As you no doubt already know, we had rabbit for dinner last night. Well, the nature of family cooking is such that, although there were 7 of us for quail eggs and rabbit casserole, there was still enough to bung in the slow cooker for a splendid meal this evening as well.One of the things which has come out of this is that a much larger number of people than I had imagined have never really dealt with dead animals.
For me, hares, rabbits, pheasants and ducks were a normal part of life and, whilst I love them alive, I also was aware of where meat came from and accepted it from before I can remember with a level of equanimity.
My own three children are all used to dead animals (well, that's pushing it a little with the three month old, but I'm confident about the elder two). They love live animals and recognise that the dead ones are just a shell which is food, which the live animal used to live in.
I think that rabbits are sad for them when they first see them (kids love fluffy things, although I do try to teach them that being pretty doesn't make something's life more valid) but they are interested in the process.
I show them how tendons work and how to skin a carcass but, whilst I let them experiment with pulling tendons to see how the leg work, or whatever, I never let them 'play' and I think they have picked up on the respect for the animal. This is important to me, I kill to eat and I do have to butcher in an objective manner and there is no place for sympathy, but there is still a need for respect. I have met people who enjoy the act of killing, but I find it unhealthy. For me, it's just the procedure required to produce the food.
In light of all of this, I thought I'd do a little tutorial on preparing rabbit. There are plenty available, but I have my own idiosyncrasies and I want to share them, so here we go.
First of all you need rabbits. Rabbits are best fresh, but if, like this time, you get 9 at once then some of them have to be frozen. If you do freeze them then hang them for as long as you want before freezing and then defrost immediately before preparing. I only hang them for a couple of days as I don't like my meat too ripe, but these have come from someone else and have hung a little longer than that.
For the sake of this post I shall only be preparing one rabbit, so let's go for the closer of the two.
When shooting, one guts the animal in the field. Personally I carry a small, double bladed knife, which I slit the rabbit down the stomach with, as soon as I have shot it, being careful not to cut too deeply and perforate anything. I then cut a hole in one leg and pass the other through it, for ease of carrying/hanging.
For myself, I then remove everything I can from the body cavity. As you can see, the chap who shot these left some sweetmeats behind. For myself I always discard these, but it is a matter of personal preference, like giblets in chicken.
Now it's time to get to work. Since it's been hanging for some time you aren't about to get covered in blood here, but don't wear your school uniform. You'll need some tools. I use a cleaver for, well, cleaving, a small knife for cutting, a large knife for filleting and a pair of military medical scissors left over from my time as a medic. The scissors are, perhaps, irregular, but I find they are excellent (I use them for slicing bacon for coddle and such as well).
The first job is to elongate the existing cut. Once this is done one pushes the hind legs back into the body like taking a cardigan off a baby, so that the knees shoe through the incision.
From here it is quite a manual job to pull the legs through. The skin will detach at the ankle by itself, so you are left with a rabbit wearing socks.
The feet have no use beyond reported good luck when worn as an amulet, but I hold no truck with that, so off they come and, after a quick demonstration of tendons, they go onto the newspaper.
Now many purists will pick holes in my methods, but I skin rabbits in order to get meat and for no other reason, so there are short cuts which I deem worth taking. With this in mind I gather up the fur and, gently but firmly, I ease it away from the spine. Once I have a decent lifted section I use the scissors or a knife (I used a knife this time, but there is nothing to choose between them) to cut the tail away from the carcass.
We get the opportunity to stay on topic for the blog here as it's time to cut out any innards from the lower abdomen. I always find it interesting the differences in animal's processing of foods.
Cows have their multiple stomachs, birds have their quite remarkable crops, eggs growing within pheasants are like Russian dolls, so that if one has a bird out of season (road-kill, for example - I do not poach ever and not just in the 'Oh no, I don't do that sort of thing' way, I really don't approve of shooting out of season, you simply should not do it) then there are a series of gradually smaller eggs inside the hen bird.
For rabbits the thing which always amazes me is how their colon is full of individual poos. Just like rabbit poo on a rock. Now most animals have a load of poo which then comes out in small pieces, but not rabbits. Look at the tube (click on any image to enlarge) and you'll make out several individual small balls of poo in the pipe.
This needs to go though and, rather than messing about, I cut out the whole section with the cleaver. In this photograph the cut where the legs crossed can be seen in the rabbit's right hind leg (left in the image).
Now it's the satisfying bit. The skin peels from the meat like removing a sock and you are soon left with a rabbit which is naked from the armpits down.
The front legs need to be pushed through the pelt in much the same manner as the hind legs were. Thes too will retain the fur on their feet, which can easily be removed with a cleaver (or secateurs if you have no cleaver).
Now you are left with just the head to skin. The best way to do this is not to do it. I don't eat the head and I don't really need to skin it. You will have seen skinned rabbits in markets and the similarity with newborn babies is not lost on me.
Once I have the carcass skinned to the neck I pull the skin up over the head to expose the neck and apply the cleaver.
Once this is done you should have a skinned rabbit carcass
And an empty skin. It is a sad puppet of a rabbit and, as always, I wish I had a use for the pelt so that it should not be wasted, but of course I do not.
Now it is time to strip the meat from the carcass. I do this in a very rough manner. Rabbit thighs, in particular, are very stringy and my knives are very sharp, so I tend to start off by tearing the meat from the bones. This generally follows the lines of muscle and I am able to easily avoid the stringiness.
A purist will take far more off than I, but the more scrags on the the bone, the better the
The meat should be well sliced. the smaller the chunks, the more of the game flavour will permeate into the casserole, the larger the chunks the more gamy the meat will taste. It is a very appetising looking flesh.
All that remains to be done now is chopping up the vegetables. I have used mild Spanish onions (because my children prefer them - for adults I'd recommend stronger bulbs) some tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, courgette, tomato purée, potatoes, basil, parsley, lots of thyme, paprika, a stock cube (I prefer chicken, but only had vegetable or beef, so used the veggie option), pepper and whatever I had in the bottom of my pestle and mortar (a time honoured ingredient, chez Manley), but you can really use anything you have.
Add stock and wine, maybe some milk, and set her to cook in a medium hot over (160-180C). You might have to stir the casserole after an hour or so, but in general the longer she stays in the better she'll taste.
And all that is left is to invite friends around and enjoy!
Of course, I am aware that this post is not funny or scatalogical, so I thought I'd close with a consolation photograph of a rabbit poo.