Saturday, September 26, 2009

Test Kitchen: Rabbit Ragout with Soppressata and Pappardelle

September’s test kitchen is a little late because, as you’ll recall, I was away for two weeks and then my Mom was in town for another week. Hardly had any time to be in the kitchen.

But I finally sneaked in a session to make your top choice from my poll: rabbit ragout from Food and Wine’s September edition. I’m kind of thinking you all voted for rabbit so you can force me to chop up a bunny, right? Oh, you’re such the puppetmasters!

The recipe is actually from Tom Colicchio of “Top Chef” fame. Yes, he still cooks and this recipe is from his early days of working in the kitchen of Manhattan’s Gramercy Tavern.

Click here to get the complete recipe from Food and Wine’s site.

The trickiest part about this recipe is finding all the ingredients. Even though there weren’t very few ingredients, they were all quite gourmet. So it’s not like I could find them at my local Safeway.

The toughest was tracking down rabbit. I’ve seen it here and there at certain specialty grocery stores in the past, but it’s not something that’s consistently carried, even if you’ve noticed it at a store before. So the best tip I have to give is to call ahead to check that the place you’re heading to has rabbit available that day.

I didn’t have time to go hopping around for rabbit so I went straight to the meat market at Market Hall in Rockridge. I knew they would most likely have it. And they did, except it was frozen and in one whole piece. The recipe calls for six rabbit legs, but I wasn’t about to buy three rabbits just to get the six thighs. (I initially thought I could count the front two legs but in reality the front legs are considerably smaller and less meaty than the back legs.)

Anywho, I just bought the whole rabbit and used the variety of meat, not just the legs. Unfortunately, it was whole so I had to chop it up into pieces myself. But because I knew this was going to be a braise and I’d have to remove the meat from the bone later, I didn’t bother chopping it up to many small pieces and instead just chopped off the legs and cut the breast in half.

The recipe also instructs you on blanching plum tomatoes but it’s also rare to find fresh plum tomatoes at the store so I just bought a can of plum tomatoes, which makes the recipe easier. Soppressata is another fancy ingredient, but this salami can be found at most places selling Italian goods. Just be sure to have your deli guy slice the pieces thicker like bacon.

After I got all my ingredients, I started cooking. Making ragout is fairly simple because it’s just a matter of browning the meat and then adding the tomatoes and other ingredients and then letting the pot simmer for awhile (in this case, 1.5 hours).

I actually eat rabbit often when I see it on the menu (this is my first time cooking it at home). I especially like it grilled or roasted. When I was browning the rabbit, it had an amazing aroma that reminded me of a barbeque out in the woods with a hare on a spit. If you close your eyes, you could probably hear Maid Marion and the merry band of men.

The toughest part, for me, about this recipe was my mistake when I bought the niçoise olives (a French olive). I didn’t realize when I bought them that they still had their pits in them. So I had to take the pits out individually. Usually I’d smash the side of my knife against a bunch of them and that’ll loosen the meat and I can just plop the pit out. But many of the olives weren’t super ripe, so they didn’t want to shed their pits. (I bought my olives and the soppressata at The Pasta Shop, also at Market Hall.)

The recipe called for 1 cup of niçoise olives, but once I got to about ¾ cup, I stopped from exhaustion.

As the pot of rabbit simmered away (other ingredients included rosemary, chicken stock and sherry vinegar) I sat back and just enjoyed the aroma filling my apartment. After awhile I removed the meat from the pot and started to let the sauce reduce while I pulled the tender meat off the bones with two forks (it’s just like shredding roasted pork).

Once I returned the meat back to the pot, I added in the chopped soppressata and cooked everything for another 10 minutes like the recipe said. Oh, I also cooked a package of pappardelle (which actually is quite hard to find at stores, but I got a package from Whole Foods) and served it up on a plate with my rabbit ragout on top and a few shavings of parmesan reggiano.

So here’s how my rabbit ragout turned out. As you can see in the picture, the pappardelle I got weren’t as wide as the ones in the Food and Wine magazine’s photo above. I think next time I might just buy a large sheet of pasta dough and hand cut them myself.

My tips and warnings about this recipe: It’s actually stated in the recipe, but I think it’s worth mentioning again — season lightly when it comes to your ragout. The rabbit isn’t very salty, but when you add the briny niçoise olives and spicy soppressata, they bring in a lot of salt. So at the point in the recipe where it says to season lightly, I’d follow it exactly and put less salt than you typically would when seasoning a pot of sauce. Also, I didn’t find much difference in the rabbit parts so I wouldn’t worry about getting six legs. If you can buy it that way, great! But if you can’t find just the legs, a whole rabbit chopped into pieces is just fine.

Ease of cooking: This was extremely easy (not including the hunting of ingredients). That’s the genius of braising; you get your ingredients, toss them in a pot of liquid and let the magic begin.

Taste: I really enjoyed the taste of the ragout. I don’t think it was necessarily the rabbit that made it interesting (pork shoulder would work just as well) but it was more the soppressata and olives that gave the dish this really Italian flavor. The end result tasted like some ragouts I’ve had at nice restaurants around town. Adding the soppressata at the end gave the sauce a rich, shiny texture that made it seem really luxurious. My only problem was that I couldn’t get the sauce to reduce in the amount of time suggested by the recipe (20 minutes). I think it needed more time but I wasn’t patient so my sauce was a bit watery. Still, it had a very authentic Italian flavor.

Overall Grade: A- (easy and tasty but a challenge finding ingredients)

Don’t forget to vote in the poll on the right column on which recipe from the pages of Food and Wine’s October edition that you want me to tackle next!

Previous test kitchens:
Puff-pastry Tomato Tarts
Bucatini Carbonara
Mini Corn Cakes with Seared Salmon
Spicy and Sticky Baby Back Ribs


Carolyn Jung said...

I once messed up a perfectly lovely French manicure because I decided to make pasta salad with Nicoise olives. Yup, had to pit those babies, myself. When I looked at my fingers afterwards, my nails were a wreck. And I'd just gotten them done the day before. Wah! But one saving grace was that the pasta salad turned out delicious. ;)
Sounds like the same for your ragu. Messy, but worth the effort.

Hungry Dog said...

"Hopping around for rabbit"--cute but macabre, single guy! I'm glad you tried this recipe--I saw it too and was curious. I love rabbit and also frequently order it in restaurants but have never tried my hand at it. You've inspired me! Yours looks truly delicious.

Single Guy Ben said...

Carolyn, the same thing happened to me! I just got my nails done and ... oh, wait. That wasn't me. :)

Greg said...

What beautiful pictures.My wife just made rabbit ragout in culinary school, and I was a little surprised at how much like the carcass looks like a cat. Not cool. Aww, heck, it's delicious, though.

Greg said...
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Greg said...

Oh, my wife put up a picture of the whole rabbit on her blog The Nibbling Gypsy. She took some home, and it really was pretty tremendous. I've eaten a lot of Welsh Rabbit in my life, but not so much of the actual stuff.