Easter Bunny on a Plate: Cafe Boulud's Dijon-Style Rabbit

Easter weekend is about to begin. With it comes a celebration of all things Easter Bunny: Easter Bunny cards, Easter Bunny cakes, Easter Bunny chocolates, Easter Bunny decorations. It doesn't freaking end.

This Easter, rather than stuffing your face full of fake, preservative filled rabbit, why not try the real thing? Exectuive Chef Jim Leiken of Cafe Boulud gives us a recipe for Dijon-Style Rabbit.

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While it's not on the menu all the time--it does freak a lot of people out--Cafe Boulud does serve rabbit from time to time. "It's definitely not to everyone's taste," says Leiken, "I personally really like it. It's a milder, more delicate flavor than most people think, but it definitely requires some finesse to cook it properly. This is an updated version of the classic lapin a la moutarde that we do every once in a while. We try not to do it around this time of year, because we obviously don't want to traumatize anybody."

Braise:  A Journey Through International Cuisine, Daniel Boulud and Melissa Clark, Ecco, 2006

Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 (3-pound) rabbits or 8 rabbit legs
4 cups chicken stock or low-sodium canned broth
2 cups dry white wine, preferably Chardonnay or white Burgundy
1/4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Coarse sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 dozen small pearl onions, peeled
1/2 pound button mushrooms, quartered
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
2 sprigs tarragon, leaves only, half the leaves whole, half finely chopped
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon dried mustard powder
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives, for garnish
2 tablespoons crème fraiche
½ cup small croutons

Step One: Place a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F.

Step Two: If you bought whole rabbits, place a rabbit flat on a cutting board.  Separate the two back legs.  Cut the two front legs from the shoulders.  Cut the back loin into 3 pieces cut across the backbone, then the rack into 3 pieces.  Cut each of the back legs in half. Repeat with the remaining rabbit. (You can also ask your butcher to do this.)

Step Three: In a large saucepan, bring the stock and the wine to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and keep at a slow, steady simmer.

Step Four: Heat the olive oil and butter in a large cast-iron low-sided pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Season the rabbit with salt and pepper and dust with the flour. Add the rabbit to the pan and sear until golden brown on all sides, about 10 minutes.  Add the onions and mushrooms and sweat, stirring, for 5 to 7 minutes. Add the mustard seeds and the whole tarragon leaves, toss well, and bake for 10 minutes. Pour in the hot stock/wine mixture and stir to scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan.  Cover the pot and return it to the oven to braise for 30 minutes, then uncover and braise for 10 minutes more.  To check for doneness, use a small knife to pierce the thickest part of the thigh.  The meat should feel tender.

Step Five: Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the Dijon mustard, the dried mustard, crème fraiche, and the chopped tarragon leaves.  Remove the pot from the oven, stir in the mustard mixture, and let rest for 15 minutes. 

Step Six: If you would like a richer sauce, transfer the rabbit to a platter and keep it warm while you boil the braising liquid for 5 or 10 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Return the rabbit to the pan, garnish with the chives, and serve.

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Sara Ventiera