Braised Rabbit with Creme Fraiche, Bacon and Pears
The first time I had rabbit was in New Jersey at a Portuguese restaurant in Newark. I was a little afraid, but when I tried it I realized how good it is. Ever since that day, I have been a fan and try to buy it whenever it is available.
1 rabbit (about 2½ pounds), cut into 6 pieces (see note)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 cups crème fraîche
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
¼ pound Circle B Ranch Hickory Smoked bacon, cut crosswise into ¼-inch strips
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 pear, peeled and finely diced
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
2 2-inch strips orange peel (peeled using a vegetable peeler)
1 teaspoon black peppercorn
½ cup dry white wine
1 cup water
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
½ teaspoon lemon zest
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
For the Braised Rabbit
For the Gremolata
Make the rabbit: Season the rabbit pieces with salt and pepper place in a large bowl with the crème fraîche. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350°. Remove the rabbit from the refrigerator an hour before cooking to bring the meat to room temperature.
In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat just begins to render but the bacon is not yet crisp, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the shallots, garlic and pear and cook, stirring often, until the shallots have softened and the flavors have melded together, 12 to 15 minutes.
Place the thyme, bay leaves, orange peel and black peppercorn in the center of a triple layer of cheesecloth. Gather up the ends and tie using kitchen twine to form a bouquet garni. Add the bouquet garni to the pot and and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until fragrant. Add the white wine and reduce by half, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the reserved rabbit with the crème fraiche and the water and bring to a simmer. Cover the dish and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, rotating the pot every 20 minutes. Transfer the rabbit pieces to a clean plate; reserve the pot and cooking liquid.
Remove and discard the bouquet garni. Bring the cooking liquid to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the liquid thickens and becomes velvety, 20 to 30 minutes. Return rabbit to the pot and toss to coat until heated through.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, make the gremolata: Combine the parsley, lemon zest and red pepper flakes.
To serve, arrange the rabbit pieces on a platter and garnish with the gremolata.
Ask your local butcher to cut the rabbit, or cut the rabbit as follows: Using a cleaver, cut the saddle into 2 pieces. Carve out the 2 front legs through the backbone, then carve out the 2 hind legs.