Introduction: Braised Wild Rabbit Stew- From Field to Table
Here a rabbit is stalked, shot, skinned, butchered and cooked in juiced apples and home grown vegetables to make a thick and delicious stew.
When I was younger I used to eat a lot of rabbit meat mostly because I was hungry and short of cash. I kept ferrets and would catch the animals in home made nets draped carefully over the warren bolt holes. Sadly, I no longer keep ferrets, but do have a rifle and am a trained hunter/marksman and hope to pass on some really useful tips for bringing rabbits from the field to the table that will not be easily found elsewhere.
|Hazards:||..........||Diseased animal, rifle safety and fleas!|
Step 1: Tell Tale Signs of Rabbits
The first thing is to find the rabbits, or where they can be found in reasonable numbers. The last thing that I want is to get out of my warm bed at four o'clock in the morning and walk around the fields and find no rabbits.
There are a few things to look for and the most obvious is nice fresh droppings. These should be black and shiny. If they are brown and dry they are old and may be from a rabbit that is just passing by rather than a habitual visitor. Another thing to look for is scrape marks with little tussles of white fury 'stuff' next to them (See photo above). If these signs can be seen fresh everyday for several days in succession then it's pretty likely the rabbit is either a habitual visitor or has even taken up residence in a nearby hedgerow.
Rabbits are strongly attracted to smells and will often travel for miles to investigate a freshly ploughed field for the juicy morsels that the plough may reveal. They are also attracted to freshly mowed fields as they prefer small, young plant shoots rather than big rough tufts of grass which are much harder for them to digest. It is also much easier to spot the creatures in mowed grass as there is less cover for them to hide in.
If rabbits have taken up permanent residence in a hedge, you can often smell them as you walk past on a still day - they really do stink sometimes! After a while, hollows in the undergrowth should become noticeable as they start to use regular runs to get to their feeding grounds. Sometimes they will form hopping tracks which take the form of regular patches of flattened grass at hopping intervals - for this you will have to imagine you are a rabbit - a rabbit will not push through thick grass if it can just hop over it. Lastly, rabbits may leave very distinctive tracks in mud or snow - think what a rabbit's back legs look like and what mark it would leave behind. They will also periodically urinate in the snow leaving pretty little yellow patches!
Step 2: Shooting Equipment
Obviously some kind of rifle is required and this could be a 'firearm' or an airgun. I started off with an airgun but found it pretty unsatisfactory as it did not have the power to get clean and humane kills unless it was at really close range such as 30 metres or less. Even then, if the rabbit was paying attention, it could hear the shot and jump out of the way before the pellet made contact, it was that slow! A 0.22 calibre rifle is a much more effective option, but there are important safety aspects to be aware of.
Rabbits prefer to feed in the hours of darkness, particularly at about an hour before sunrise. A powerful lightweight spotlight mounted on the gun is essential and will cause a bright reflection in the rabbit's eyes which makes them easy to spot if they are looking sideways on.
To get a humane shot a shooting stick is a really good idea. I use a lightweight photographic tripod with a home made metal V attached. Target shooting at rabbits to test your skills is not a good idea! The shooting stick is not a cheat and will make getting a steady aim ten times easier than just holding the rifle in the air.
Step 3: Health and Safety
The best policy here would be to get some experience hunting with a trained or experienced person who can explain all the possible hazards. Shooting and eating rabbits need not be dangerous if you know what you are doing. Personally, I did a two day training course called DSC1 in the UK, which goes into detail about the diseases animals such as rabbits may carry, what the symptoms look like and who to notify if something nasty such as TB is spotted. Rifles themselves are obviously incredibly dangerous if the hunter does not know what they are doing, so training is essential.
Meat hygiene is another important aspect and again training is appropriate. There are online training courses which are helpful, but do not go into as much detail as the DSC1.
Lastly, all rabbits have fleas, who will be looking for a new host almost immediately after the rabbit dies.
If you can leave the rabbit hanging up for about 5 minutes before gutting, then the fleas will jump off into the grass rather than into your clothes!
Step 4: Stalking the Rabbits
Once it has been established that rabbits are present in a location on a daily basis, the hunter can set his alarm clock for early morning, check which way the wind is blowing and approach from a downwind position if possible. Looking at the photo above, the grassy area is where I have spotted signs of rabbits and provides a safe back stop for the shot (consult your training instructor). No person or animal should be in between the rifleman and the rabbit, so the dog would normally be 'at heel',and not in the foreground as shown.
Move quietly and steadily watching out for sticks underfoot - if you are careful you can feel the sticks with the underside of your foot before treading on them - practise this beforehand or remove such obstacles from your path the day before. Never stamp your foot clumsily as this is identical to the rabbits alarm signal that it performs with it's back legs. Once in a predetermined suitable location, set up the shooting stick, rest the rifle on them/it and turn on the lamp. Strictly speaking, you should not scan the field with the gun, but in this situation there is no other option unless you have a companion to help out. If there are rabbits, they will react in several possible ways - they may just look back at the lamp in which case you will see their eyes, they may hop into cover, they may run away or may just ignore everything. If it's the last one then they may be diseased, the other behaviour is often entirely unpredictable. Rabbits are also curious, so may hide for a while and then peak their heads up to see what's going on, but in any case be prepared for a quick decision to take a shot. Never stall or the opportunity will be missed.
Don't try and seek out the rabbits by creeping up to them - it's much better to sit or even stand dead still in a corner of a field and wait for the rabbits to emerge. If you don't move they will generally ignore you. Just requires some patience!
Legal: In some countries/states 'lamping' for rabbits is illegal.
Step 5: Skinning and Butchering the Rabbit
Surprisingly, I could not find a good instructable on how to skin a rabbit, so here goes!
Use a really good sharp knife - even 'surgical' steel if you can get one. Check out the links below for seriously sharp tools:
Havalon knives for skinning
Tojiro Chef's Knife 180mm
Top Grade Double Sided Whetstone 1000 / 3000 Grit
The Tojiro Chef Knife has steel with a hardness value of 57 - 58 on the Rockwell scale which is very good. You'll also need a whetstone for sharpening. Foolishly, I used an 'off the shelf' kitchen knife for the butchering in the video below.
Step 6: The Recipe
In my mind wild rabbit is quite hard to cook without it tasting really 'gamey', which is not how I would like it. In the past I would probably be in a hurry and not cook it for long enough so it was tough or it would be in a thin, mealy, stew with a few random chunks of vegetables. Now, for once and all, I am going to meditate on the recipe for days before hand and remedy ALL my previous mistakes!
So, going through the process, I spotted really good signs of rabbits in one of the fields, I stalked the rabbit at 10pm so did not even have to get up early, I shot the rabbit (there was only one), brought the rabbit home and left it outside for the fleas to hop away, REALLY PLEASED WITH MYSELF! Got up early in the morning and .............. It was gone! The fox must have got it! Now I had to think which of my neighbours had rabbit infestations and start 'phoning round. The rabbit stew simply had to be made!
The recipe itself is based around two basic requirements: (1) Tenderise the meat and (2) Thicken the stew with flavour. The thickness will not be created with corn flour, but juiced apples, which should also have enough intensity of flavour to compliment the extremely flavoursome rabbit. I suppose I could have just wacked it with chilli powder, black pepper, turmeric etc but that felt like cheating on this occasion. There will, however, be some spice, but not too much.
- 7.5 litre pan
- Juicer (BJE410 Nutri Juicer ™) for apples
- Two wild rabbits
- 900g apples ..................................... Lots of lovely fresh apples this time of year
- 750g carrots ................ Fresh, Fresh, FRESH and full of flavour.
- 600g leeks
- 800g small onions
- 500g potatoes
- 800g tomatoes
- 75g fresh garlic
- Tarragon ........................................... My neighbour said this was great with rabbit.
- Fresh Bay leaves x 5 of
- 100g kale
- Ground pepper
- Add oil/fat to a large frying pan, heat until crackling and then add the pieces of rabbit and quickly brown off on both sides.
- Chop and fry the onions and garlic together until caramelised (browned). This produces an utterly heavenly smell! Blink when you chop and you won't get onion juice in your eyes.
- Transfer to a large pot, add chopped vegetables, pepper, bay leaves, tarragon and chopped tomatoes.
- Juice the apples and pour into the pot to cover about 90% of the contents. (Not 100% as tomatoes are 95% liquid). Is that confusing? - Don't worry about it!
- Chop up and boil the potatoes in a separate pan until cooked and strain off the water.
- Bring to the boil and simmer for 2 hours or as long as it takes for the meat to fall off the bone.
- Fork out the rabbit joints and peel off the meat, discarding the bones. Throw the meat back into the pot.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add kale chopped off the stalk, discarding the stalk. Add the boiled potatoes now.
- Cook for a further 10 minutes and serve with more vegetables and a tablespoon of Earwig Chutney.
Step 7: Tasting Session
Enjoy the taste of this amazing recipe as we did!