It has been a while since I had last cooked a recipe from Biba Caggiano, my favorite cookbook author. Rabbit in piquant sauce is something I had prepared before more than a decade ago, and I remember the rabbit turned out a bit dry and tough. I thought it would be worth trying it again, and decided to make it both as a traditional stovetop braise (as per Biba’s recipe) as well as a sous-vide version. Both recipes are included below. The piquant sauce with tomatoes, vinegar, garlic, anchovy, rosemary, capers, and parsley is delicious and has great depth of flavor. Although it is great with farmed rabbit, I am sure it was originally intended to mask the strong scent that wild (feral) rabbit meat often has. The main change I made to Biba’s recipe is that I prefer to mince the capers rather than including them whole.
Rabbit meat is notoriously difficult to cook right. As the meat is so lean, it will easily get dry before it becomes tender. Even sous-vide it is difficult, as rabbit can become unpleasantly tender. You may not believe that meat could ever become too tender, but way until you try rabbit cooked sous-vide for too long at 60C/140F. When cooked just for a couple of hours at that temperature, the rabbit becomes amazing and unlike anything you could achieve on a stovetop. But you may not like that texture, as it is unlike what you are used to.
I recently read about cooking rabbit sous-vide for 8 hours at 75C/167F. At first I thought that couldn’t possibly work. If rabbit is already overcooked after 5 hours at 60C/140F, surely it would be extremely overcooked when cooked both longer and hotter. It turned out I was wrong. Rabbit cooked sous-vide for 8 hours at 75C/167F is exactly like a stovetop braise in terms of texture and tenderness. It is not as juicy as cooked sous-vide for a couple of hours at 60C/140F, but it certainly isn’t dry either. And the good thing is, compared to the stovetop braise it is easier and fool-proof. Even a talented and experience cook like ChgoJohn mentioned that he once messed up cooking a rabbit, and I certainly have, too.(As a coincidence, ChgoJohn blogged about a great recipe for stovetop braised rabbit today as well. Go check out his great blog if you don’t know it already.) So from now on, I will be cooking rabbit sous-vide for 8 hours at 75C/167F for consistent results.
Below I start with the stovetop recipe, followed by the sous-vide version. The ingredients are the same for both versions, but the preparation is a bit different as in the sous-vide version sauce and meat have to be cooked separately. The meat is cooked sous-vide in the sauce, but the sauce itself isn’t reduced or actually cooked during the sous-vide process.
For 2 servings
2 rabbit legs, about 400 grams (.9 lb) total
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 Tbsp minced fresh rosemary
salt and freshly ground black pepper
80 ml (1/3 cup) dry white wine
120 ml (1/2 cup) pureed canned plum tomatoes
60 ml (1/4 cup) good-quality white wine vinegar
1 anchovy fillet, minced, or an equivalent amount of anchovy paste
1/2 Tbsp minced fresh flat leaf parsley leaves
1 Tbsp rinsed, dried and minced capers
(Scroll down for the sous-vide preparation.)
Heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a frying pan. Brown the rabbit pieces on all sides over medium heat.
When the rabbit pieces have been browned, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper on both sides, and add garlic and rosemary.
Add 80 ml (1/3 cup) of dry white wine, and stir over medium heat until half of it has evaporated.
Add 120 ml (1/2 cup) of pureed canned tomatoes.
Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.
Cover and simmer over very low heat for about an hour and a half, or until the rabbit is tender. (Biba says 30 to 40 minutes, but in my experience that is never enough to get it tender.)
Stir and turn the rabbit legs about every 15-20 minutes.
In a small saucepan, cook 60 ml (1/4 cup) white wine vinegar…
…until reduced to about a tablespoon. Turn off the heat.
Mince 1 anchovy fillet with a tablespoon of capers and half a tablespoon of parsley.
Add this mixture to the vinegar.
When the rabbit is tender, take it out of the pan and put it on preheated plates.
Add the vinegar mixture to the pan.
Cook over high heat, stirring, until the sauce has has a nice thick consistency.
Season the rabbit legs with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Brown them in olive oil on all sides. Tilt the pan to brown them on the sides as well, as shown in the photo.
When the rabbit legs have been browned, take them out of the pan and put them on a plate to cool. Add half a tablespoon of minced rosemary and a minced garlic clove to the pan, and stir for a few seconds (making sure the garlic doesn’t brown, as that would make it bitter).
Deglaze with 80 ml (1/3 cup) of dry white wine.
Cook over medium heat, scraping with a wooden spatula to get any browned bits into the sauce, until the wine has been reduced by about half.
Add 120 ml (1/2 cup) of pureed canned tomatoes.
Cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, while the rabbit legs are still cooling off.
Keep going until the sauce has a nice thick consistency. Remember that the sauce won’t reduce when it is cooked sous-vide in a vacuum sealed bag!
The rabbit with sauce cannot be vacuum sealed using a regular ‘clamp’ vacuum sealer.
If you have a chamber vacuum sealer, allow both the rabbit and the sauce to cool off completely, then vacuum seal. (When they have not cooled off, the low pressure will make the juices boil at a low temperature.)
If not, use a ziplock bag and the water displacement method. In that case, it is fine if the rabbit and/or sauce are still warm.
Cook sous-vide for 8 hours at 75C/167F.
After those 8 hours, pour the sauce from the bag into a frying pan and add 60 ml (1/4 cup) of white wine vinegar.
Cook over medium heat until the sauce has a nice thick consistency.
Put the rabbit legs in the pan as well, and add half a tablespoon of minced parsley, a minced anchovy fillet, and a tablespoon of minced capers. Stir to incorporate those into the sauce, and cook over low heat until the rabbit legs have warmed up a little on the outside (if you like you could coat them with the sauce).
This is nice with a Zweigelt, a spicy but light bodied red from Austria.
By coincidence, today’s flashback is also one of Biba’s recipes: stuffed veal bundles.