For those celebrating Thanksgiving on a small scale, it's hard to justify roasting an entire turkey. Many meal planners turn to turkey breasts or single chickens as a substitute, but they can feel like lackluster, boring choices. Why sacrifice festivity just because there are only a few seats at the table?
A better choice is Jonathan Miles's braised rabbit with apples from his new cookbook, The Wild Chef. It's a rustic-chic dish that celebrates the fall season with a triple-punch of apples. Hard cider, apple brandy, and Granny Smiths all contribute to the rich rabbit leg braising liquid. Miles smartly cooks the rabbit loins separately (wrapped in bacon, just like his turkey) to prevent overcooking the ultra lean meat. Together, the two preparations have the potential to outshine the memory of the missing turkey—something a roast turkey breast could never accomplish.
Why I picked this recipe: I have yet to sit down to a small, intimate Thanksgiving dinner, but when I do, I'd much rather dig into a platter of braised rabbit than a bland, lean turkey breast.
What worked: The tart sweetness of the apple cider is a great match for the flavorful rabbit meat.
What didn't: Cooking the loins properly while wrapped in bacon is a little tricky. I ended up sticking the seared loins in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes after browning the bacon so that they would cook through without burning.
Suggested tweaks: If you don't have Calvados or applejack on hand (and don't want to buy a bottle to use a few teaspoons), you can substitute regular brandy. You'll loose a bit of the apple-ness, but the dish will still taste great.
Reprinted with permission from The Wild Chef by Jonathan Miles and the editors of Field and Stream. Copyright 2013. Published by Weldon Owen. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.
- Flour for dredging
- 2 rabbits, cut into serving pieces, loins reserved
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 5 tablespoons (3 fl oz/80 ml) vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced crosswise
- Bouquet garni of 4 Italian parsley sprigs, 4 thyme sprigs, and a bay leaf, tied together with kitchen twine
- 2 tablespoons Calvados or applejack
- 4 cups (32 fl oz/1 l) dry hard cider
- 2 cups (16 fl oz/500 ml) chicken stock
- 4 slices bacon or pancetta
- 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and quartered
- 1/2 cup (4 fl oz/125 ml) crème fraîche or heavy cream
In a shallow bowl, season enough flour to dredge the rabbit with salt and pepper. Coat all the rabbit pieces except the loins in the flour mixture; shake off the excess and set aside.
In a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat 3 tablespoons of the vegetable oil. Add the dredged rabbit and brown it nicely, 2–3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.
Pour off the fat from the pot. Add the butter and onions; reduce the heat to medium-low. Sauté until the onions are well softened, about 12 minutes. Return the meat to the pot, along with the herbs and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes, then sprinkle the Calvados over the rabbit. Ignite the Calvados with a long-necked lighter (off the stove). When the flames subside, add the cider and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer gently until the rabbit is tender, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
With a slotted spoon, remove the rabbit pieces to a platter and cover with foil. Discard the herbs. Cook the liquid over high heat until reduced by about half, about 20 minutes, occasionally skimming the surface.
As the sauce is reducing, wrap the reserved rabbit loins in the bacon, securing with toothpicks. Heat a skillet over high heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Add the loins and cook until brown, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for a few minutes before slicing thinly.
When the braising liquid is reduced, add the apples and cook until just tender. Gently add the crème fraîche or cream and stir to incorporate. Arrange the braised rabbit pieces and sliced loin on a platter with the apples, and top with the sauce.