Sweet Rabbit Stew

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As a last hurrah to my time in France I decided to cook rabbit (lapin in French).  I’d seen them in all the markets in Paris and it is certainly not something I can easily get in the States.  I was a bit daunted about making this since I don’t cook meat often, but a friend in Paris shared the idea of cooking rabbit in hard cider and it sounded wonderful (thanks Stewart).  I gave it a try and was very pleased with the results!

While this dish was particularly fun and exotic because it was made with rabbit, in the end it tasted quite a bit like chicken.  If you aren’t able to get your hands on rabbit feel free to substitute with chicken breasts.  I have a feeling it will be equally good.

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I got all of the ingredients for this dish (and many of the other meals I’ve made in Paris) at the outdoor markets.  They are filled with wonderful vendors selling fresh, local ingredients.  For this recipe I started with two rabbit legs (each about the size of a chicken breast), 3 leeks, 2 onions, 4 cloves of garlic, 2 apples, 7 potatoes, 4 celery stalks, a handful of dried apricots, and a bottle of hard cider.

We bought the cider from a farmer on the Cider Road in Normandy.  I loved visiting the farm where this was made and meeting the farmers — it’s so much more fun to cook when you have a connection to the food you’re working with.  The sweetness of the cider (enhanced by the cooked apples and dried apricots) is the perfect compliment for the rabbit.  If you aren’t able to find hard cider I’d recommend using half regular cider and half beer (about 1.5 cups of each).

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Start by sauteing the sliced leeks with the diced garlic and onions in a thick-bottomed pot with a splash of olive oil.  When they have cooked for about 4 minutes, add your rabbit (or chicken) and brown the edges.  Add the chopped celery and apples while the meat is browning and then cover it all with hard cider (about 3 – 4 cups) and 1 cup of water.

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Bring the pot to a simmer and add the diced potatoes and chopped apricots.  I also added salt, pepper, 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce.  Continue simmering and stirring regularly for 1.5 hours, or until the meat has cooked through and flakes away from the bones (feel free to help the process along a bit with a fork).  This stew gets more delicious as it cooks and the flavors have time to blend together.  The slow cooking also draws the sweetness out of the cider and allows the alcohol to cook off.

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We really enjoyed this stew and felt very French while eating it.  The rabbit was surprisingly tasty and healthy.  Rabbit has been proclaimed by many to be the most nutritious meat available. It boasts higher levels of protein and lower levels of fat and cholesterol than chicken, turkey, beef, or pork.  I also like that rabbits tend to be grown on small farms since there isn’t an industrial market for rabbit meat.  So, keep an open mind about rabbit and see if you can find some and give this stew a try.

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