On rambling to a vaunted Vermont country store, and baking bunny meat
Vermont is crazy amazing. I Lovermont. Rolling hills, pastoral pastures, birch-filled woods, limpid mountain waters, peace, progressiveness, cheese. (If it had an ocean, it would be perfect. It has Lake Champlain, which is still pretty cool.) On Saturday, Hubby and I took our annual spring road trip through a favorite corner of southwestern Vermont, not so very far from home. This is Norman Rockwell country. Covered wooden bridges, and salt-of-the-earth locals in waders, and roadside general stores that have little changed over the decades.
A fun stopover for us–and sometimes a destination unto itself–is the Wayside Country Store in Arlington, along the banks of the Battenkill River and just over the New York border. From live bait to Burt’s Bees products, from fine wines to a dozen different varieties of Vermont-made nut butters, from Silly Putty to hot meatball subs…this store has everything. Including frozen rabbits, processed at a nearby farm. On this, the day before Easter, my mind was on bunnies. Specifically, bunny meat. I knew this store sold it, and I wanted to cook it. On Easter. Perverse? Perhaps.
Along with the rabbit, Hubby and I loaded up on a lot of other fun, only-in-Vermont vittles, and headed out to enjoy the rest of the day rambling. But I’ll save that travel tale for later. For now, it’s all about the rabbit.
Yeah, I was a bit squeamish about cooking it. I have never eaten rabbit before, let alone cooked it. Did I think twice when I saw a sweet cottontail hopping through the backyard on Easter morning, as I prepped my own hapless hare? Yep. Was it odd that Hubby insisted on channeling Yosemite Sam–asking when the hasenpfeffer would be done–and Elmer Fudd–singing about the “wascally wabbit”? Sure. But I was not to be deterred. Especially not after finding a few really yummy-looking rabbit recipes online. The one that sold me? Why, the one that called for bleu cheese, Doc.
Rabbit with Bleu Cheese-Dijon Sauce
- 1 (2 1/2-3 lb) rabbit , cut up
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh savory leaves
- 2 bay leaves, fresh, crumbled
- 1/2 cup Dijon mustard
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup half-and-half
- 1 cup crumbled bleu cheese
Steel your stomach, and remove the innards from the rabbit, after looking at it for a little while and coming to grips with the fact that it’s just a step up from a squirrel, and just a step down from your pet cat. Cut up the thing much like you would a fryer, except instead of wings…two large and two small legs, and only a little bit of breast (or is that belly?) meat…
In a 9×13 baking dish, toss the rabbit meat with the olive oil and herbs until evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.
In a small bowl, combine the mustard and water, mixing until smooth.
Pour half the mustard mixture over the rabbit meat, and bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Turn over rabbit meat pieces, coat with other half of mustard mixture, and bake for another 20-25 minutes, basting a few times.
Remove baked rabbit to plate and keep warm.
On stove top over medium heat, heat mustard sauce, reducing to about 1/2 cup. Whisk in half-and-half and heat to bubbling.
Stir in all but a few tablespoons of the bleu cheese, whisking over medium heat until melted and smooth.
Pour sauce over rabbit. Top with additional bleu cheese crumbles and serve warm. Suggested accompaniments: Steamed greens and new potatoes. Dessert? A chocolate bunny, perhaps…