Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Saddle of Rabbit in Applewood-Smoked Bacon with Caramelized Fennel and Fennel Oil

Vacation was lovely, thank you for asking. And, how did I get welcomed home? By getting mugged, thankyouverymuch. At the grocery store, of all places. I'm fine. I wasn't hurt, but the guys who robbed me made off with my wallet, which not only had a wad o'cash in it, but also a drivers license with a kind of awesome photo from when I was really having a good hair and makeup day. Damn them. And, if I may risk sounding girly for just a moment, my wallet was really cute and took a long time to find, so I'm actually kinda pissed about that more than anything. Cancelling credit cards was easy, and luckily, I didn't have anything else of value in there. But I miss my wallet. Maybe Mike Bloomberg can buy me a new one, since he's decided not to run for President and thus will have some extra cash to spend on me. Maybe if you see this wallet in a store near you, you'll let me know. Isn't it adorable?

Let's talk about this dish, because I've been looking forward to making it for a little while now. The only two times I've ever eaten rabbit were in fine dining establishments -- first, in 1992 at Le Cirque and later, in 1999 at Picasso in the Bellagio. I haven't ordered rabbit since then, although I've seen it on a few menus. And, I've never cooked it. When I started this project and was going through the list of dishes, I was excited to try rabbit. I'm not quite sure why, because it's never been one of those meats I've had a hankerin' for, nor have I ever yearned for the smell of rabbit cooking in my house. I think it's because I knew I liked it, but I didn't know why -- and if I made it myself, maybe I'd be able to figure it out.

The day before I knew I wanted to serve this, I made the fennel oil.

I blanched the fennel fronds and the parsley (separately), and ice bathed them. I drained and dried them off, and put half those green lovelies into my blender along with some canola oil. I turned the blender on medium, then high, and whacked them until they were smooth. I added the remaining parsley and fennel in small batches until everything was a blended, smooth purée. I put the purée into the refrigerator overnight. The next day, I florped it onto some cheesecloth, and rigged it onto my Kitchen Aid mixer so that the fennel oil would drop out into a bowl below.

The French Laundry Cookbook suggests that you secure the cheesecloth over the top of a container, and spread the mixture on top and let the oil drip down. I've done it that way before, but had difficulty this time getting it to work, so I improvised. It tasted great, so yay for me.

While the fennel oil dripped (for about an hour or so), I cooked the fennel. I trimmed off the top and root ends of the fennel bulbs, and cut a small "x" into the bottom of each. I put the fennel into a pot, covered the bulbs with cold water, and added some thyme, star anise, fennel seeds, a bay leaf, and some kosher salt.

I brought the water to a boil, covered the pot, and let it simmer for 40 minutes. At that point, the fennel was nice and tender all the way to the core. I drained the fennel before putting it into a container and storing it in the refrigerator until I was ready to do the final steps before plating.

Now, on to the main event. The rabbit.

That package has four rabbit saddles in it, and I only needed three in this dish, so I've got an extra rabbit in my freezer, which I can't wait to experiment with in the next week or so. But enough about me. Let's talk about the bunnies. Oh, sorry. Does it bother you that I just referred to them as bunnies? Some of my friends were kind of grossed out when I told them I was making rabbit. It wasn't as bad a rejection as a certain celery dish, but no one was really all that thrilled to try rabbit. One of my younger tasters outright refused to try it, laughing in the face of my one-bite rule. I wonder if it had anything to do with me taking the package of meat out of the fridge the night before when they were visiting and making the package dance around the kitchen to "Here Comes Peter Cottontail." Perhaps I stepped over the line with that one. Perhaps.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Shocker, I know.


Here's what the rabbit looked like out of the package:

These are what's referred to as "super saddles" -- the saddle (with the ribs attached) along with the kidneys. I turned one of them over and got started on what ended up being a long, laborious boning, cutting and wrapping process that I'm not so sure I a) did correctly, or b) enjoyed. The first step was to remove the kidneys (one of which you can see encased in the yellow-ish membrane there in the center of the rabbit):

Once I'd removed all the kidneys (and the membranes, fat, and other gunk that were present), I was left with three beautiful saddles, six gorgeous kidneys, and a sink full of nastiness:

This next part is a little hard to describe, but I'll do my best. I had to separate the racks (ribs) from the rest of the saddle, yet leave one rib attached to the saddle. Then, I had to split the racks lengthwise to form two (ultimately six) individual racks.

This photo really doesn't describe what I just wrote there, so instead, just close your eyes and picture me and Mike Bloomberg skipping through a field of daisies, feeding bonbons to each other...

The next step in preparing the rabbit is to bone the saddles. This involves removing the loins and tenderloins, trimming the flaps, seasoning the whole shebang with salt and pepper, then replacing the meat I JUST CUT OFF (*WHAT!?!?!?!!*) and folding it all back into a cylinder-type shape-thingie. Then, you get to wrap it in bacon.

I have no idea if I did this properly, and this was one time I really wish I'd taken an advanced knife skills-slash-small animal deboning class, because mama was confused. However, the wrapping it in bacon part? Pfffssshhhtttt. Child's play.

Please enjoy the horrors of my photography, as you try to follow along with what I've just written:

That doesn't look awful, does it? I think it's what I was supposed to do. After I'd made three of these, I tied each of the bacon-wrapped rabbit rolls so that they'd stay together when I cooked them.

So, let's do a quick check of the to-do list:

Fennel oil? Done.
Caramelized fennel? Prepped.
Rabbit wrapped in bacon? Oh yeah.
Kidneys removed and ready to cook? Yeppers.
French the bones of the rabbit racks? Oh, shit.

Yeah, so you all know I'm terrible at this level of detail when it comes to making meat dishes. I am not good at frenching bones. I know it's important, and I know it matters. I wish I cared more about it than I do. But it's hard to muster the excitement, fortitude, attitude, and desire to do something you really don't wanna do, but I figured I'd better give it a shot because I wanted to at least give it my very best. Or, as close to my very best as I could give without having the stabby thoughts.

So, yeah. I started with six racks o' rabbit. I used the right knife. I thought I applied the appropriate amount of pressure/skill/concentration. Basically, I just suck. I broke a ton of bones, pulled off most of the meat, and generally screwed up this step big time. You'll see in the photo below that only two racks survived, and they're lookin' kinda mangy and, in a word, sad.
That's not right. I feel like I need to blur those guys out to protect their anonymity. Poor little rackie-rackers.

It was time to finish the food and get it on the table. I preheated the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium-size sauté pan, I heated a little canola oil and sautéed the saddles, rolling them around a bit to make sure all the sides were cooked.

I transferred them to a baking pan and put them in the oven, where they needed to cook for an additional 20 minutes (not 5 minutes, like the book said), while I finished the rest of the dish.

I didn't take photos of this step, but I removed the fennel from the refrigerator, sliced it into half-inch-thick slices and caramelized them in a sauté pan. Nor did I photograph the making of the rabbit Quick Sauce. You can click here to see how Quick Sauces are done.

I sautéed the sad little rabbit racks, as well as the kidneys (which popped all over the pan like Mexican jumping beans - it was awesome), and got ready to plate.

I squeezed a ring of fennel oil onto the plate, and in the center of that ring spooned the quick sauce. On the plate, you can see a kidney, a rack, and a slice of the bacon-wrapped rabbit. The fennel slice is under the rabbit; sorry you can't see it:

I know those racks are lookin' kinda ghetto, but let's talk about taste for a minute. I was admittedly quite squeamish about trying the rabbit kidney. There's nothing about the words "rabbit kidney" that is enticing, to me. However, I sliced a little off the side and took a bite. You know what? It wasn't bad at all. I ended up eating the whole thing. No one else touched theirs. I took a little taste of the rib rack, and it was nothing to write home about. Fatty, underwhelming, and just not even worth the effort I had put into it. The bacon-wrapped rabbit? Hello, lover. We all know that here at French Laundry at Home, Bacon Makes Everything Better™. There's nothing that bacon can't improve. The rabbit was actually pretty good all on its own, but the addition of bacon to it, combined with the fennel was absolutely outstanding. Really, just imagine it. Well, if you've never had rabbit, that might be hard to do. Let me see if I can describe what rabbit tastes like: if you could combine the texture of veal and chicken (dark meat), I think that's the texture... and taste-wise, it's... well.... it tastes like rabbit. Not like chicken. I didn't think it tasted gamey, and I really, really liked it.

Would I make this dish again? Parts of it, yes. I'd wrap the loin of a rabbit in bacon and make that for dinner, along with something fennel-related, for sure -- it was totally worth it. All the rest? Not so much.

Up Next: Veal Stock


Rabbit from
Produce from
Whole Foods
Spices from
Takoma Park-Silver Spring Co-op
Niman Ranch applewood-smoked bacon
365 canola oil

Music to Cook By: Shelby Lynne; Temptation. If you were to ask me what kinds of music I don't like, I'd probably tell you there are two kinds: Country and Western. I also don't like Celine Dion, but it doesn't fit within the joke, now, does it? From time to time, I can stand listening to old classic country like Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, but anything in the country genre that came out in the past 20 years just makes my shoulder blades twitch. Except for Shelby Lynne. There's something about her voice that I just love, and I love that she had already been a successful recording artist for about 15 years when she won a Grammy for Best New Artist. Duh, Academy people. Duh.

Read my previous post:
Notes and Notables


Reebs said...

...And lest we forget Shelby Lynne's fine screen performance in Walk the Line... In my experience home-grown rabbit is kinda gamey. NOT a fan of wild rabbit either. But I'll give it another shot with the bacon guarantee. Great post.

michael, claudia and sierra said...

totally loving you to death


i wanta eat that now

Anonymous said...

I've done a rabbit pate a couple of times and had it in a resturant once. The waitron did not like it when I order 'Bambi and Thumper', they called it mixed woodland grill or some such.

amber said...

my first time trying rabbit was a few months ago at aureole in vegas and it was fantastic. like you said, not at all gamey, but just a really pleasant, mild taste.

your little bacon-wrapped rabbit packages look beautiful. that is something i'd love to try at home. yum!

Anonymous said...

Your links are totally getting me. I've been rick rolled and wilford brimley'd both today thanks to you

Anonymous said...

I'm going to incorporate "florped" INto my daily vocabulary.

Awesome post, even though I don't want to go and eat Thumper.

Kitt said...

Love rabbit. Love. It. Wouldn't try to duplicate the tricky bits, either, but that loin looks fabulous.

Natty said...

You totally Wilfred-Brimley-roll'd me.

One of my first memories of magical cooking is my father handing me a fresh rabbit and asking me to cook it. I was maybe 15 and roasted it, basting it with beer and butter. By some miracle, it turned out beautifully and my father and brother and I stood in the kitchen, eating it with our fingers. Thanks for bringing back that memory!

And sorry about the mugging. That sucks. How about a coin purse shaped like a piece of pizza to tide you over?

MR said...

You had me at bacon. I've feared the rabbit for a while, but I will have to reconsider and give bunny a try!


Anonymous said...

You're right - Wilford Brimley IS adorable!

Jakeymon said...

Brilliant. I was wondering what the boning would be like - the excess of bones is most of what I remember from the few times I've eaten this meat. It's too bad the racks were meh.

The few times I've had (beef) kidney it's tasted kinda like fatback - was the rabbit kidney at all like that?


Anonymous said...

Always love the blog - thanks!

I noticed you said that you transferred the saddles into a baking pan. Why didn't you just keep them in your beautiful All Clad saute pan - they are ovensafe... Saveon all that clean up.

Preppy Pink Crocodile said...

Wow- amazing meal! I would not be good at cooking it because I am squeemish when dealing with raw meat (or the insides is what really gets to me really). But I would definitly like to try it. And it looks so beautiful all wrapped up in bacon and twine.

Unknown said...

The hubby and I had rabbit about a month ago at Guy Savoy (the Bubble Bar) and man oh man, am I ready to taste something that good again. Drat. I may have to give this recipe a try...

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear that you got mugged. A few months ago some nit-wit tried to get my wallet as I was walking down a street in St. Louis. So I tell the guy it's in my back pocket; when I produced the business end of the Glock 27 that I leagally carry (Concealed Carry Permit Holder) he couldn't run away fast enough. When will these knuckleheads learn?

Love Rabbit! Fry it, roast it, any prep is good.

Carol Blymire said...

Anonymous: the reason I put the bacon-wrapped rabbit saddles into a baking dish and then in the oven, is because I needed that pan (which had the bacon and rabbit juices already in it) to saute the racks and kidneys -- they needed to be done in the pan that already was seasoned with the essence of bacon and rabbit. Does that make sense?

Anonymous with the weaponry: I bow down to you. Damn.

Carol Blymire said...

Oh, and for those of you who appreciated the Brimley, here's another one for ya:

Anonymous said...

ok, like, r u independently wealthy or just plain rich because what you make, purchase and have equipment-wise in your kitchen is crazy Oprah-like... not to be too intrusive, but how are you funding this? I am a CIA grad that will still be funding my student loans until I'm in my 50's (I'm early 4's and graduated 5 yrs ago). Anyway, I'm DIGGING your blog and wish I could do something similar, but lo, no funds. Would be a smashing experience!

Anonymous said...

reading this brings back my one experience with FLaH, and makes me tired all over again.

that rabbit wrapped in bacon looks outstanding.

Vanessa said...

You are so bad with the Brimley. I am not a laugh out loud person, but with each new post I am laughing, OUT LOUD, hysterically. You make my day.

The Italian Dish said...

I can't believe you got mugged at the grocery store. Geezow. Was it in the grocery store or outside in the parking lot?

Txgrrl said...

Never had rabbit but those bacon-wrapped pictures are enough to make me hop down to the meat market to get some. I know, that was bad.

Probably won't attempt the frenched ribs, but kudos to you for going through with it!

Hilarious post. Glad to see Brimley finally getting his due.

Anonymous said...

Alton Brown has a totally cool method of frenching lamb racks that involves using a piece of string. Not sure if it would work on more delicate rabbit but when I saw him do it to the lamb rack I just sat there with my mouth open going "no frickin way". You basically just wrap the string around the base of the bone really tight and then just pull it off and all the meat and sinew and everything just slides off leaving the most perfectly clean bone. It was insane. It's on the "Alton Crown Affair" episode if you care to see it.

Carol Blymire said...

Anonymous: No, I'm not rich, nor am I independently wealthy. Not even close. Some people have hobbies they love to spend money on -- this happens to be mine. :) I budget for this just like I budget for every aspect of my life, and food is the one indulgence I allow myself when it comes to financial planning.

tellicherry: I laughed out loud the first time I saw the Brimley video, too. Glad I could make your day.

the italian dish: It happened inside the store. For those of you in the DC area, it happened at Rodmans. Avoid Aisle 6, if you ever go there. There are no security cameras in that part of the store.

Lauren: I rarely watch Alton, but I actually saw that episode a few days ago. You know what? It wouldn't have worked with rabbit (unless I used sewing thread, and even that would've been tough). Rabbit bones are so brittle and break so easily.... I thought about trying that method, but knew I'd fail.

Anonymous said...

Once again, a hilarious and well written post. So, when are you writing a book? ;)

Hillary said...

Ugh, sorry about the wallet. The bacon bunnies look awesome, though.

Anonymous said...

Bacon and bunnies...Babe and Thumper...two things that I am unable to eat. But meanwhile I love the way you rock your own personal dictionary ("florped") and incorporate your MB delusions into your posts. I imagined one of you choking on your bonbons since you were eating them while skipping...didn't your mama teach you better?

Anonymous said...

I found out about your blog from Ruhlman's post on April Fool's Day. You are awesome - I am such a fan. Can't wait to read more! =)

pdxblogmommy said...

Wait...I almost NEVER skip....oh, you mean that OTHER MB. I would have liked the chocolate bonbon part though.

Anonymous said...

Carol, I have so many things to say right now, I don't even know where to start. Easy first - did you ever see/hear the duet btwn Shelby and Sheryl Crow? Seriously, one of the most soulful chick moments the earth has seen to date. OMG, I wonder if it's on did I not ever think of this? Onward...

I am beyond impressed with your current efforts. Speechless really. What started as an almost slaughterhouse in your kitchen turned into, once again, a work of art. I make something I call fennel globs. 'Nuff said, mmkay?

So much more to say, but so little room. So sorry you were robbed. But mostly, condolences on the cute wallet - that's just a festering wound. Bullies.

Anonymous said...

Here is the Shelby/Sheryl video for YOU! It doesn't really do it justice....

Anonymous said...

"Ugh, sorry about the wallet."

WHOOT! Finally, a phrase one can sincerely say to both you and Sandy!

Will said...

love your stuff..

Mary Coleman said...

Carol, Check out Shelby's new cd Just a Little Lovin'.She channels Dusty Springfield.
Bacon, bunnies, Wilford Brimley and Shelby Lynne.
Someone needs to clone your brain!Too funny!

kellypea said...

A friend bought the French Laundry book and we're sharing it. Of course neither of us has made anything from it yet. I'm thinking the two of us need to spend a day up to our elbows having some fun. I read Keller's story about his first experience with rabbits and it's helped me to consider giving them a try -- and your post, of course. Thanks.

LucyD -- Only Tarot said...

Does your wallet look like a laptop? a walrus?

Anonymous said...

I can't tell you how glad I am that I found your blog while searching squab on google. I stopped cooking several months ago when I broke up with my ex-boyfriend and moved out. I couldn't even be near a skillet.

Your fabulous stories have reminded me of what it was like to taste success after hours and hours in the kitchen. Your love for food reminded me of mine and how cooking your own just takes it to another level.

I needed this wake up call. Just wanted to let you know that you inspired another frustrated wannabe home cook to get back to what she loved. I can't remember the last time I got excited about fennel! Thank you. Can't wait to read the rest of your entries.

p.s. This dish looks amazing and I can't wait to try it. I think I'll do just the loin like you suggested. :) And I'm sorry you got mugged but I love how resilient you sounded when you got right back into the making the rabbit dish!

Anonymous said...

This makes me think of my favorite recipe title ever--Nigella Lawson's rabbit curry, or "Hot Cross Bunny."

Anonymous said...

carol you took a picture of me eating this dish and i was looking foward to seeing myself on your blog. i see you decided not to post it and that deeply upsets me...


Carol Blymire said...

Matt: I was too worried that a legion of teenage girls would swarm the site once they saw your picture and be all LOLZOMGhe'ssooooocute, so I didn't post it.

Actually, it ended up being blurry and your eyes were half-closed. Another time, slacker.

Chef E said...

Where did you buy the rabbit? I am in NJ and would like to tell my viewers... 08/2/12