Last Updated on May 7, 2021
It has taken being given a whole wild rabbit for me to make this dish. My mother made chicken fricassee in much the same way as this rabbit fricassee, though without poaching the meat to start (a tip I learnt from watching Gordon Ramsay make his own Rabbit Fricassee). She hated rabbit; as a war-time child with grandparents who farmed the Quantock hills in Somerset, she’d been fed a lot of it! As a result, I missed out on this delicious meat. Now, I’m making up for lost time. Chicken (or even farmed rabbit) doesn’t have the gamey notes of a wild rabbit so the omission is one which is perfectly justified if you are not using wild rabbit. In fact, there are many types of fricassee – the dish first appeared in mid 16th century English cookery and usually refers to food which is first fried then braised in liquid which at one time would have been thickened with egg yolks to make a creamy sauce. Using double or heavy cream is an easier option and makes the sauce less likely to split, which perhaps accounts for its popularity in contemporary recipes. But, there are fricassee recipes with a tomato-based sauce too – according to Julia Child it’s simply a dish which is “halfway between a sauté and a stew”. Made with wild rabbit, a fricassee is both frugal and flexitarian – rabbits can badly damage farm crops unless they are culled. And, a wild rabbit will cost you £8 or so and serve three to four people. But the end result is quite luxurious – even dinner party-worthy. So do try for yourself.
I started by jointing the rabbit. While it’s no harder than jointing a chicken it’s obviously not something that I do so often. To joint a rabbit, start by removing any offal left as part of the butcher’s preparation (mine had heart and liver), then lay the rabbit out so that the joints in the rear legs can be seen easily. You can use poultry shears if you have them. If not, a well-sharpened chef’s knife works fine. Wiggle one of the legs gently so that you can see the bone joint, then cut through there. Repeat with the other rear leg. Then remove the front legs in the same way.
The body of the rabbit should be divided into the loin section and the rack. If you pick up what remains of the carcass you should be able to feel where the loin finishes and the rack (ribcage) starts. Cut through with your knife or shears. You can cook the rack as part of the fricassee, but on a smallish wild rabbit there’s very little meat and a lot of bone. I used mine, along with the liver and heart, to make a rabbit stock by boiling them up with a few herbs. And, once the meat was falling off the bone, it made a tasty treat for one lucky cat!
Chef Ramsay in his video debones the loin. I’m not so clever with a knife so I simply cut mine in half to make two pieces and, since the joints were not deboned, I poached them along with the legs, adding them 20 minutes later so that I didn’t overcook what is arguably the best part of the rabbit.
Once you have your meat neatly (or in my case not so neatly) jointed, you ca then brined my rabbit joints for a couple of hours. The point of brining is to help tenderise the meat and soften the strong gamey taste you can get with wild rabbit. It’s very much a matter of taste, but for this particular recipe it helps balance the flavours.
When you are ready to cook, simply drain the brine, rinse the rabbit joints and put to one side. Bring a pan of water to the boil with a few sprigs of thyme and add the legs. Reduce the temperature so the water simmers gently and cook for 35 minutes, adding the loin after 10 minutes so the pieces poach for just 15 minutes.
While the meat is poaching, prepare the vegetables you will be using for the fricassee. I used a mild white onion and some chestnut mushrooms. You can use any milder allium – shallots are perfect. Peel and chop the onions finely and trim any woody parts from the mushrooms before slicing them. You also need some bacon or pancetta cut into cubes.
Heat some olive oil in a deep frying pan with lid, then soften the onions with the bacon and thyme before adding the mushrooms and cooking through. Then deglaze the pan with wine and reduce it down by around a half. At this point, you can set the mixture to one side until your rabbit is fully poached. Add the rabbit pieces to the pan along with the stock (you can use chicken stock or, as I did, make a stock with the rack of rabbit and offal) then reduce the mixture down again so you just have a tablespoon or so of liquid in the pan. When you are ready to finish the dish stir through the mustard and cream. Continue cooking for five minutes, stirring gently so all the pieces are coated with the sauce. Cover the pan and leave it to rest for a few minutes before serving, garnished with freshly chopped parsley.
Rabbit Fricassee is quite rich and works best served with a simple side dishes. Pasta, rice or mashed potato and a steamed green vegetable are good. Or a simple green salad. You could also serve this rabbit fricassee with my French boulangere potatoes for a delicious treat.
Here’s a printable version of the recipe so you can try for yourself. If you prefer to make your fricassee with chicken, just use chicken pieces on the bone.
- 1 medium wild rabbit 750g -1kg
- 2 tbsp salt to brine the rabbit if required
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium white onion
- 200 g chestnut mushrooms
- 100 g smoked bacon or pancetta
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 50 ml dry white wine
- 100 ml rabbit or chicken stock
- 50 ml double cream
- 1 tbsp mustard
- 1 handful fresh parsley
- salt and pepper to taste
- Joint the rabbit into 4 leg portions and two loin portions. Use the rack of rabbit and any offal to boil and make a rabbit stock
- If you want to brine the rabbit, dissolve the salt in a large glass bowl filled with cold water and add the joints so that they are covered with salt water. Brine the rabbit joints for between one and two hours to help tenderise the meat and for a milder taste
- When you are ready to cook, drain and rinse the rabbit joints.
- Fill a large pan with cold water and bring to the boil. Add the rabbit leg joints and half the thyme. Reduce the temperature to a gentle simmer and cook for 45 minutes
- After 10 minutes add the loin joints to the poaching water, so that they cook for just 15 minutes
- Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large deep frying pan or saute pan
- Add the chopped onion and bacon and cook gently for 5 minutes or till the onion is soft and translucent.
- Now add the mushrooms and thyme, season with salt and pepper and cook for a further 5 minutes
- Add the white wine and continue to cook, reducing the liquid by a third or so.
- If necessary put the pan to one side and wait until the rabbit has poached for at least 40 minutes.
- Take each joint of rabbit out of the poaching water (reserving the water for stock). Put them in the frying pan so that there's a single layer of rabbit.
- Over a medium heat, add the stock and simmer for 10 minutes or so to reduce the liquid down by about a half
- Take the pan off the heat and stir through the cream and mustard
- Warm the mixture through gently, stirring until each piece of rabbit is coated and the sauce is thick
- Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve
This post is part of Twinkl’s VE Day Campaign and is featured in their Best Wartime Recipes to Celebrate VE Day from Home post