Rabbits have been part of the Australian landscape for a long time; they were brought over with the first fleet in 1788 then were farmed for food during the mid-1800s. They were released into the wild as sport for hunters and became one of the largest and most expensive introduced pests this country has ever seen.
Humans have eaten rabbit and hare for centuries, though in Australia rabbit became seen as depression food in the 1930s and as war-era food in the 40s. This brought about the demise of the rabbit on the home table and restaurant table alike. Thankfully the humble rabbit has seen a resurgence in popularity both at home and on fine dining restaurant menus.
After winning a particular challenge on Mastechef I was rewarded with dining and a master class at Justin North’s award winning restaurant Bécasse in Sydney. Justin showed me how to prepare his magnificent assiette of rabbit. He shares the same food philosophy as me in regards to eating the entire beast, which is reflected in his restaurant menu, and this dish was no exception. It even included a stuffed rabbit ear, which I had never ever seen on a menu before. The dish was sublime; so good I went back and had it again.
It is timely that a new generation rediscovers the rabbit. Compared to a chicken it is leaner, lower in fat, has less calories, is tastier and sustainable – the little buggers breed in a 30 day cycle! So now more people want a healthier and cheaper diet it could be the meat of the future.
Most good butchers carry farmed and wild rabbits. I personally prefer the farmed rabbits, as they are more tender and available all year round. It is best to buy the rabbit whole, dressed and ready to go. Jointing a rabbit is quite easy, it just takes a couple of attempts to master. Rabbits are generally around the 1.2kg to 1.5kg weight range, which is more than enough to comfortably feed four people. When buying a whole rabbit you generally also get the kidneys and liver – this is a great way to assess the freshness of the beast and makes a great addition to a stuffing or pan-fried as a cooks treat. (I prefer the latter.)
Rabbits can be prepared in numerous ways: ballottines, rillettes, pies, sausage rolls, braised, pan-fried or roasted to name a few. Rabbit has a subtle flavour so don’t overpower it, you want the flavour of the rabbit to be the hero of the dish. Rabbit dishes love white wine, beer, thyme, rosemary, pancetta, leek, shallots, beans and potato.
Bière de garde, a dark Belgian Trappist Ale, a Belgian Blond or an English Ale
Beer braised bunny sausage rolls. Makes 20
olive oil, for cooking
1 rabbit, approx 1.2kg, segmented
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 leeks, white part only, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 fresh bay leaf
4 sprigs thyme
1 × 330ml bottle Belgian Blonde beer
handful chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 free range egg yolk, beaten
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Heat a flameproof heavy-based casserole over medium heat and pour in a good amount of olive oil. Season the rabbit pieces with salt and pepper, then add to the pan and cook for 5 minutes until browned all over, working in batches if necessary. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Sauté the leek and garlic for 5 minutes or until softened and slightly browned, then add the herbs and return the rabbit to the pan. Deglaze the pan with beer then bring to the boil. Add the stock, cover and cook in the oven for 3 hours or until the rabbit is very tender and falling off the bone. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the liquid.
Remove the rabbit pieces from the braising liquid and discard the herbs. Return the pan to stove and simmer over a medium heat for 20 minutes or until the mixture is reduced by two-thirds and unctuous. Strip all the meat from the bones, being very careful to remove all bones (rabbit bones are very delicate and can break easily). Return the meat to the braising liquid and leave to cool. Stir through the chopped parsley.
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Roll out the pastry to an oblong 30 x 40 cm. Cut in half lengthways.
Take half the filling and, using floured hands, roll it into a long sausage shape and place along the long edge of one piece of pastry. Brush the edges with a little water and fold over, pressing down to seal. Place the sealed edge underneath. Repeat with the remaining pastry and filling.
Using a sharp knife, cut the sausage rolls into 3 cm lengths, discard the end pieces. Brush with egg yolk and using scissors snip little v’s in the top of the sausage roll.
Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden.
Serve with pea puree, fried leek and grilled rabbit kidneys.