For ages, it was tradition for me to go and visit Mister North in the countryside over August Bank Holiday weekend. My dancing all day at Carnival days are over so it was very relaxing to head to West Yorkshire to breathe in the fresh air, frequent country pubs and eat well.
Unfortunately I also cooked one of the worst meals I’ve ever made on one Bank Holiday visit. It was a rabbit stew of such dryness that it was almost completely inedible and every single time Mister North or I so much as think about eating or cooking rabbit, we mention it in hushed (and horrified) tones.
Rabbit is a very lean meat with almost no fat and thus it’s easy to cook all the moisture out of it. It’s also a meat that most people in the UK don’t regularly eat or cook because of a combination of it being seen as poor wartime food, the myxamatosis scare of the 70s and the Watership Down/Beatrix Potter effect. This means we don’t grow up learning how it should be cooked or eaten and have anything to compare our efforts too.
Even I took a while to get into the swing of cooking things I used to keep as a childhood pet, so getting the hang of rabbit took me time. The terrible rabbit stew came from a frozen wild rabbit and was then soaked in vinegar water to tenderise it. I won’t be repeating either of these things again. It might work better if I’d brined it though.
I also irrationally despise the tactic of cooking drier meats with bacon to bard them. I’m not entirely sure why this practice enrages me so much, but it’s also fairly pointless with the kind of lean back bacon in vogue these days. I seemed destined to never exorcise the ghost of the terrible rabbit stew.
Then as my slow cooker chronicles progressed and I was making seriously succulent stews, I decided to risk doing bunny in it. And it was fantastic. It was one of the dishes I enjoyed the most while recipe testing and I was really disappointed when it didn’t fit into my chapter structures and had to be set aside (hopefully for next time.) When I saw a wild rabbit at Herne Hill Market this August Bank Holiday weekend, I knew the time had come to revisit the technique, adding a beautiful big Bramley apple, some fresh tarragon and white wine this time.
Rabbit Stew with Apple, Fennel and Tarragon in White Wine
- 1 whole rabbit, jointed into six
- 50g plain flour
- 1 tablespoon mustard powder
- ½ teaspoon salt and pepper
- 4 medium potatoes, preferably floury like a King Edward, sliced
- 1 leek, sliced into half moons
- 1 bulb fennel, sliced to the thickness of pound coins
- 1 Bramley apple, sliced
- 2 tablespoons tarragon, fresh or dried
- 250ml white wine or vermouth (use stock if you don’t care for alcohol)
- 100ml water
- salt and pepper to taste
- 50ml cream to finish (optional)
- more fresh tarragon to garnish
Rabbits usually come skinned and unjointed. I use poultry shears to divide it into six pieces: two back legs, two front legs and the body halved. Remove the offal if attached. You can pan fry it separately, but I find it a bit bitter for adding to the sauce.
Season the flour with the salt, pepper and mustard and coat each portion of rabbit well. Shake off any excess.
Prepare the vegetables as detailed above. Add half of them as a layer on the bottom on the slow cooker crock, then place the seasoned rabbit on top. Season further and add the tarragon. Cover with the remaining vegetables.
Carefully pour the liquid down the side of the crock so it doesn’t wash all the flour off the the rabbit. You could use cider here as the flavours work and it’s less expensive than a bottle of wine. I was splashing out. Cover with the lid and cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 5 hours.
The rabbit will become plump, moist and tender while you get a wonderful stock meets gravy in the bottom of the crock. The vegetables have soaked up the flavour and be soft and yielding. Any fresh tarragon you used will still be surprisingly robust after the slow cooking, but I like to add some more chopped fresh tarragon to the stew before serving. You can also add some cream at this stage too if you like it all a little richer.
Serve in shallow bowls. The rabbit should fall off the bone beautifully. All you need with it is the remainder of the bottle of wine and some crusty bread to soak up any juices going begging. Rabbit turned out to be just the thing when I wanted slow cooked comfort on an unseasonable weekend without anything being too heavy. Another slow cooker triumph (for the others see below….)