I think rabbit is the wild meat the most game-averse eaters can be tempted to try given its mild flavour, and slow cooking it helps this low-fat meat soften and come away from the bone much more readily. Poaching in milk is a method often found in Italian cooking and will give a curdled sauce at the end, which although looking a bit wrong, tastes delicious. Think of it as savoury homemade soft cheese!
To keep the rabbit as moist as possible, I’d recommend cooking this in a wide, shallow ovenproof casserole dish or lidded sauté pan, sufficiently big to allow you to place the rabbit pieces in a single layer, ideally quite snugly. If it’s also hob-safe, you can save on washing up by cooking everything in one pan. If you don’t have an ovenproof dish like this, it can be cooked on a very low heat on the hob for the same amount of time.
Rabbit poached in milk
Serves 4-6 (depending on how you serve it)
Prep time: 20 mins
Cooking time: 2 hours
Oven heated to 160°c
2-3 tbsp plain flour
1 large onion, diced
2 sticks of celery, diced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp chopped thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
1 tbsp chopped sage (or 1 tsp dried)
1 rabbit, jointed
100ml dry white wine or dry pale sherry
Approximately 1 litre of milk
2 bay leaves
Flat leaf parsley, chopped, to serve
Cover a large plate with the flour and season generously with salt and pepper.
Add a tablespoon of oil to a large frying pan (or your final cooking vessel if it’s both hob and oven safe).
Fry the onion and celery for a few minutes until softened and the onion is beginning to brown. Add the garlic and herbs and fry for a few more minutes. Scoop the vegetables out of the pan with a slotted spoon and place to one side (I use the inverted lid of the casserole dish to save washing up). Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan.
Coat each rabbit portion in flour on all sides, and fry until golden. To get a lovely golden crust, resist the temptation to move the pieces around and leave them alone for as long as you can stand before turning them over. Meat often takes longer than you would think to brown properly. Once the rabbit pieces are browned, pile them to the onion mixture while you deglaze the pan.
Add the wine or sherry to the pan and scrape furiously with a wooden spoon or spatula to free the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Because of the flour, this will thicken quite quickly, but if you stir equally quickly, it will stay smooth. Add some of the milk to thin this mixture down.
Add the onion mixture and rabbit back to the pan. Add the bay leaves. Pour over the rest of the milk, enough to cover the rabbit. Season with salt and pepper and gently mix the sauce and rabbit round, then arrange the rabbit pieces into a single layer if you can. If the rabbit isn’t covered in milk, top up with water or light stock so that the rabbit is covered in liquid.
Cut a piece of greaseproof paper that will fit the pan (it doesn’t have to be perfect), scrunch it into a ball and wet it under the tap. Squeeze out the excess water and place on top of the casserole. This will help prevent too much liquid evaporating and the rabbit drying out.
Place the lid on the pan and put it in the oven for 2 hours. If you are cooking on the hob, keep the heat as low as possible on a large ring and check it after about an hour, adding more liquid if necessary.
When cooked, the milk will have curdled and separated. If you don’t like the look of this, or prefer a thicker sauce, remove the rabbit pieces and thicken with a little cornflour mixed in with water. Stir through the parsley before serving.
At this point, you can either serve it as it is as a casserole or if you’ve been able to cook it ahead of time, leave it so the meat is cool enough to handle and strip the meat off the bones. Gently reheat the boneless stew to serve with potatoes, polenta or rice and the veg of your choice, or as I did in the photo above, stirred through pasta in which case it will certainly serve 6.
I like doing this with rabbit because the distribution of meat across the portions is quite uneven, and this way everyone gets a bit of everything, and the rabbit also goes a lot further.