52 Foods Week Twenty Eight: Rabbit

To celebrate passing the Fifty Two Foods midpoint, yesterday Jen and I threw a little dinner party featuring the best recipes from the first 26 weeks. Since it was Bastille Day, I decided to include a surprise French dish of whole spit roasted rabbit. Though rabbit is a fairly ubiquitous game animal, enjoyed in much—if not all—of Europe, and not uncommon in the U.S. either, it has been forever tied with French cooking for me since seeing the fantastic rabbit skinning scene in Le Grand Chemin when I was young.

After a failed attempt to get a rabbit from Cache Creek Meat, I called a couple butcher shops and tracked down a three-plus pounds specimen at Ver Brugge in Oakland. My rabbit was raised by the Rabbit Barn in nearby Turlock, California. Ver Brugge has been my family’s go-to meat source for as long as I can remember. It was likely the source of 80% of the fish and meat I ate before age 18. Until the fantastic Laurelhurst Market opened, I spent many years in Portland chagrined at how often I had to visit grocery stores for meat rather than a true butcher.

The one time I cooked rabbit previously, Easter 2004, it came out a little dry. To avoid this fate, I planned to go with a one-two punch of a marinade for moisture, followed by a mustard paste while it cooked. For the marinade, I went with a slightly simplified version of fellow Reed alumni Steven Raichlen’s French Game Marinade from Barbecue! Bible Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades, Bastes, Butters & Glazes. The marinade is a mix of red wine, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, juniper, thyme, garlic, black pepper, clove, bay leaf and a splash of gin.

French Game Marinade Ingredients

I cooked the ingredients in a pot ’til boiling, then let them cool before pouring them over the rabbit in a large bowl.

Bringing to a Boil

As I prepped the rabbit, I was lucky to discover that it included the kidneys and liver. It only took a few minutes to realize that I should make up a little rabbit pâté.

Rabbit Liver

While the rabbit was marinating, I minced a shallot and chopped the rabbit liver into small pieces. Then I pulled out a jar of rendered pork fat I keep on hand.

Pork Fat

I placed about two tablespoons of pork fat in a small pan to melt.

Fat in a Pan

I threw about one tablespoon of the shallots into the pork fat and let them cook a couple minutes.


When the shallots became translucent, I added the liver and cooked it for a few minutes until it was done.

Liver and Shallots in Pork Fat

With the heat very low, I added a splash of cognac and a little fresh ground pepper and some salt.

Courvoisier Is Key

The cooked liver and shallots went straight into the food processor, where I added about two tablespoons of raw, unsalted pistachios.

Some Pistachios

I pulsed the liver, shallots and nuts then added a tablespoon of unsalted butter.

Blend with Butter

A few more pulses and the pâté was well blended. I put it in a small glass dish then placed it in the fridge for about 5 hours to come together.

Finished Rabbit Pâté

My beloved Beaker & Flask frequently features a fantastic rabbit dish where the rabbit is cooked with a nice mustard glaze. With this in mind I whipped up a paste that would stick to the rabbit giving it some extra fat to hold in the moisture while it cooked. I started with two tablespoons each yellow and brown mustard seeds as well as a tablespoon of dijon mustard.

Mustard Seeds and Dijon

I mixed these with a tablespoon each of butter and salt, and two tablespoons each of olive oil and Herbes de Provence for a thick, flavorful paste.

Herb and Mustard Paste

I let the rabbit marinate for five hours, turning it about once an hour. When it was ready for cooking, the wine had turned it a lovely purple.

Five Hours in the Marinade

I brushed off the juniper berries and peppers, patted the rabbit dry, then spread the spice paste all over it.

Herb and Mustard Pasted

The rabbit was now ready to go on the spit. I speared it then secured it compactly in the center.

Securing the Rabbit

I prepared the Weber for indirect heat with two piles of Lazzari mesquite charcoal, and set the rabbit turning on the rotisserie. The Weber rotisserie is absolutely one of the coolest cooking accessories I have ever purchased. I use it all the time, with all manner of meats, and it never fails to deliver an amazing meal. It’s worth every penny if you have a Weber kettle grill.

Rabbit on the Spit

To bump the flavor up another notch, I added some pecan wood chips periodically as the rabbit cooked, lightly smoking it.

Pecan Chips Over Mesquite Charcoal

I pulled the rabbit after two and a half hours, removed it from the spit and let it rest about 10 or 15 minutes before enlisting Leon, the purveyor of amazing bacon, to carve it up.

Rabbit Resting

Rabbit Liver Pâté:

1 rabbit liver, chopped
1 tbsp. minced shallot
2 tbsp. pork fat
1 pinch fresh ground pepper
1 pinch salt
1 splash cognac
2 tbsp. unsalted pistachios
1 tbsp. unsalted butter

Sautée shallot and liver in pork fat. Reduce heat to low, add cognac, salt and pepper.

Remove from heat and place in food processor. Add pistachios and pulse until well mixed. Add butter and pulse again to combine.

Place in small dish. Chill for at least 5 hours before serving.

Spit Roasted Rabbit:

1 rabbit
For Marinade:
3 cups red wine
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tbsp. gin
2 tsp. juniper berries
2 smashed cloves garlic
2 tsp. black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 whole cloves
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
For Paste:
2 tbsp. yellow mustard seed
2 tbsp. brown mustard seed
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. Herbes de Provence
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tbsp. salt

Combine marinade ingredients in a pot. Bring to a boil then cool to room temperature. Pour marinade over rabbit in a non-reactive container. Cover for 5 hours, turning rabbit as needed to cover evenly.

Mix paste ingredients in a bowl until well blended. Remove rabbit from marinade and pat dry. Cover all sides with paste.

Thread rabbit onto spit and secure tightly in center. Tie legs together if necessary. Cook over indirect heat for two and half hours. Add pecan chips and mesquite as needed to maintain smoke and heat. Let rest 10 minutes before carving.

Finished Rabbit

All the photos can be found here.

52 Foods Week Eleven: Deglet Noor Dates

Just east of Palm Springs and the jutting San Jacinto Mountains, lies the Coachella Valley. Known to many as the home of a large music festival, it is also the largest date producing region outside of the Middle East. Two winters ago, we visited the valley and stopped at Shields Date Garden, in Indio, CA, whose small store is as much a paean to the date as it is a retail outlet. At Shields we tasted nearly a dozen date varietals, most of which are difficult—if not impossible—to find in grocery stores outside the valley. Because a trip to Indio is impractical on an average Saturday morning, I was thrilled to discover Siegfried Dates at the farmers’ market. They offer many date varietals from Coachella growers, including some delicious Deglet Noors from Leja Farms.

Deglet Noors are a fairly robust date varietal, recommended for cooking. While we were selecting out dates, another purchaser mentioned she was going to use her Deglet Noors in a pork dish, and leaving the market, we initially had similar ideas; however, when I realized that Monday was Pi Day, my thoughts turned to baking a date-pecan pie.

Based on a quick Google search, there seems to be a canonical date-pecan pie recipe, sourced of all places from Cooking Light. I am a bit skeptical about the “light” claims for this pie, but my wife assures me that the recipe is “light for a pie.” As I am far more versed in eating pies than baking them, I am trusting her on this point, but I would consult your a nutritionist or physician before making this, if calories and fat are a mortal concern.

Using a pretty good store bought pie crust (again, I am not a baker) makes this recipe ridiculously easy. I chopped the dates and pecans (Pawnee pecans from Chico, CA), then sprinkled them evenly on the bottom of the pie crust.

Dates and Pecans in the Shell

For the rest of the filling, I mixed brown sugar, molasses (which I used to replaced the dark corn syrup the recipe calls for), eggs, a little flour and a touch of vanilla and salt. When poured into the pie crust, this lifted the date and pecan pieces, suspending them in a rich, dark mixture of fat and sugar.

Filled Pie Shell

I baked the pie for 45 minutes, then removed it and added a layer of whole pecans to the top. It needed about 15 more minutes in the oven to finish.

45 Minutes Along

I think the pie came out looking pretty sharp.

Finished Pie

We served the finished pie with a healthy dollop of unsweetened whipped cream.

Pie with Unsweetened Whipped Cream

To complement it, we opened a cellared bottle of Full Sail Brewing’s 2009’s Black Gold Imperial Stout, a delicious, bourbon barrel aged imperial stout from one of Oregon’s premiere breweries.

2009 Full Sail Black Gold Imperial Stout

This is an awesome pie recipe, and I consider this a first run with it. I found the cup and a half of molasses to be a bit too strong, and in the future I plan to try a half cup of molasses and a 1/2 cup of bourbon brown sugar simple syrup (1/2 cup brown sugar dissolved in 1/4 cup bourbon). I also have a strong desire to add a little chopped bacon to the filling. The pork-date alliance is too strong to resist.

The pie making is documented in full here.