This was my first experience cooking rabbit, and it took me about 3 hours even to warm up to the idea of opening the package. And looking at and touching “the bunny,” let alone cutting it up, for Pete’s sake…
Not only that, rabbit is extremely difficult to find where I live. But once in a while an out-of-town butcher that we frequent will carry it. Although rabbit is on menus all over Europe, we’re just beginning to see it here in the U.S., and mostly in French restaurants and bistros.
I’ve always wanted to experiment with it, however, and I am so glad I did. This rabbit could be the best dish I’ve made, sous vide or conventionally, with a couple of possible exceptions! As far as I’m concerned, sous vide is the only way to prepare confit, and once I decided to confit the rabbit, the other parts of the dish started falling into place.
A daube is just a stew of meat, vegetables, and herbs. It’s rustic but can also be quite elegant, especially with my addition of the pastry crust. The acidity of the sauce is a nice counterpoint to the richness of the confit, and the potatoes and ample portion of mushrooms make it a substantial one-dish meal.
All told, this recipe takes a total of 2 days to prepare, but there are 3 distinct parts to the process: dry-brining and preparing the confit of rabbit, preparing the daube on the stovetop, and topping with the crust and browning in a conventional oven. It would be easy to do everything but the last step in advance. In fact, the flavors of the daube improve with some standing time, so you can refrigerate it overnight and spread the prep out over several days. That makes it a great dish for entertaining.
The results are delicious, and the final presentation with the baked brown crust is smashing. You could save it for a special occasion or a small holiday dinner party, but why not treat yourself?
- To prepare the dry brine, grind the juniper berries with the peppercorns in a small spice mill or coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and add the sugar, ½ cup salt, thyme, and lavender, if using. Stir to blend.
- For the confit, arrange the rabbit in a dish that will hold it comfortably. Sprinkle the dry brine over the rabbit pieces, massaging it onto all surfaces of the flesh. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6 hours.
- Preheat the water bath to 175°F (79°C).
- Wash the rabbit pieces thoroughly under cold running water to remove all the brine. Dry the pieces thoroughly with paper towels.
- Divide the rabbit pieces equally between two large food bags and add 1 cup duck fat to each bag. Vacuum seal both bags and refrigerate until you are ready to cook the rabbit.
- Cook the rabbit 8 hours.
- Remove the rabbit from the bags, and wipe off as much fat as possible with paper towels. Set aside and allow to cool long enough to handle. Remove all the bones and cut the meat into generous bite-size pieces.
- For the daube, heat a deep skillet or large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and butter and cook until the butter melts. Add the pancetta, lower the heat to medium, and sauté for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the pancetta begins to brown. Add the onions and sauté for 12 to 15 minutes, or until they begin to caramelize. Add the garlic and continue to cook for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with 3 tablespoons of the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for another 3 minutes to cook the flour. Add the vinegar, wine, and port and deglaze the pan by scraping up any bits clinging to the bottom. Stir in the thyme, bay leaves, and cloves, ½ teaspoon of salt, ¾ teaspoon of pepper, and 1 cup of water. Continue to simmer over low heat for about 25 minutes, allowing the flavors to meld and the sauce to thicken. Add the prepared rabbit confit and remove from the heat.
- Meanwhile, boil or steam the potatoes until just tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and add to the rabbit pot. Melt the 3 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the mushrooms and shallot. Sauté just until the shallot begins to change color, 4 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the parsley. Stir briefly and transfer to the daube pot. The daube can be prepared a day or two in advance and refrigerated until you are ready to cover with the pastry and bake. Bring to room temperature, about an hour, before topping and baking.
- When ready to serve, preheat a conventional oven to 400°F.
- Transfer the stew and all of its juices to a 3- to 4-quart baking dish with high sides. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the puff pastry into a round, 1 inch larger than the diameter of the baking dish and ¼ inch thick. Carefully lay the pastry round on top of the baking dish and pinch the edges to seal it. Make 3 to 4 cuts in the pastry to allow the steam to escape. Brush the pastry with the egg white. Bake in the preheated oven until the crust is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove and allow to rest a few minutes. Serve in shallow bowls, scooping out portions that include some of the golden crust.