Rabbit Stew, à la Rainier

August 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

My family spent this weekend camping near Mount Rainier.  It was dry and it was sunny and I was so so grateful for that.  I’m a reluctant camper at best, and a little sunshine helps a whole lot.  We packed  light – I was determined to keep it simple.  What’s better than a hot dog cooked on a stick over a roaring fire, really?   My one concession to complex campfire cookery: Rabbit Stew.  It sounds so rustic, just the sort of thing one should make when braving the wilds of  a National Forest Service campground (beetles and skeeters and pit toilets, oh my!).

I ate a lot of rabbit when I was in my twenties and just starting to get interested in cooking.  It’s delicious meat – flavorful but lean.  But something happened after I had children.  I think it was reading all of those children’s books to my daughters – ‘rabbits’ became ‘bunnies’…sweet lil’ bunnies with twitching noses and soft fluffy tails, hop-hop-hopping down the bunny trail.  What kind of mother would I be, devouring a bunny?  I assumed that my kids would object to cooking and eating a rabbit for dinner.  Well, I was wrong.  Turns out they think with their stomachs first, just like their mom and dad.  Heartless little gourmands. A few weeks ago they had their first tastes of rabbit and enthusiastically devoured much bunny.  Although, they preferred it if I called the meat ‘hare’, not ‘bunny’ while they got used to the idea.  So, now that I knew where they stood on the matter I was eager to cook rabbit again.  If you’re going camping this summer, or just like the idea of cooking up a batch of stew over your backyard fire pit, read on for some tips.  This technique could be used for any number of meat/vegetable combinations.  But bunny is best.

Rabbit has always been peasant fare, one rung up from squirrel.  If I were being an authentic outdoorswoman I would have trapped the rabbit near my campsite and cleaned it fireside before turning it into stew.  Instead, I paid mucho dinero for a cleaned, frozen rabbit at an upscale butcher shop.  Rabbit is no longer for the poor, apparently. At home I marinated the meat with dry vermouth, Herbes de Provence and garlic, double-bagged the bunny and tucked him in the bottom of our cooler. A couple of days later the rabbit was thawed and I was ready to lose myself in cooking for an hour or three while my husband made our children happy.  Here’s how things went:

1. I chopped bacon and browned it in a big, iron pot over the fire.  Then I set the bacon aside and browned sliced fennel, a few smashed garlic cloves,  and thyme branches in the fat.  Onion would have been a good addition here, but I forgot the onion at home.  I berated myself for a moment or two, but I didn’t miss it in the end.

2.  I set the vegetables aside with the bacon and browned the rabbit, like so:

3.  Once the bunny was browned on all sides, I returned the vegetables to the pot.  I added half of a 20 oz can of tomatoes (no liquid), a handful of new potatoes (sliced in half), and enough stock to cover the lot (8 cups).  I brought the stew to a boil, then partially covered the pot and let it simmer for two hours.  My husband took over the role of keeping the pot at the perfect simmer while I resumed child happy-making.  At this point we were pushing the outside boundaries of family-togetherness, but I knew that this stew would unite us once again.

4. After two hours, one failed attempt at jigsaw puzzle mastery, two loops around the campground on scooters, and a short hike up a very steep hill, the stew was declared DONE.  We ladled it into our camp bowls and scarfed it down.

Cooking over a fire imparts a flavor that compares to no other.  Carcinogenic perhaps, but incredibly tasty.   And it was even better the next day, warmed on my kitchen stove and eaten on our patio.  My husband and I sat there together, our children far off in the living room, plugged into the TV for the first time in 3 days.  Yummy bunny.

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