Colonial Kitchen // Brown Rabbit Frigasee
Hello! I cooked a rabbit. I know, I was a little on edge about it, too. Terrified, really. And why is that? I don't claim to be a vegetarian, though I am an animal lover/supporter and was a vegan for over a year. On the day that I decided to stop, I went to my favorite burger joint and order a bacon cheeseburger. I mean, I like eating meat, but I also don't like to eat a lot of it. That being said... cooking the rabbit made me sad. I'm sure once we begin keeping chickens, cooking chicken will make me sad, too. I watched The Hundred-Foot Journey the other day and was really struck by a line the mother says in the opening scene. She says, "The [food] taste of life, don't you think? Life has its own flavor. Hidden in that shell, raw, beautiful life. But to cook, you must kill. You make ghosts. You cook to make ghosts. Spirits that live on in every ingredient." I am sure there are people out there that would disagree, but you also have to kill plants to cook, so either way, that statement rings true. It was just really a powerful line that I thought was important to share!
I found this recipe in a book (I will have to go back and find the exact title) from our local library. I was curious to see if there were any books on food and lifestyle in the American Colonies and while there weren't - Kalona's library is extremely small - there was a book titled Founding Mothers or something along those lines. Curious, I opened it, and found that there were several recipes from influential ladies of the time in the back! Jackpot! This particular recipe is by Eliza Lucas Pinckney who lived from 1722 to 1793 in South Carolina. She was born in the British West Indies and was educated in London, which was unique as most girls were not considered worthy to be educated! Her favorite subject was botany; I liked this lady already! Eliza was really rather exceptional. At the age of 16, she managed one of her father's plantations, Wappoo Plantation, and kept a planting + personal journal, which is one of the most detailed and extraordinary collection of writing from an 18th century woman. By the time she was my age, she had discovered how to successfully grow and process indigo dye in the colonies, the thing she was most known for. This later led her to become the first woman inducted into South Carolina's Business Hall of Fame. Incredible! Here is her original recipe:
"Take Rabbits or Chickens, season them with salt, pepper, and a little Mace, then put half a pound of Butter in your pan, Brown it, and dredge it with flower; cut up your Chickens put them in and fry them Brown and have ready a quart of good strong gravy, Oysters, Mushrooms, three Anichovies a chalot or two, a bunch of sweet herbs, and a glass of Claret. Season it high, and when they are boil'd enough take out the herbs, Chalots and Anchovies Bones, shred a lemon small and put in, and when your Chickens are almost brown enough, put them in and let them stew altogether keeping them shaking all the time its on the fire, and when it is as thick as cream, take it up and have ready to lay over it some Bitts of crispt Bacon, Fry Oysters in Hogs lard to make them look Brown, dip them in the Yolks of Eggs and Flour, and a little grated Nutmeg; and Forcemeat Balls: Garnish with Lemon and flowers and serve it."
The moment came when it was time to cook the rabbit. My dad and I visited a local butcher (you don't see those too often!) and hunted down a rabbit. For this dish that I photographed, I only used one rabbit. If I were to make it again, I would definitely use two! They shrink up quite a bit once cooked. I'm trying to be more meat-conscious and not eat as much and the meat that I do eat, I hope to find that it's raised free-range and killed humanely. So, with that being said, I am going to share a photo of the rabbit. If you're squeamish, I'm sorry! I figured if anyone was curious on what it looked like and how to cut it, they might want to see.
There he is. I also added a video that shares how to butcher a rabbit and which parts are typically meant to be eaten. I had no idea where to even begin, so I'm glad that I watched. You want to cook the loins and the hind legs. The butcher we bought our rabbit from had already removed everything from the inside, which I was kind of disappointed about! I've read that the liver and kidneys are a real treat. Next time, I will probably ask if they can save those parts for me and if they could also debone my rabbits! The bones are so fine and delicate, it was hard to fully remove them. Either way, if you are butchering the rabbit, you will want the loins + legs for this dish! If you end up purchasing the entire body, save the front end for stock!!!!
- 2 rabbits, loins and legs
- Salt + Pepper, to taste
- 1 stick of butter
- 4 tbsp flour
- 2-3 cloves garlic, diced
- 1 onion or 2-3 small shallots, diced
- 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 3 stalks of celery, chopped
- 1 cup Crimini mushrooms, sliced
- 1 cup Cabernet Sauvignon
- 2 cups chicken stock
- fresh or 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
- fresh or 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- fresh or 1 tsp dried parsley
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- zest + juice of one lemon
**Optional: Bacon + Oysters! I decided to not add these.
- In a dutch oven, skillet, or large saucepan, heat the butter over medium. Fricassee should be made in a dutch oven, but I don't have one, so I had to be a little creative. You just want to make sure whatever you're cooking in can be covered. I used my cast iron skillet and covered it with tin foil. Whatever works!
- Coat your rabbits in salt and pepper all over. Lay them in your pan, with room for each other, and brown. Mix in 2 tbsp flour, tossing it over the meat, to thicken up the sauce. Continue to flip the pieces over until they turn a nice golden brown, about 10 minutes.
- Remove the meat from the pan and add in the garlic, shallots, carrots, and celery. Saute until softened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and saute until lightly browned and juicy, about 6 minutes.
- Add the wine, stirring a bit, and bringing to a low boil and letting it thicken for a minute or two. Add the stock.
- If you are using dried herbs, add those in now and mix well with the sauce. If you are using fresh, tie them in a bundle and place them in the pan. Lay the rabbit over the top of the vegetables. Bring to a boil and let simmer, partially covered, for about 30 minutes.
- Remove the rabbit and let simmer alone for another 5 minutes. If you would like to thicken your sauce even further, you can make a liaison. Whisk the egg yolks and heavy cream in a small bowl. Stir in a 1/2 cup of the cooking liquids to bring it to temperature and then add the cream mixture to the cooking pan. Stir in until thick.
- Add the rabbit back to the pan and add your lemon zest and juice. Stir gently and serve, over bacon or not!
I am really glad I found this recipe! It was so fun to learn more about Eliza and to see what someone might have actually eaten at the time. It was also fun to build upon her recipe and experiment to make it my own. Such a treat, really! As for making this again, I definitely would, but I think I would go a bit easy on the lemon. Perhaps only add at teaspoon or two of the juice instead of the entire lemon. I'm not a huge fan of lemon chicken, and this reminded me of that flavor quite a bit! I might add a bit more flour, too, to make this more of a gravy than a sauce. I'm a Midwestern gal, what can I say. I hope you enjoy making this dish and learning about a really inspiring colonial woman! And don't forget to save your rabbit and vegetable scraps for stock, my sustainable homesteaders!