Monday, 24 March 2014
Rabbit and Chorizo Cacciatore
I went to St Lawrence Market this passed weekend without a single dish in mind. St Lawrence is by far the most impressive food market that Toronto (if not Canada) has to offer. It is a conveniently short streetcar ride from where I live so I frequent the market several times a year. Most of the time I have an idea of what I am going there for but aside from a couple of standard things I needed, I decided to surprise myself when I got there. As I was strolling around the main level I passed one of the butchers that carries a variety of common and not so common meat (you'll have to pardon me, I am familiar with many of the businesses at the market but very few by name). They always have whole rabbit carcasses when I'm there. I've tried rabbit once a year or two ago prepared by a friend of mine when she worked at the butcher shop near my apartment. I had just a bite but enjoyed it. So I thought this would be a good opportunity to broaden my horizons on my path to becoming a chef.
So I decided to get a whole rabbit and base a dish around that. Rabbit has lean meat that responds well to stewing. So I started to develop a Spanish inspired stew in my mind with chorizo, yellow onion, tomatoes, potatoes and Mediterranean olives. I ended up adding black beans to my list of ingredients for extra fiber. I was experimenting with this dish, and it turned out great... however the more I tasted it as it cooked the more and more it was turning into an Italian cacciatore. Cacciatore literally means "hunter" in Italian. There is no set-in-stone recipe for it because it would always be a stew of whatever a hunter managed to catch at the time. It is popularly made with chicken or rabbit simmered in tomatoes, onions, herbs and sometimes wine. I cooked my rabbit for over two hours and as I tasted it I realized that it needed something acidic to brighten up the earthy, stewed flavour profile. I had some balsamic vinegar on hand which worked wonderfully (and steered the flavour of the overall dish even more Italian). Balsamic vinegar worked great. When its cooked its intense sourness transforms into a mellower sweet tang that's gorgeous and works really well with the tomatoes and the rabbit. Sherry vinegar would have worked just as well in its place, and would have given it more of a Spanish note. So that is up to you, if you decide to make this. The base flavours will still be the same. It's your choice whether you want to give it an Italian kiss with balsamic or a Spanish kiss with sherry vinegar. Alternatively yet still, a good, dry red wine would work in place of either.
If rabbit isn't your thing, don't worry, you can use a whole, butchered chicken instead. just cut the cooking time in half because chicken doesn't need as long to cook as rabbit. If you've never tried rabbit and are curious about what it's like, it has a slightly gamey flavour but it is overall quite mild. Not to be confused with hare, which to my understanding does have a stronger flavour). It's a white meat animal that's very lean. It is similar to poultry. They have some pesky bones that you may not be used to and it has less meat to bone ratio than a chicken, but it's a nice change once in a while. The extra bones do provide more flavour to the simmering sauce, as they would in a stock.
As you'll see in the next photo, my rabbit carcass came with a bit of offal. I'm no biology expert but I'm fairly certain it came with liver, two kidneys and two lungs. A lot of people seem to differ about offal. It is something that I never ate growing up. Both of my parents hate it so we never had it in the house. I have tried it very few times. It is overall inexpensive and quite good for you (richer in minerals than the muscle meat most of us are used to). I have to say, I have not had many good experiences with it yet. I have had some well seasoned and flavoured liver pâtés before that I have enjoyed but the rest of it hasn't been as great. Offal doesn't really have a bad flavour (though it's not necessarily the best either) but the texture is not very appealing to me. It is reminiscent of dry, muddy sponge. In this recipe, I added the offal to the stew and removed them before serving, almost like an inedible aromatic. That way I got some of the flavour but didn't have to worry about the texture hidden away in there like a deadly game of Russian roulette. You may choose to not include any offal whatsoever. There are people though who do enjoy it and may prefer to leave it in. If you are one of those people, I trust you to know what to do with it. My guess would be to cut it in smallish pieces and add to the sauce near the end as not to overcook it. I tried, what can I say? There will be times where I will try again, I'm sure. Some people swear that done right, offal can be just as tasty as any other part of an animal. It's possible I've just never had it done right before. Until then, I'm confident in the fact that I'm not a huge fan of the stuff.
1 whole rabbit, cut into eight equal pieces (your butcher can do this for you)
1 cured chorizo sausage, finely sliced
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 waxy potatoes, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tin of crushed tomatoes
1 can of black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup of pitted olives (green or black, I'm using green here)
2-3 cups of chicken stock
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (you may choose sherry vinegar or a good red wine)
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 dried chilies (optional)
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp oil for frying
Salt & Pepper
Here is a shot of the carcass that I promised. I asked my butcher to chop it for me. To the bottom left you can see its liver, lungs and kidneys.
Start by seasoning the meat with salt and pepper. Brown the rabbit in batches in a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat with a little oil. Each batch should take about five minutes. If you are using any offal, omit this step for it.
Set the browned rabbit aside and add the chorizo slices to the pot. Stir fry for 2-3 minutes until they start to crisp up.
You may need to add a little more oil at this point. Add the onion and season. Sautée for about five minutes or until the onions soften and take on the colour of the paprika from the chorizo.
Add the garlic and stir for 90 seconds. Add the dried chilies, bay leaf, fresh thyme and stir for about 30 seconds. Then dump in the crushed tomatoes. Stir and bring to a simmer.
Add the browned pieces of rabbit along with any juice that accumulated and the potatoes. Top up with chicken stock until it come up to the top of the meat and potatoes. Stir.
Reduce the heat to low and keep it at a simmer for about 2.5 hours or until the rabbit and potatoes are tender. Stir from time to time to distribute the stew and prevent a skin from forming. Every now and then add a little more stock (or wine or water) as required.
Then, remove the rabbit from the stew and set aside. Increase the heat to medium high and keep it at a gentle boil. Add the vinegar (or wine) and stir. If you're using balsamic vinegar like me here, the colour of the stew will darken. Let reduce for five to ten minutes depending how thick you want your sauce to be. This will also cook out the intensity from the vinegar and bring out its sweetness. Add the black beans and olives with a minute or two left of the gentle boil. They don't need to cook so much as they just need to be warmed through.
Then turn off the heat. Add the rabbit pieces back into the stew, stir to combine and you are almost ready to serve. You will probably want to add seasoning at this point so taste and adjust. Also remember to remove the thyme, chilies and bay leaf.
For me, this was perfect as it was but if you want it a little heavier you could eat this with rice or bread. It's one of those comforting one-pot-wonders that hit that feel good note in you. Feel free to add, replace, subtract any vegetable you like. You could use pancetta or mushrooms instead of chorizo if you like. Some freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano would work nicely with this as well. Have fun!
I hope you enjoyed this out of the ordinary, Mediterranean inspired dish. Stay tuned for more surprised and useful recipes that you can make at home for any occasion.