Growing interest in low-fat food as well as America's increasingly sophisticated palate has brought renewed interest in game. Buffalo, pheasant, venison, quail, and rabbit - once considered novel and esoteric are becoming increasingly available in US supermarkets. And why should we be surprised? They are the foods that fed our forefathers.
Lately, commercial farms have been producing rabbit at a growing rate to meet consumer demands.
German Hasenpfeffer, French Ragout de Lapin, Austrian Gefllte Hasenfilets, Italian Lepre in Salmi, English Jugged Hare have been popular rabbit dishes in Europe for generations. Rabbit has always been favored for its mild, sweet taste, fine texture, and diversity of preparation.
Thanksgiving means tradition for most families in America: a day filled with our olfactory system going full tilt while watching parades, cheering for football teams, and waiting in anticipation for a wonderful holiday meal with all the trimmings seated with family members and dear friends.
Many traditions that embody holiday gatherings revolve around the expected fare. Statistics would substantiate that most American families serve turkey as an entree, cranberries as a side, and a pumpkin pie or some pumpkin item, on Thanksgiving. Obviously this is not true for every family, but it's embroiled in tradition, and seasonally appropriate cuisine.
Traditions are good, wholesome, part and parcel of the facets of family. They are established, and usually develop their pattern by familial repetition.
My family always had turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. No, my mother never baked a pumpkin pie, but then again my mother never baked any kind of pie. At our house, fantasy desserts were just that, a fantasy. Desserts were always provided by a guest, housekeeper, a bakery, a supermarket). For us, that was tradition!
Include in your holiday table fine food, loving hearts, and the sharing of your own expressions of personal gratitude. And for a change, why not surprise your diners with an alternative entree such as roasted pheasant or braised rabbit with shiitake mushrooms? Wild rice, mustard greens, peas with crushed bacon, garlic mashed potatoes, pickled beans or pureed lima beans with fresh thyme make interesting, colorful vegetable side dishes.
For those traditional touches, incorporate tart cranberries native to North America and northern Europe, once called the crane berry, into your menu and skip the canned jelly sauce.
A pumpkin soup flavored with curry and sweetened with maple syrup rounds out the menu.
Braised Rabbit With Shiitake Mushrooms
This recipe serves 8, but may be halved to serve 4.
Freshly ground black pepper
2 3-to-4 pound rabbits, cut into serving pieces, rinsed, and patted dry
Chicken stock (about 2 quarts)
1/3 cup coarse mustard (with seeds)
3 to 4 cups sliced shiitake mushrooms
Any pasta will hold sauce, such as ziti or shells
Freshly chopped parsley
Generously salt and pepper each piece of rabbit. Melt butter in a large heavy casserole (one with a lid).
Over medium heat, saut rabbit until browned.
Drain on paper towels. When all pieces are browned, pour off any fat and discard. Pour a cup of chicken stock in pot and scrap to deglaze pan. Add the rabbit back to the pot, and enough chicken stock just to cover the meat.
Add mustard and mushrooms and mix into the stock. Cover pot with lid slightly ajar. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook for approximately 1-1/2 hours, or until meat is very tender.
Rabbit may be removed to a warm oven while the stock is turned on high heat (with cover removed) to reduce stock to about 2 cups.
Before serving, make noodles of your choice according to package directions. Once noodles are cooked and drained, toss with minced parsley. Serve the rabbit over noodles with stock served in a gravy boat.
2 cups fresh cranberries
1/2 cup cranberry wine vinegar (if unable to find, strawberry, or raspberry wine vinegar will do)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar (to be used later)
2 teaspoons mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
1 to 2 teaspoons chopped dried red chilies (to taste)
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
1/2 teaspoon ginger root, peeled and minced.
Cut all of the cranberries in half (not through the stem end), and place in a colander. To remove the cranberry seeds, place the colander over a sink and shake it until most of the cranberry seeds have fallen through the holes. Wash the halved berries thoroughly.
In a medium saucepan, add the vinegar, 1/2 cup of sugar, mustard seed, cumin seed, fenugreek, and dried chilies. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook an additional three minutes. Taste, adjust seasonings.
Add the cranberries, garlic, and minced ginger. Turn the heat on low and cook gently for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the remaining sugar and mix until the sugar is dissolved. Do not over-cook cranberries - leave crisp. Taste, adjust seasonings.
Let cool before serving.
Maple-Curried Pumpkin Soup
4 cups roasted pumpkin (or 3 15-ounce cans)
3 tablespoons butter
3 cups leeks (white part only ), or onions, thinly sliced.
1/2 cup maple syrup
6 cups chicken stock, homemade or prepared
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon curry powder, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Roast slices of oiled pumpkin in oven 350 degrees F. until tender (about 60 minutes). Remove from oven and set aside. (You may use canned pumpkin - unspiced).
Heat butter in a very large heavy pot, add sliced leeks or onions and saut until tender.
Add maple syrup, canned or roasted (no skin) pumpkin and mix - add chicken stock and let cook 15 to 20 minutes.
Add salt if necessary, curry powder, and nutmeg. When somewhat cool, process soup in small batches in food processor. Adjust seasonings.
Reheat, pour into tureen and serve.
Yields about 8 to 10 servings - leftover soup freezes well.
Add a dollop of whipping cream, or sour cream.
Add a cup of half-and-half to soup, reheat until warm - do not boil.
Top with minced chives. Serve cold.