David asked for a rabbit dish with sauerkraut. I didn’t have a particular recipe, so I looked over my cookbook library and pulled a Russian/German/Polish cookbook. Being of Czech ancestry I was familiar with the general bent of these cuisines and felt I could find something that I might adapt to what I had on hand. I found a recipe for pork and sauerkraut, similar to my tried and true Czech Szegedin goulash recipe (which is basically the direction I figured to go with this.) The pork and kraut recipe called for browning a pound of pork; adding paprika, sauerkraut, red chiles and chicken stock; simmering for about an hour and serving with sour cream, mustard and sage. This is my adaptation, and I’m happy to say that I’ve actually compiled a real recipe for it.
Rabbit and Kraut
1 dressed rabbit, divided into serving size pieces
½ cup flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
4 Tablespoons oil
1 Tablespoon paprika
1 large onion, thickly sliced
1 quart sauerkraut, drained and rinsed if desired
2 cups chicken stock
2 cloves garlic
3 or 4 fresh sage leaves or ½ tsp ground sage
Combine flour, salt and pepper. Dredge the rabbit pieces in the flour mixture, shaking off excess flour. Heat the oil in a heavy Dutch oven and brown the rabbit pieces in the hot oil, adding extra oil if necessary. Set the rabbit aside. Saute the onion slices in the hot oil until soft. Add the paprika and saute a few minutes until fragrant. Stir in the sauerkraut and arrange the rabbit on top of the kraut mixture. Nestle the garlic cloves into the kraut. Pour the chicken stock over the dish and top with the sage leaves or ground sage. Cover and bring to a boil. Bake in a 250 degree oven for about 1 hour until the rabbit is tender, adding extra stock or water if the dish starts to dry out. Serve with noodles.
No don’t go leavin’ just yet. I’ve told you the basic how, now I’ll tell you the why along with some hints and how to improvise.
We’ve raised rabbits for long enough that I can make pretty short work of a carcass. Butchering rabbits is an excellent way to ease into the learning curve of processing your own meat as similarities can be found between it and both poultry and bigger mammals. The rabbit I used in this recipe was frozen, though we can a lot of it as well. I divide the carcass into 8 pieces: two front legs (which can be accumulated and turned into fine, meaty “buffalo wings,) two hind legs separated from the spine along with their respective pelvic bones, two rib sections and two loin sections from behind the ribs. The loin sections correspond to chicken breast and are the most likely to be dry. The ribs and legs are more like chicken dark meat and are my preference. When we butcher rabbits we lay them out on cookie sheets at refrigerator temperature (either in the fridge or outdoors depending upon the season) for at least 24 to 36 hours in order for the rigor to leave the carcass and increase tenderness before further processing.
I added the flour dredging step to my recipe adaptation for several reasons. The flour dredge for rabbits serves to replace the skin that would be found on chicken helping seal in moisture. It provides an extra layer of flavor depth and also helps thicken the final gravy. I added the pepper at this step because I’ve found that I like the mellowing that happens when black pepper is fried/sauteed. Don’t be afraid to add the extra oil if needed rather than be frustrated by sticking. Oil can be replaced with any fat – butter, lard, bacon grease, chicken fat, whatever is on hand.
The paprika I used was a home grown paprika of a hotter variety ground in the blender. It made a courser grind than the run-of-the-mill store bought variety. Pretty much any dried chile or even chile powder could be substituted. Like the black pepper, the paprika flavor is deepened yet mellowed by exposure to the hot fat.
I wrote the recipe to call for a large onion, but in actuality I used a medium onion and several green onions from the garden. This added a nice bit of color. Even dried onions would work though they wouldn’t need to be sautéed. Leeks would also be awesome.
The sauerkraut I used was a quart of homemade canned kraut. I rinsed it after draining to remove some of the salt. Use your own judgment regarding the amount of salt and the sourness of your kraut when deciding whether or not to rinse. The cooking process will temper much of the tang.
Of course, you might have rabbit stock, pork stock or even vegetable stock on hand in place of chicken stock. Water, beer or wine would work as well with an adjustment of the salt and if nothing else is available use water and up the seasoning.
Garlic can take many forms. Fresh cloves are great but garlic powder will work as well. In my rendition I used pickled garlic. (Who could have thunk it??)
Sage is one of my favorite herbs to use with rabbit along with rosemary and thyme, but really any herb you like would work. You could throw some tomatoes in as well.
Braising is the slow, moist cooking process that is used here. It works really well with rabbit and can be adapted to any drier or tougher meat. The keys are to brown the meat well to develop flavor, add aromatic vegetables and herbs and a small to moderate amount of liquid and cook at a slow simmer or in a slow oven with a tight lid for at least an hour and often more. Cook it ‘till it’s done. When cooking out in our summer kitchen on the vintage Maytag stove I like to oven braise. When the weather is cool and the woodstove is burning I turn to the stovetop.
Finally, the sour cream called for in the original recipe is always a good idea. My niece complained about a cookbook she had from a renowned organic/natural food source. She said, “None of it tastes good.” I said, “It’s because none of it has any salt in it. Add salt and if that doesn’t work, add sour cream. Salt and sour cream will fix almost anything.”
What I want to teach people about cooking, particularly cooking on the homestead, is much more than how to follow a recipe. I want to show how to think through the process and how to use what you have, which is the basis for all good cooking. I apologize for no pretty picture, but I was busy. J
P.S. David said it would have been fine with even more kraut.