Rabbit came to Ireland during the Norman invasion (these were the vikings who came over from northern France) and was eaten alongside other game such as deer and pheasant in the late 12th century but they quickly became pests! The rabbits multiplied and were feeding on the country’s crops draining precious food supply. They did however, become a cheap source of meat and found themselves being served in stews on Irish kitchen tables. This dish from chef Alison is a modern update on Irish rabbit, encouraging you to cook with alternative meats to the caged chicken. She also serves the saddle of rabbit with a rillette mix using the leg meat which connects you with the French-Norman influence in Ireland’s food history. The aromatics in this dish are based on the seasons so feel free to play around with herbs that are native to your area and at the height of season.
Butchery - Learn to breakdown a whole rabbit leaving the saddle on the bone and preparing the legs for our rillette with minimal wastage.
Rillette - Preservation methods are a key part of cooking sustainably. This lesson you'll be using a traditional french cooking method that's similar to a confit, using duck fat to preserve your meat.
Stocks - Learn the basic techniques of creating a stock for a sauce - browning bones and vegetables and reducing.
1x frying pan, 3x sauce pans, 2x sieves, 1x chopping board, 1x chef knife, 1x blender, 3x trays, 2x storage containers, 1x tongs/tweezers, 2x small bowls, 1x tablespoon, 1x tall jug/container, 1x hand/stick blender, 1x fine sieve, 2x frying pans, 1x temperature probe
No pre-lesson preparation needed.
Introduction - pre heat your oven to 130°C/266°F.
Secure a large chopping board with a wet cloth and lay two trays in front of you. Start by removing the kidneys by cutting them out with your knife. Next, remove the livers by cutting into the top of the belly slightly (just to expose them) and then pull the livers away by hand only using your knife to cut any stubborn tissue.
Now let's remove the first shoulder, these are fairly simple to remove with not too much prep involved. Pinch behind the first shoulder separating the shoulder from the main body. Take a sharp knife and make a cut between the shoulder and body towards the top of the animal. The shoulder should be half removed by this point, now cut the remaining tissue away cutting as close to the bone as possible. Place on the tray. Now repeat and remove the second.
Once the front legs have been removed, turn the rabbit onto its back laying the hind legs flat. To begin, cut in at the top of the leg where the meat hits the spine (or the main part of the body), cut down through the knuckle and back out the other side removing the leg completely. Repeat on the second leg leaving behind the main carcass. With the two legs removed, we can now focus on preparing the saddle. Firstly, have a feel for the rib cage. What we are trying to do first is remove the bone at the tail end of the saddle. Taking a heavy knife, cut through until you hit the bone and then to cut through the bone, hit the back of the knife. Move the bone to one side (saving it for the sauce). Next, remove the belly flaps and place them on our tray. Now, let's count up our ribs and remove the rib cage from the saddle. Counting from the bottom of the rib cage (or the smaller bones) count 4 bones before making a cut to the left side of the bone down to the backbone. Repeat on the other side. With both hands crack and break the backbone which will allow us to make a simple cut through and out the other side separating the saddle and the rib cage.
What you are now left with is the centre saddle of our rabbit. Trim off any fat or excess skin, before placing it to one side for later.
Now let's go back and trim up some final bits. Take the livers and lay flat on your board so you have both sides of the liver visible, cut the centre vein away. For the sauce, we need to break down the front smaller legs by cutting through the joint/knuckle so we have two separate pieces, place them to one side and then begin to break down the carcass into even-sized pieces.
Looking at our trays we should have our saddle, two hind legs for the confit, the broken-down bones and front legs as well as our offal. Next, clean down your workbench with all our meat on the trays and let's get ready to start cooking.
Now start to cook the rabbit legs. Into a high sided pan add your duck fat that has been rendered/melted. Season the legs with salt and place them into the fat ensuring they have been submerged. Along with the legs, add peeled garlic, thyme and bay leaves. Place the legs into the preheated oven which has been covered in foil and leave to slowly cook for roughly 2 hours or until the meat has begun to fall off the bone. Clean down once more and get ready to create our sauce. The sauce begins by prepping our veg. Cut the vegetables into equally sized pieces leaving the tomatoes to one side (which we add into the sauce later). Along with the peeled garlic, place the vegetables into a container ready for us to roast/colour along with our bones. Have a quick clear down before starting the sauce.
Into a high-sided saucepan, heat a splash of oil. Once hot, start with the larger bones spreading them nicely across our pan. With a few pieces in at once, begin to colour the bones all over (we are looking for a nice deep caramelisation). Once coloured on one side turn the bones over and leave to colour once more. Now, taking into account the difference in sizes of our bones begin to decant any bones that have been coloured well enough to a separate pan leaving for later. Work in batches colouring all of the bones evenly and decanting to your pot to the side. If needed, add some more oil to your pan, then add your mirepoix. Begin to colour your vegetables keeping them moving around your pan - this will help lift some of the colour off the bottom of our pan and get an even colouring on the mirepoix. After a few minutes add the raw, cut tomatoes and continue to colour the vegetables all over. Add a spoon of Dijon mustard and mix well throughout the mirepoix - give it a minute to roast before adding the cider. Now go in with the cider (roughly 250ml) and start to mix the vegetables through the cider along with lifting any sediment and colour off the bottom of the pan. Next, pour over the chicken stock along with some of your herbs and leave to gently come up to a simmer. While our stock is simmering, begin to skim the sauce throughout the cooking process.
By now, our rabbit legs will have been cooking for roughly an hour - now is a good time to pull them out and have a look at them. Have a feel of the rabbit, we are looking for a really tender and easy pull away from the bone, as we are only halfway through the cooking time the rabbit may still be firm so place the foil back on top and continue to cook for another 20/30 minutes (then we are going to add our livers).
To a high-sided container or jug, add some chopped wild garlic along with a splash of water (or check my notes for alternatives). Begin to quickly pulse the garlic with a hand blender until it has become green and sauce-like. Pass the sauce through a fine sieve squeezing all of the pulp for the green liquid. Add some of the pulp into our stock and leave it to carry on simmering.
By now our confit rabbit legs should have cooked for a further 20 - 30 minutes and be ready to check once more. Remove from the oven and feel for the tenderness of the rabbit, the rabbit should have started to break apart and be tender. Add the livers to the pot and throw them back into the oven for another 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, our livers and legs should be cooked and we need to take them out of the oven. Check that the legs are tender along with the livers, and leave to one side to cool to room temperature. Now, let's go back and check on our stock. By now the stock should have reduced slightly, taken on the flavour of our rabbit and our veg will have become soft (but still holding its shape). Pass the stock through a fine sieve and into a clean pan and leave to reduce on medium/low heat. Once the confit has cooled, strain the duck fat through a fine sieve into a clean container. Now, with the liver and legs drained of any excess fat begin to pull apart the meat, shredding it down, whilst removing any splintered bones or herbs. Once all the meat has been shredded down, cut your herbs as finely as possible and add them to our mix. Mix through the creme fraiche along with the seasonings (salt, cayenne pepper), give it a good mix up and taste again. If happy with the seasoning, leave it to one side in a warm place. Have a clean down before turning your attention to the potatoes and the sauce.
Checking our sauce, it should have reduced down slightly and the flavour intensified further. What we want to do now is thicken the sauce by adding cornflour along with a dash of water. Add the cornflour paste into the sauce and whisk it vigorously - this will begin to thicken the sauce and create a stable emulsion. Once again pass the sauce through a sieve and into a clean dish, leaving it somewhere warm before we begin to plate.
Onto a hob place two frying pans, one will be for the potatoes and another for the saddle of rabbit. Next let's cut our tuber potatoes, remove the tops from the potato and cut evenly sized pieces. Move back to your stove with your potatoes and saddle, making sure you have some woody herbs, garlic and oil. Into both pans drizzle the oil and in the potato pan, add a generous helping of butter. Season the butter, potato and saddle. Into the hot pan add your saddle (back down first) and hold it in place. Leave to colour while beginning on the potatoes. Presentation side down (wider cut) place the potatoes into the foaming butter and leave to cook on one side. Keep an eye on the saddle turning it as it begins to colour. Also don't forget to turn the potatoes as they begin to colour. By now the rabbit should be coloured on all sides and be ready to remove from the pan. Allow the pan to reduce in temperature before adding the butter. Add your butter and allow it to start to foam - add in the herbs and garlic and leave it to fully melt and infuse with the aromatics. Once it's foaming, pour the butter over the rabbit and leave it to rest for 10 minutes. While the rabbit is resting, turn your attention to the potatoes. Once they have been coloured on both the top and bottom, turn on their sides and begin to colour the skin evenly. Once the potatoes have been evenly coloured all over, place them into the oven along with the rabbit for 10 minutes.
Now let's warm our peas ready for plating. Pre-heat a high-sided saucepan adding butter once hot, and as it begins to foam, add your peas. Move them quickly in butter and leave to one side. Whilst the potatoes and rabbit are finishing off cooking in the oven, prepare your worktop for plating the dish. When ready, remove the rabbit from the oven and probe the rabbit looking for 64°C/147°F. If your rabbit isn't above 64°C/147°F, place it back in the oven for a few minutes. Once up to temperature, remove from the oven and leave both the potatoes and rabbit to rest pouring the excess butter over the saddle. Add some of the wild garlic puree to the peas along with seasonings. Make sure you have ready to plate, the warm peas, rillette and sauce.
Take all the herbs off the top of the rabbit and lift them onto our board. What we want to do is remove the two pieces of meat off the bone (check my notes on how to do this). Once the bone has been removed, move to one side and begin to cut the loins.
Top and tail the loins as well as trimming the sides to straighten the presentation of the loin. Sit the trimmed loins into the warm butter while we begin to plate the dish.
Place two potatoes to a portion slightly to the left of the centre of your plate, lightly seasoning with some flakey sea salt (finishing salt). Next, place the rillette onto the plate in a line along the plate. Go back to the rabbit and carve it into little slices all the way along the loin. Once sliced, fan the meat out and season once more with finishing salt and cayenne pepper. Place the loin on top of the rillette.
Now to finish, add the peas and wild garlic emulsion to your plate. Then, mix the sauce with your spoon which will re-emulsify the stock and sauce the plate.
Serve and enjoy!
In the butchery stage of the recipe, use one tray for our off-cuts such as the offal, fat or bones and another for the parts of the rabbit we are using for the recipe - nothing will be going to waste.
Much like we did with our fish, make sure you are using a clean cloth to wipe the rabbit of any blood so our rabbit doesn't slide or move when we butcher it.
Have a feel of the rabbit as you work, by pinching under the shoulders or feeling the bone structure - this will make everything easier when you butcher the rabbit.
Once the front legs have been removed you should be able to see the rib cage and you'll also notice a small amount or no meat at all.
With the rabbit lying on its back you will be able to see the structure of the animal better. You will see the centre cut which is our saddle and then the two hind legs, which are very similar to a chicken.
When removing the legs you want to cut through the knuckle. If you struggle to cut straight through, take your time to reposition your knife and look for the knuckle (feel free to pause and rewind the video or ask your cohort for help).
If you look closely at the centre cut of meat with the belly facing up you will see the meatier part of the rabbit that will be the section for our saddle as well as the belly flaps.
Once you have learnt to break down a rabbit you will have learnt the basic techniques of butchering other animals such as lamb which although is on a larger scale, the cuts will remain the same due to the animals anatomy.
When removing the bone at the tail end of the saddle, use a heavy knife or cleaver to cut through or like I did in the video use your hands to bend and crack through the bone.
We are removing the centre vein and sinew from the liver as it won't break down in the cooking process.
The reason we break down the bones for our sauce is to reduce the cooking time as well as allow us to get more flavour out of the bones and into our sauce. There is no real trick to it apart from keeping the sizes uniform.
When breaking down the rib cage for the stock, take your time as this can be slightly awkward due to its shape. Split it open by cutting through the bottom and opening the rib cage up. You want to remove any blood or innards that may cloud our stock and affect its flavour.
Skin, Cartilage and Bones
The whole animal can provide plenty of valuable properties such as flavour, thickening and nutrients. We use the entire carcass in the hope of creating a full flavoured liquid with enough gelatine to thicken the liquid once it's reduced.
Leave the saddle of rabbit at room temperature until it is ready to be cooked.
Leave the livers to one side, these go into our confit towards the end of the cooking (roughly 30 minutes before the end of the cooking process).
Confit is an ancient technique. From central parts of Asia and Europe cooks began to realise its preservation properties. Typically left sunken under a layer of fat the meat will happily keep for an extended period of time (typically kept for a year in the 18th and 19th centuries). Now, chefs and cooks use it as a technique to add plenty of flavour that works in salads, stews and soups.
Confit comes from the Latin conficere, meaning "to do, to produce, to make, to prepare"
Rillette is a very similar process to a traditional confit with the only difference seen when we come to serve. Confits are traditionally served in whole or large pieces (for both presentation and preservation purposes), where our rillette differs is with the shredding of the meat after it is cooked and then either served right away or stored back under a layer of fat in a sterilised container.
Mirepoix is the name given to roughly cut vegetables that are typically used for a stock or sauce. The sizing of the vegetables don't need to be perfect but should be fairly uniform and matched to the stock we are making for example larger sizes when cooking a beef stock (which can simmer away for many hours) and smaller when creating a chicken or fish stock (which cook for a much shorter time).
We add the tomatoes later in the cooking process due to their water content. When colouring our vegetables (to flavour and colour our sauce) we need a searing hot pan and the inclusion of tomatoes at this stage will reduce the temperature of our pan and stop us getting that desired colour.
Colouring bones like this tend to cause a lot of spitting from the oil. I recommend using a long pair of tongs and laying the bones away from you when adding them in. It is also crucial in this step not to over fill your pan. Over filling will cause the temperature of the pan to drop and the bones to start stewing rather than colouring.
The roasting or colouring of our bones gives a stock a more intense colour and flavour, this can be attributed to the Maillard reactions between the proteins and carbohydrates.
This is the process of adding a liquid to loosen, lift and dissolve any food particles that are left stuck to the bottom of the pan. The sediments left on the bottom are sometimes referred to as 'Fond' and are full of flavour.
When creating a sauce or stock there are a few of key principles that helps us achieve the best results.
A cold start and gentle heating is essential in achieving a clear stock. This gradual heating allows for the soluble proteins to escape and form a coagulated mass and rise to the surface. Allowing us to easily skim the scum from the surface.
Skimming & Scum
Skimming is the process of using a ladle or spoon to remove any of the impurities or scum that have risen to the surface throughout the cooking process that would otherwise cloud or muddy our stock.
Leaving the stock uncovered throughout the cooking process is a simple but essential step. It firstly, allows the water to evaporate from the pan, it keeps the temperature of the liquid down and below boiling point. It will also cool the temperature of the surface and dehydrates the surface scum which makes it easier to skim!
It is important to cut the wild garlic finely so it doesn't damage our hand blender.
Wild garlic is readily accessible in most parts of Europe and Asia - best foraged from March to June in the UK - they are best and most flavoursome when bright green before they flower in April to June. I would recommend searching small and local suppliers, foraging yourself or looking at companies such as Farmdrop.
If wild garlic is out of season, sweat some garlic in a small amount of oil in a pan (try not to colour or burn it). Once cooked puree with a small amount of water and a handful of spinach.
Add water as you go until we get the consistency we are looking for. Don't worry too much about getting the sauce too thin as we can always boil any of the excess water away.
Use the back of a tablespoon to squeeze out as much liquid from the pulp as possible. It should become relatively dry and will have a coarse and fibrous look to it.
4 cloves of garlic
Handful of spinach
The Liver is incredibly tasty and stores most of the nutrients in the body. All the work it does makes it a dark red colour. There is very little connective tissue and it is a very delicate organ that needs to be cooked relatively quickly.
After the 20 minutes you will see the livers have become a grey colour and are tender to the touch. Similarly you're looking for the rabbit to fall away from the leg and be incredibly tender.
Our stock should have reduced, become a darker colour and the flavour should have changed, becoming a richer more rounded flavour from the roasted vegetables and rabbit bones.
Our duck fat will keep happily for some time in the fridge as long as we pass any of the impurities away - we can also preserve our meat in the fat by allowing it to reduce to room temperature and then placing it in a fridge.
When shredding the legs and liver, take your time to remove any bones, herbs or cartilage. This is a key step in ensuring our Rillette is nice to eat.
Once the confit is out of the oven, increase the temperature to 180°C/356°F.
The corn flour is a really simple way of thickening our stock without having to reduce it for too long (typically referred to as a Jus).
We want to cut our potatoes right before we cook them. This will help limit any oxidation that will take place.
What happens when we fry?
The Maillard reaction is a complex reaction responsible for cooked colour and flavour. Taking place at 120°C/248°F and above, it's the reaction between a carbohydrate molecule and an amino acid. An unstable reaction takes place and creates hundreds of different by products, mostly dark colouration and an intense flavour. Higher up the temperature gauge, caramelisation begins to take place, when sugar molecules are present in what we are cooking. Once at 160°C/320°F and above, our meat will begin to colour more darkly as the sugar begins to melt. The many chemical reactions in this complex process create hundreds of different reactions, such as sour acids, sweet and bitter derivatives, brown colouring and fragrant molecules.
The same technique as last week's recipe with Kerry - tipping your pan back so the butter trickles down to the base of our pan and then with a table spoon, spooning the foaming butter over the loins.
Adding oil and butter together will slightly increase the butters smoking point. However, it doesn't stop the butter from burning which is why it's important to let the pan cool before making the flavoured butter for the rabbit.
Keep controlling the temperature of the pan when cooking the potatoes, pulling it on and off the heat if it begins to get too hot and adding butter where needed.
Feel free to use fresh or frozen peas in the recipe. If using fresh, blanch them in boiling salted water for 3 minutes and then cook in the butter. With frozen peas, let them thaw naturally and warm through the butter.
When plating, make sure you have 2 trays, your crockery, a chopping board and a selection of spoons ready.
Checking the rabbit saddle can be done in a couple of ways. I'm going to use a food probe. When probing the rabbit (or any meat in general) you want to place the probe into the centre of the piece of meat. We are looking for the rabbit to be cooked to 64°C/147°F and then allowing it to come up to 70°C/158°F when resting.
When removing the meat from the saddle, you will find the tail end of the saddle easy to remove by simply cutting downwards. Once you begin to work up towards the rib cage and the top end of the saddle the bone structure will begin to change. Take your time to work around the flared bone and cut removing the meat from the groove in the bone (cutting in at a right angle).
When slicing the rabbit, slice evenly all along the loin and then press lightly to fan the meat out.
Rabbit - For the live class you will need to use two cuts from the same animal to create your recipe, experiment with both quick cooking cuts and slower cooking cuts to create your live class dish.
Potatoes - There is an abundance of different potatoes that you can use for this recipe, from heritage varieties, purple potatoes and different shapes.
Garnish - Play around with your garnish, making the most of seasonality and what's local to you.