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Feb 17, 2010 08:22 AM

cooking a whole rabbit?

I've noticed that the butchers in Paris now display whole rabbits in pride of place. I've never cooked one before and I'm wondering if anyone can recommend a recipe, ideally using classic French ingredients. I've eaten rabbit in a terrine, but never whole and I have no idea how it is prepared or presented.
The rabbits on display still have their heads (sans ears), which I assume that the butcher will remove. They are splayed open to display shiny red organs as if they are precious jewels. Pardon my ignorance, but what are these? What do I do with them?

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  1. Rabbit is rarely cooked whole unless you plan to cook it on a rotisserie.One of the most popular classic French recipe is "a la Moutarde".
    have the butcher cut up the rabbit similar to a chicken into 8 pieces: remove the kidney if attached, two front legs, two hind legs, split the loin and cut each side into two pieces.
    Salt and pepper rabbit pieces, brush the pieces with about 1/2 cup of dijon mustard and brown in butter/oil. Remove and saute a large slice onion until lightly brown and soft. Deglaze with some white wine. Add a little chicken stock or broth, couple of bay leaves, sprigs of thyme, etc (wrap it you like). Return the rabbit pieces, except for the loin pieces and kidney which will take less cooking, and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add the loin pieces/kidney and simmer for another 15 minutes or so until the rabbits are just cooked through. Add about 1/2 cup of heavy cream, sour cream or creme fraiche. Add a little more broth if sauce is too thick. Heat through.

    7 Replies
    1. re: PBSF

      Just to explain PBSF's comment that rabbit is rarely cooked whole, this is true because it does not cook evenly when left whole. The loins will be dry and tough by the time the hindlegs are cooked.

      Two more suggestions:

      Braised in wine, like coq au vin. Rabbit is somewhat similar to chicken and takes well to this preparation. Add the hindlegs first, then front legs, then loins last, so that everything cooks evenly.


      1. re: PBSF

        An additional hint for lapin à la moutarde is to beat some Dijon mustard into the sauce at the end. The mustard use at the beginning of the process has pretty much lost its flavor by the time the dish is cooked. There is an excellent recipe in a book called "Cuisine Grandmère" by Marie-Pierre Moine. Long out of print, at least the English edition, but after my French sister-in-law recommended it I found a copy easily online. From what you've been posting about your culinary adventures, I think you'd enjoy this book very much.

        I should add that the best presentation of this dish is on big fat noodles, pappardelle if you can get them. Something simple and green on the side.

        1. re: Will Owen

          Thanks - I found the book on amazon. It looks great.

          1. re: lloreen

            the french methods are undeniably good but please consider the native american recipes as well. they've been cooking rabbit for as long or maybe longer than the french, albeit their style is more crude but nonetheless just as delicious.

            or maybe try this by the great heston blumenthal:


            1. re: epabella

              Any links to good native american recipes? I'm curious to try...

        2. re: PBSF

          I've made a version of this rabbit with mustard from a recipe I found in the NY Times years ago and can vouch that it's delicious - have only made with heavy cream. Like to serve it with rice to soak up the gravy and a green salad.

          I lived in the Italian section of the North End (historic district) for many years. There was one butcher who liked to hang rabbit skins outside his shop to advertise he had the meat in - but I think it was also because he liked to hear the tourists scream. <g>

          1. If you are halfway comfortable braising meat, you cannot foul up rabbit.

            March down there and ask the butcher to joint one for you. Brown it (bacon, oil, butter) and throw in some hearty root veg, herbs and half a bottle of wine (maybe some stock too if you have it at hand). Let it go at a low temp for 45 minutes and you are in like flynn.

            Of course, you could always fret over a recipe but treat this like any basic braise and you are good.

            The "jewels" inside are precisely that. I LOVE rabbit kidneys; pull them out, still wrapped in a bit of fat and quickly brown them in a pan. Touch of salt and you have your chef's treat.

            1. I was lucky enough to be given a couple of rabbits yesterday. Thankfully they'd been skinned as I've never done that for myself.

              I've actually taken as much meat off the bone as I could manage (and, yes, it was a fiddle) and it's now in the freezer.

              Possibly, it will go into a casserole with some pigeon breasts that are also in the freezer.

              I also want to try a recipe idea I have for bunny burgers. If I do for that, I'll mince the rabbit and some streaky bacon (to put some fat into it), finely chop some onion and add salt, pepper and some herbs. I think sage and thyme will work if I'm making them soon, marjoram and chives will get add if it's in a couple of months or so

              5 Replies
              1. re: Harters

                You are lucky to have access to such game in the UK (and you, OP in France). Sadly, wild game is illegal to sell here in the states so those of us who love it need to go to some trouble in order to get it. Happily, rabbits are a snap to dress, it's just a shame we don't have the option of going to the local butcher during the game season.

                1. re: Ernie Diamond

                  Yes; I grew up eating the wild ones my dad shot every year. Those were always braised, either well-floured with onions to make their own gravy, or in hasenpfeffer, Yum yum. The tame ones are okay, but need some serious browning and seasoning to have much flavor, and to make matters worse they're killed too young. One local Latino market got in a batch of BIG rabbits from China, and my first lapin à la moutarde was made with one of those. Plenty for four people, and delicious. But they never had those again...

                  1. re: Ernie Diamond

                    The guy who gave them me has a simple deal with a local farmer. Guy shoots the rabbits as pest control and gets to keep what he shoots. Usually he keeps them for himself but had had a good weekend. He's recently received his rifle licence from the police and has stalking rights somewhere so I'm looking forward to a nice bit of Bambi in due course.

                  2. re: Harters

                    Harters, how long do you cook wild rabbit for? I had one last week and made lapin a la moutarde with it but it was a bit tough. I braised it for about an hour. I'm guessing it needs quite a bit longer...

                    I love rabbit, but I've had mixed results cooking the wild ones. When I was in France last summer the lady who ran the B&B said she always buys farmed ones - much more tender, she said.

                    1. re: greedygirl

                      Dunno, GG.

                      I usually get bunny from Bolton market and I presume it's farmed. Doesnt take long.

                      I think this is the first time I've knowingly had a wild one.

                  3. I love braises and have done it in the caciatorre style, but I really like a grilled rabbit. Butterfly it, then brine it. Marinade with lemon, rosemary and evoo, then grill. You could skewer pieces of the innards on the rosemary branches and brush with evoo. On a side note, my pets knew what I was cooking, they went nuts with the aroma.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

                      I've only cooked rabbit whole once. It doesn't look very attractive. A whole roasted chicken is a beautiful sight... a whole rabbit looks like old roadkill. I always cut up my rabbit and brown the pieces, then braise it with mushrooms, shallots, and white wine...served over noodles. I'm happy enough putting all the sections together to cook the same amount of time. the liver is great, but the kidneys are fantastic.