May 22, 2013

Lapin à la Dijon: Bunny in Mustard Cream Sauce

There are an awful lot of recipes out there for rabbit in mustard sauce. A LOT. And, a lot of them are fairly awful, in my opinion - heavy, trudging things where both the rabbit and the sauce have been assaulted with unnecessary use of flour, or which involve multi-staged cooking in that various bits must be fried before baking (almost guaranteed to make a tough bunny, in my opinion).

This is the first recipe for Lapin à la Dijon that I ever made, and after trying a few other iterations, I can safely say that it is the best - easiest to execute, and most delicious. There are plenty of other wonderful recipes out there that involve rabbit (another favourite is Lapin aux Olives, from Les Halles Cookbook, and Rabbit in Saffron Sauce from Jennifer McLagan's Bones, but for mustard cream sauce, this one is my winner. I'd love to credit the source, but unfortunately that has been lost in history. It's been written on my little recipe index card for too many years, for me to have noted its origin.

If you have a very cooperative butcher, you can probably get your bunny fully prepped and ready to go, making this dish ridiculously simple to make. If, however, you are on a budget and own a sharp knife and an extra hour or so of time, you can easily do it yourself. I followed the directions in James Pederson's Essentials of Cooking for how (and where!) to cut. Front and back legs are each removed at the proximal joint, and then the spine and ribcage are carefully sliced around with a boning knife until you can lift the bones right out of the meat. Then, simply (ha ha, I crack myself up) roll up the remaining boneless meat, which is called a "saddle", and consists of the tenderloins and the thin flaps from the side and breast of the rabbit, and tie with butcher's twine into a tidy package (as if you were trussing a roast). Even if you accidentally cut through the skin over the spine, and have two separate halves when you are done (cough), thanks to the miracle of twine, you can still make a lovely, tidy looking roulade of the rabbit saddle. Of course, you can also just chop the rabbit into parts, and cook them all bone-in. It's quicker to make, but fiddlier to cope with at the table.

Okay! That's the tough part out of the way - the rest is clear sailing.

Lapin à la Dijon

Serves 4

1 rabbit, jointed, liver and kidneys removed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2-3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup room-temperature white wine (dry riesling is an excellent choice)
2-3 finely minced shallots
1 cup crème fraîche
4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup minced fresh tarragon (or fresh parsley)

Place the rabbit pieces in a baking dish (one with sides). Rub the pieces with olive oil, sprinkle sparingly with kosher salt, and dot with butter.

Bake at 400 F for 30 minutes. Remove dish from the oven, and add the shallots, and white wine. If your baking dish is made of glass, such as Pyrex, it's a good idea to pour the wine gently over the rabbit pieces themselves, rather than directly onto the glass, to avoid shocking the glass (a rapid change of temperature can cause breakage).

Isn't this pretty? The minced shallots look like fallen cherry blossoms. It seems like it would be perfect for a sakura festival.

Bake for another 45 minutes.

Combine the crème fraîche with the Dijon, and spoon into the pan (it might be easier to remove the rabbit pieces first, so that you can integrate the creamy mustard mixture into the liquid in the pan. Reduce the heat to 350 F, and return the pan (and the rabbit, if you removed it) for another 15 minutes. Stir the tarragon (or parlsey) into the sauce.

Serve with rice or egg noodles or something to take advantage of the creamy, saucy goodness. The roulade can easily be sliced into beautiful little rounds to share about, since not all of the legs are created equal, and because it's nice to have a bit of rabbit where you don't need to work around the bone.

If you have leftovers, for example, say you were only feeding two people with this dinner, the leftover meat can be made into absolutely delicious crêpes or even used as a pizza topping (using the leftover Dijon sauce instead of tomato, of course). In that case, be sure to take the meat off the bones (if necessary) before refrigerating, as it is much, much easier to do.

You'll note that I didn't tell you what to do with the liver and kidneys which may have come with your rabbit. Here's what you do: Saute those bad boys in a little butter with a sprinkle of coarse salt and pepper, chop very roughly, and serve them on fried bread or toast points to your delighted guests. Or, devour them yourself, as a much earned treat.

One final note: If you are feeling particularly hardcore, having deboned the rabbit saddle and now being faced with a bunch of bones, go ahead and make them into stock for the freezer. Because, at some point in the future, you may want to make bunny pie, or some sort of fricassee, and this will be your absolute treasure at that nebulous point in the future.

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