Wild Rabbit Escabeche

(Our roving culinary correspondent first tried this recipe with wild rabbit, and loved it. He assumed he’d come into some more in time to write the article. As the deadline for publication approached, his run of bad hunting luck continued unabated -- when he says he’s no good with a shotgun, he means it -- and he was forced to prepare the recipe with chicken. That is a perfectly good substitute, but the wet cooking here is excellent for game meats, which tend to be dryer, which is why the original text was left unedited to reference rabbit.)

I like this recipe because I’m no good with a shotgun. Most days I go out and don’t bag a single thing besides the ham sandwich I made for lunch. But every once in a while there’s a day where there’s more game than even a blind man could miss, and then I’ve got to find something to do with 5 rabbits. Apparently the ancient Mediterranean had the same problem. They cured meat in a variety of different ways you’re likely familiar with: duck fat confit, salt cured fish, smoked jerky, dry aged ham. But my favorite for wild game has to be the ‘Escabeche’. Essentially the concept of preparing meat with an acidic braising liquid. You may be familiar with it by other names: Fish Ceviche in Latin America, Chicken Adobo in the Philippines, Savoro to the Italians. All stem from the concept of using acids like lime juice, cider vinegar, or sherry vinegar both cook and preserve. And I find it’s especially suited for wild game. The acidity both helps to break down the tough connective tissue and breaks down the compounds that cause food to taste game-y. 

In my opinion, this is a perfect recipe for throwing in a large pot and just leaving to braise on top of the wood stove in your log cabin while you try your hand at catching elusive winter crappie on a somehow not yet frozen lake. Warming, moor-ish, and uses whatever you have on hand. I have just three recommendations:

Use the best vinegar you can get your hands on. I prefer high quality sherry vinegar for its sweetness. But just in case you don’t have that in your log cabin, any vinegar will do, and I’ve never had any complaints when I’ve used the apple cider vinegar I accidentally made instead of cider one year. This dish is about the game after all.

If you get your hands on it, early winter hare is hands down my choice for this. They’ve got plenty of fat stored up still which compliments the vinegar perfectly. But again, this dish isn’t about that. It works great with any rabbit, game bird, water fowl, or varmint. Hell, I reckon Florida iguana would work too. And of course, chicken (thighs and legs only though please).

Lastly, avoid boiling at any cost. Most wild meat does not do well at high temperatures, and most people don’t realize that that includes boiling temperatures. You want the tiniest little bubbles to gently float up and burst as they pass through the fatty layer on top. Never let it get to a rolling boil.

The Recipie

Two rabbits, cleaned and quartered. I like to leave out the loin and just grill that over a fire instead but it’s good in this too.

Salt - a lot. I don’t know what to tell you.

Oil, 1/4 to a 1/3 cup - this is going to cook a long time and you’d waste the good stuff, but any olive oil is a good bet.

One head (yes head) of garlic, peeled and crushed. No need to chop if you don’t want to.

Two large shallots (or one large of any onion, seriously don’t go buying shallots just for this recipe). Frenched, or sliced into thin slivers for regular folks.

Spices and Herbs - 3 to 4 Bay leaves, a sprig of Thyme and Rosemary each, and some crushed black peppercorns. A dash of clove is also great. Sage works and also Saffron in any quantity. Fresh is best but dried is better than nothing.

1/2 cup sherry vinegar - again any vinegar works but sherry is best in my opinion.

Additional - a Chili Pepper added with the onions, I like an Aleppo but any meaty pepper will work. Sultanas or raisins for a sweet kick. Carrots and Potatoes at the end for a bit more body. Thickener such as a heaping tablespoon of flour mixed with the cold vinegar or a cornstarch slurry added at the end for a thicker gravy. Chopped parsley at the end for an herby kick. 

...

Step one, coat the meat in lots of salt, as if you were grilling a steak and let sit for at least 30 minutes, preferably over night in the fridge. 

Step two, add the garlic and cold oil to your desired cooking pot and bring to a medium heat until the garlic starts to bubble and turn a golden color. Add the onions and sweat them until they smell good, about 2 minutes. Add your spices and herbs now and go to step three.

Step three, bring the pot off the heat and let it cool down for a second while you take the meat out of the fridge and measure your sherry vinegar. Once it’s no longer going to instantly boil and splash in your face, add the vinegar and the cold salty meat. I know what you’re thinking, this guy doesn’t brown his meat? What about the fond? What about the Maillard compounds? Trust me, if you’ve ever had pho or ramen or any really good soup you’ll know you don’t need browning for amazing flavor. It will taste amazing and will avoid overheating the game. Don’t brown this one. Add cold water until it just barely covers 2/3 of the meat. 

Step four, turn the heat down to as low as you can get it while still cooking the meat. This is a bit tricky but my suggestion is to start at the bottom and slowly turn it up every ten minutes until small little bubbles gently rise to the top. This way you avoid hitting a rolling boil. Cook for about 2 hours or until you can pull the meat off the bone with a fork. Taste the liquid for salt and spices. 

Serve hot over egg noodles, roasted new potatoes, or as a stew with fresh bread. 

For a Mexican style, replace the vinegar for sour orange juice and use dried chilies, oregano, cinnamon and clove.