Rabbit with a Mustard Cream Sauce
This dish is a classic provincial French dish that consists of a rabbit leg and loin served with a vibrant mustard cream sauce. The rabbit can be done two ways, the first using a sous vide machine and the second by simply pan frying it and finishing it in an oven. As the main component of the dish is the delicate taste of rabbit combined with a fresh mustard sauce, it is important to use an excellent mustard when making the sauce, preferably one from Dijon. Furthermore, the mustard should be added to the cream base just before serving as to preserve the volatile compounds in mustard that gives it its classic spicy bite. A fine balance needs to be achieved between the amount of mustard in the sauce and the creaminess of the sauce to ensure the acidity and spiciness of the mustard is able to cut through the cream without being overpowering.
In terms of choosing a rabbit, a trade off needs to be made between using wild rabbit or farmed rabbit for this dish. Farmed rabbit is easier to obtain and larger in size, but it is considerably less complex in flavour and can sometimes be so lacking in flavour that it can “taste like chicken”. On the upside, farmed rabbit is more tender and is available all year round. Conversely, wild rabbit, also known as lapin de garenne, has very low natural fats and can tend to be on the tough and chewy side if not cooked properly. The flavour of wild rabbit is more gamey but is still light enough to be considered a white meat. Because of this, I prefer to sous vide wild rabbit for long periods of time, which not only preserves the tenderness of the meat by trapping moisture inside it, but also slowly breaks down the meat proteins.
Rabbit with a Mustard Cream Sauce:
- 1 Whole Rabbit which will yield 4 Legs, Loin, Innards and Bones
- Rabbit Stock:
- Dried Bay Leaves
- Fresh Thyme
- Whole black and red peppercorns
- Rabbit Bones
- A small amount of Dijon mustard
- White Wine
- Rabbit Stock
- Salt and Pepper
- To start off, we need to breakdown the rabbit into its individual components. Reach into the cavity of the rabbit and pull out the liver and 2 kidneys which are usually left behind by the butcher when you buy rabbit. Reserve on one side.
- Remove the hind legs and front arms of the rabbit by first cutting around the base of the joints connecting the legs and arms to the body, following the muscle all the way round. Use one hand to hold the body and another to hold the arm/leg.
- Bend the joint against its natural movement direction to break the joint, allowing a clean removal.
- Once complete, cut through the meat between the second and third rib of the rabbit on both sides before snapping the backbone in half to break the body in two. Reserve the ribcage for the rabbit stock.
- The remaining half of the rabbit is called the saddle, and it includes the rabbit loin, which can be removed from the bone by gently running a knife along one side of the backbone against the meat, and working downwards in long continuous slices, allowing the bones to guide you as you separate the meat from the bone.
- Repeat with the other side of the backbone.
- After removing the loins, reserve the bones for stock. Roll the loin up lengthwise before clingwrapping and refrigerating.
- As the loin is very tender and easy to overcook, sear it on a frying pan for a few minutes before allowing it to rest. It is not nessary to finish it in the oven which would risk overcooking it. If you intend to sous vide the legs, sous vide-ing the loin as well would be a waste of time.
- The liver and kidneys can be poached and eaten along with the dish in the cream sauce, or just pan fried with a little salt and eaten by itself.
- To make the stock, start by boiling the rabbit bones for several minutes before pouring out the water and cleaning the bones thoroughly under running water. This helps remove all the blood and dirt from the bones, saving you the trouble from constantly needing to skim the stock.
- Return the cleaned bones to the pot, add the fresh thyme and bay leaves to the pot, along with some whole peppercorns, before filling with water until the bones are just covered. Bring the stock up to a gentle simmer and leave for 3 hours, removing any impurities that rise to the surface.
- Because we intend to use the stock as a base for the sauce, it is important to keep it as clear as possible. Thus bringing the stock to a boil while the bones are still in the pot will agitate the contents, making the stock cloudy. For the same reason, we use whole peppercorns and entire sprigs of thyme to ensure that when we have finished cooking the stock, we can pass it through a fine mesh strainer to remove all the herbs and bones.
- Once we have strained the stock, bring it up to a boil and reduce it down to around a cup of stock.
- To make the sauce, start off by melting the butter in a saucepan before sweating the minced shallots and garlic in it. At this point we don’t want to brown the garlic or shallots as we want to preserve the lightness of the sauce as remember, the taste of rabbit meat is light and we want to accentuate that.
- Add in a splash of white wine and cook off the alcohol before pouring in the stock. When the stock has reduced to a slightly salty taste, whisk in the cream and set aside.
- Do not bring the cream to a boil as there is a chance of the cream curdling and the sauce becoming lumpy. The chances of this happening increases if the cream you are using is below 30% fat, or if the sauce is fairly acidic, which is this case the sauce is slightly acidic due to the addition of wine. Do not add the mustard to the sauce yet.
- To cook the rabbit loin, remove the rabbit loin from the clingwrap and season well with salt and pepper. Sear briefly all around on a cast iron pan before allowing to rest.
- For the rabbit legs, season well with salt and pepper before also searing in a cast iron pan. At this point, a little butter may be added to the pan with the remaining oil before inserting the pan along with the rabbit legs into the oven for around 10 minutes at 180°C.
- Once cooked, plate the dish by placing the rabbit loin first, followed by the rabbit leg.
- Whisk in the mustard into the warm reheated cream sauce before pouring over the rabbit.
To cook the rabbit leg sous vide, season the rabbit legs with salt and pepper before vacuum packing the legs and sous vide-ing for 12 hours at 75°C. I do not recommend adding oil to the bag as it dilutes the flavour of the rabbit. While seasoning the rabbit before sous vide-ing it does draw out the moisture from the rabbit, 12 hours is long enough for the moisture to be absorbed back in. There is also the option to add herbs to the sous vide bag, but I prefer the taste of the rabbit up front and forward. To finish off the rabbit legs, remove from sous vide back, pat dry with paper towels before searing on a cast iron pan with a knob of butter. Serve the same way as before.
It is understandable that rabbit can be hard to find in many countries, so a viable alternative to rabbit legs is chicken thighs- but of course it won’t taste the same.
In term of wine parings, I feel that rabbit meat is one of these dishes that is delicate enough to go with a white wine. Due to the spiciness of the mustard, along with the fat from the cream, I would recommend a dry to off dry riesling, with it’s floral notes and crisp acidity to cut the fat. Maybe one from the Mosel in Germany. For red wines, I would recommend a light red with not too much tannins such as Beaujolais Cru or if the you’re up for a splurge, a good red Burgundy. I would recommend against basic Beaujolais as the taste of bubblegum imparted on the wine from carbonic maceration would not match the dish. A light red with low acidity (such as a Southern Rhone Grenache) would also not pair well with the dish as the fatty feeling from the cream sauce would be overwhelming.