Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Rabbit Stew with Tarragon Biscuit Crust

My pot runneth over

Was looking at Scott Conant's recipe for Stewed Rabbit with Tarragon Biscuits reminding myself of all the reasons not to try making it: 1) It's not going to be easy. 2) I've never really baked before. 3) I don't have all the ingredients (Morels? Spring garlic?).

But wow it looked good and I had bought three frozen rabbits from Giant the month before so so so

Putting together the dough for the biscuits took forever. I spent all Sunday morning dithering, trying to decide what I could take from my pantry and what I had to improvise. At one point I went back to Giant to buy fresh tarragon and rosemary; was that all I needed? The recipe also called for a stand mixer--yeah right! I use one every day to make my daily bread, not to mention all the cakes for the holidays, and Christmas cookies for half the town. Regular Duff Goldman I am.

Buttermilk? Saw a recipe to improvise from milk and lemon juice or vinegar. But when I realized I needed more than the one packet of tarragon I actually had ('Half a cup' said the recipe! Was I cooking a rabbit or feeding it?) so when I bought two more packets--which was all the tarragon in the store--I went ahead and bought real buttermilk. There was only low-fat; oh well, had to start sometime might as well start with what I actually have.  

Was about to pull out our food processor (hoping I can somehow magically reduce butter to 'pea-size' with chopper blades) when I thought: waitaminute--

"Mommy! Don't we have a stand mixer?" "In the basement." "Have we ever used it?" "I once mixed dough to make bread." "Where is it?" "Look around. Use your eyes for once!"

It was heavy--like lifting a barbell, only without a length of iron for a handle ("I shall call thee Big Red, or: My Right Hand of Doom"). Brought it upstairs, somehow made counter space for it in the precious little we actually have (minus room for the coffee maker, the microwave, the toaster oven, all the bottles of vinegar and soy and fermented fish sauce and Knorr bouillon cubes--pork chicken and beef). Poured in the flour, the sugar (half a cup!), the baking soda, over a pound of butter (alas waistline!) and turned the gadget on. 

Whir whir. So when does the butter become 'pea-sized?' I started to see smallish balls, but they kept bouncing between bigger chunks of coagulated dairy. Finally gave up--isn't there such a thing as overmixing dough?--and added the buttermilk and tarragon and eggs.

When I reread the recipe turns out I had to mix the butter, baking soda and sugar first before adding the flour; the milk and eggs came last. O well it looked like dough: I put it in a bowl wrapped it and kept it in the garage, which had been a constant 40 F all winter. 

I've started, I've built momentum, now I was game for anything. I cut the rabbit and--broken down chicken plenty of times, skinned ox tongue, carved and spatchcocked turkey, a lot of creatures; rabbit was not easy. The bones were tough; even a rib took effort to push aside. That, and I wasn't sure of the coney's anatomy--how did the thigh bone connect to the leg bone again? What on earth was a saddle? 

Browning was the most tedious task of the cook: you had to make sure there was enough oil in your Dutch oven; you had to make sure you didn't burn the meat, the oil, any bits left over; you had to keep turning the damned things (after flouring and seasoning with salt (too much at first then too little) and pepper). I had only so many plates for raw and cooked meats (Who knew the critters had so much meat in em?) and only so much counter space, and I was dealing with three bunnies when the recipe called for only two--my pot runneth over, metaphorically and literally.

Finally finished browning the meat (the kitchen started smelling really good) and had to put a few chunks back to brown a little more. The flour helped; the meat had that crispy surface you can actually hear when you scraped it or tapped very gently with a spoon (krkrkree). Poured out the oil as instructed; it was black and gritty which meant I did the right thing--hate to have that in my mouth. Added two tablespoons of olive oil (tipped the bottle twice and called them tablespoons) and tossed in the shallots then the carrots then the rosemary. Added the rabbit. Then the chicken stock the white wine (with a screw-on bottlecap--not exactly Dom Perignon) and finally the mushrooms (creminis--whaddaya think I am, rich?). Simmer.

  Took the dough from the garage, unwrapped, spooned dough on stew. Stuck pot uncovered (the recipe never mentions that crucial little detail by the way) in the oven, 350 F for 35 minutes or until the biscuits are brown. 

I sit for thirty minutes. Okay took a peek: the stew was bubbling but the dough remained pale yellow. What the? Waited another five minutes. Still pale. My belly was growling. I turned on the broiler at low heat: finally the dough became a beautiful golden brown. I pulled out the heavy heavy pot (the rack visibly bending from the weight) and set it on the stovetop. Chopped up some fresh tarragon and sprinkled them on top.

The result: rabbit crisp from flouring and browning, in a nice little brown sauce slightly tangy from wine charged with umami from shrooms, chickeny broth complementing rabbity meat (no rabbit does not taste like chicken, not quite; rather it has a more delicate flavor, a more toothsome texture).

But the biscuit dear Lord the biscuit: crunchy outside, sweet flaky-tender inside, with an anise taint to the aroma and flavor that made one think of licorice and lollipops. The biscuit moistened into dumpling beneath, crumble to thicken the rabbit broth and form a thick stew beneath that. "It's good" a diner declared; "better even than your steaks" he added, then thought about it a bit. "Or is that some kind of recency effect?" O well I'll take my compliments however I can get em. 

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