rabbit

Salt

4 c chicken stock (if you don't have home made, use Swanson's Low Sodium)

Optional:  One chicken or rabbit liver, 1 1/2 T sour cream

1 1/2 lbs mixed fresh mushrooms

4 T chicken schmaltz (butter if you don't have it)

3 large shallots, chopped

1 c sherry or white wine

1 T fresh thyme, or 2 t dried

1 large parsnip, peeled and chopped

2 T fresh parsley

 

Preheat oven to 375-degrees.

Slice off the top third of the heads of garlic and drizzle the olive oil inside.  Wrap the heads individually in aluminum foil and put them in the oven.  Roast for 45-minutes to an hour, until the cloves are soft and brown.  Set aside to cool.

While the garlic is cooking, cut the rabbit into serving sized pieces.  If you've not cut up a rabbit before, here's a great video to show you how.  Save the ribs, neck and hips for the stock.  Pat dry, sprinkle the pieces with salt and set aside.

Put the rabbit hips, neck and ribs in a small stock pot with the chicken stock, bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a slow simmer.  Put it on the back burner.

Soak the dried mushrooms in 2 c boiling water, set aside.

Optional (but you really want to do this) - mince the liver very fine, and then use a small bowl and a whisk to vigorously mix the liver and sour cream together.  Use a rubber spatula to push the mixture through a fine sieve.  Put the resulting pink cream in the refrigerator for later.

Chop the tough stem ends off of the fresh mushrooms.  Slice the caps and remaining stems.  Drain the rehydrated dried mushrooms (save the liquid) and chop.  

Heat a dutch oven over high heat for a minute.  Add all mushrooms to the pot, stirring constantly until the mushrooms release their water.  Reduce heat to medium high, keep stirring to bring up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot.  Lightly salt.  When the mushroom liquid is largely gone, remove them from the pot and set aside.

Melt the chicken schmaltz in the pot.  Reduce heat to medium and add the rabbit to the pot, browning them a few pieces at a time and removing them when they are brown.  Don't crowd the pot, and don't rush this step.  

While rabbit is browning, pour the stock through a fine strainer to separate out the bones, and pour the mushroom liquid through the strainer into the same bowl to remove mushroom crumbs.  Squeeze the garlic cloves into the stock mixture and whisk it together.  Set aside.

Remove rabbit from pot.  Add a little more schmaltz if needed.  Stir in shallots, again scraping browned bits from the bottom of the pot.  Deglaze with the sherry once the shallots are wilted and let the sherry reduce by half.  Stir in the stock.

Add thyme, mushrooms, rabbit, and parsnips to the pot, bring it to a bare simmer, and let it cook gently for 90 minutes, or until the meat is falling from the bone.  Taste for salt and turn off the heat.  Stir in the parsley.

If you're opting to use the liver mixture (and I hope you are), stir it in right at the last minute once the pot stops bubbling.  It will add thickness and a lot of flavor to the dish.  If you can't manage the liver, you can go half-way by using just the sour cream.  Be sure and don't boil this stew once you've added the liver mixture, it will curdle and you will be sad.

Serve with a big green salad, crusty bread and wine.