February 16, 2014

Hasenpfeffer (plus International Bento: Germany)

As any Bugs Bunny fan knows, Hasenpfeffer is a delicious German rabbit stew (probably best made without cartoon rabbits). This dish can be made with a whole, cut up rabbit, or with just hind legs, which makes for big, meaty pieces for each serving. In Germany, rabbit is a popular enough meat that it is available in the grocery stores either whole or in a variety of cuts (and even as pre-made frozen dinners, actually), so it is simple and affordable to purchase only the hind legs, which is what I've used here.

It is essential that the rabbit be marinated, although different regions vary significantly in what exactly constitutes the correct marinade - everything from red wine, to white wine, to vinegar, or even some of each. The stew is well seasoned with onions, bay leaves and peppercorns, and simmered slowly for a rich, luxurious flavour. Some recipes also called for dried fruit (most notably plums) to add a subtle sweetness to the gravy. My recipe is a hybrid of many different recipes that I encountered in my research.


Serves 4 - 6

1 kilogram rabbit pieces (hind legs are best)
2 cups dry red wine (I used a Spätburgunder, which is essentially a German Pinot Noir)
1 1/2 inch cinnamon stick
12 Juniper berries
10 black peppercorns
3 large bay leaves
2 large onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 1/2 cups diced celeriac (stalk celery is also fine)
kosher salt to taste
2 tablespoons peanut oil (or olive oil)
1/4 cup unbleached wheat flour

If you want to make it an all-in-one meal, you can also add some diced carrots and potatoes, but be sure to add them towards the end of the braising time, or they will turn to mush.

In a non-reactive bowl (glass (eg. Pyrex) works well), marinate the rabbit pieces overnight in the red wine, along with the cinnamon, Juniper berries, bay leaves, and black pepper. Turn the pieces once or twice as necessary, to ensure it marinates evenly.

Remove the rabbit from the marinade (reserving the marinade), and dry the pieces well. Toss them in the flour, shaking well afterward to ensure that there isn't too much flour on each piece (I give each piece a little spank to shake off the excess). Fry the rabbit pieces (in the peanut oil) in a large skillet over medium-high heat, until well browned on both sides. Work in batches if necessary. As the pieces are finished frying, remove them to a dutch oven. When all of the rabbit pieces are fried and standing by, add the onions, garlic, and celeriac to the skillet, and sauté briefly. When the onions have started to turn translucent, add the sautéed vegetables to the rabbit.

Into the emptied skillet, pour the wine and spices (the reserved marinade). Bring up to a simmer, and let reduce by about a third. Make a slurry of about a tablespoon of the leftover flour from the rabbit-frying stage, and a little water (about 1/2 cup). Add the slurry to the reduced wine, and stir well until it begins to thicken. Remove the spices (a sieve works best). Pour the wine mixture over the rabbit and vegetables, and put the dutch oven over medium heat. Try to arrange the rabbit pieces and vegetables as compactly as possible, so that it takes as little liquid as possible to cover the meat. If the meat is not completely covered, add some broth or stock (chicken, vegetable, or game is all fine) or water until the meat is just covered.

Bring the dish to a gentle simmer and reduce the heat to low. Cover, and allow the dish to braise slowly for about one and a half hours (you can do this in the oven, if you like).

Remove the rabbit pieces from the sauce onto a platter and keep warm. You can serve them on the bone, or with the bones removed - I chose on the bone, simply for the presentation, but after dinner I removed the bones from the leftovers that would be used for the bento (see below).

Press the sauce-liquid and vegetables through a sieve to make a smooth sauce (you could also use a stick blender). Taste, and correct for salt if necessary. The sieved vegetables will add body, but if the sauce is a bit thin, you could choose to thicken it at this point.

If you are serving the pieces on the bone, simply plate and ladle some sauce over top. If you are serving boneless, remove the bones from the meat, and return the meat to the sauce before serving.

We served this on homemade spätzle with braised red cabbage and apples, which is a fairly classic combination, all of which also went into the next day's bento lunch.

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