Rabbit Cookery

Bugs Bunny in A Pot
There are certain foods that in this part of the world have a negative connotation. By that I mean such items as calves brains, deer (remember Bambi?), and snails. Into this category goes rabbit. I know individuals who, on pain of death, would not eat rabbit. Maybe it has to do with the pet thing. Like, "How can you eat the Easter Bunny?" Simple. Because the Easter Bunny tastes good.

Fortunately, the denizens of the Mediterranean countries have no such qualms. In Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Eastern Europe, rabbit is a prime staple. And, cooked well, it is something to relish. Paired with crusty bread, a good Pinot Noir or, even, beer, it is a delight.

You won't find rabbit in your local supermarket. It is often carried in Asian or Caribbean markets, poultry markets, or you may order it from your local butcher. We get our rabbit from stores in New York's Chinatown. Wherever you get it, the rabbit will come skinned and, they say, dressed for cooking. It is as easy to prepare as chicken, although it doesn't taste like chicken. It has its own unique flavor, deep, smoky.

So, people, get over it. Enjoy something out of the ordinary. You won't be disappointed.

The rabbit recipe that follows is from my cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Avalon Books). It's for a Rabbit Fricassee---think of any stewed dish with savory ingredients, and you get the idea.

CONEJO EN FRICASE (Rabbit Fricassee)

1 rabbit, 2 1/2 to 3 pounds, cut into serving pieces

1 lemon, cut in half

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced

1/2 cup olive oil

1 packet Sazon Accent---the Goya brand has one with Culantro Y Achiote (Coriander & Annatto)

1/2 pound lean cured ham

10 stuffed Spanish olives

1 8-ounce can tomato sauce

2 bay leaves

1 cup dry red wine

1 6 1/2-ounce jar pimentos, drained and cut into 1/4-inch strips

2 pounds Maine or Idaho potatoes, peeled and cubed

1. Wash rabbit pieces under cold running water and pat dry. Place rabbit in a bowl and squeeze lemon over it. Set aside for 5 minutes, and drain.

2. Place rabbit pieces in a heavy kettle or Dutch oven and add salt, pepper, garlic and olive oil.

4. Add Sazon Accent, ham, olives, tomato sauce, bay leaf and 1/2 cup warm water.

5. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.

6. Add wine, pimentos, potatoes plus another 1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer on moderate heat until sauce has thickened and meat is tender (about 20 minutes).

7. Remove bay leaves and serve with steamed white rice or, better still, green boiled bananas (yes, we Puerto Ricans love green boiled bananas. It's part of a dining mystique we call bianda--- which includes root plants).

Yield: 6 servings.
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