French Rabbit in Mustard Sauce is an elegant classic.
It reminds me of business lunches in old 'Montreal grey stone' houses now converted to chic dining establishments. White linens on the tables, airy sheer white curtains on the windows, gleaming glassware, shining cutlery and populated with career wait staff in classic black and white attire.
The first time I was intrigued enough to order the Rabbit in Mustard Sauce on the menu I had a sudden start. I had to call the waitress back and ask her if it was on the bone or not. I wasn't sure if I was brave enough to brave the rabbit if I was looking at its hoppy legs....
She assured me it was not on-the-bone. In hindsight I was fortunate that was my first exposure to rabbit. Since then when I have seen rabbit on menus, in Europe primarily, it seems to be braised rabbit cut into leg pieces. I can handle that now but I am pretty sure I would have changed my order that first time in Montreal.
Which brings me to a 'full disclosure moment'. This dish is a labour of love. I have never seen rabbit in the meat counter that has been butchered off-the-bone. So... you will likely be faced with buying a rabbit and cutting the meat off yourself.
Cutting up the Rabbit
I had to look up how to get the meat off the rabbit and what parts I was looking for. As it turns out you use the meat from the hind legs, the front legs and there are 2 sort of tenderloins that run along each side of the spine.
There are 2 videos at the bottom of the post that will help you if you are new to getting the meat off a rabbit.
The first video below shows you how to cut the rabbit up into pieces as though it is chicken on the bone. To be honest from there, I could see how the meat runs with some natural divisions so I just ploughed my way through it. There are 2 flaps along the side that gave me pause for a moment. Turns out you don't use them (except for making stock with the rest of the carcass).
The second video is a butcher deboning the whole rabbit which is rather intricate but might help you identify the meat you want to isolate.
Steps to Making French Rabbit in Mustard Sauce
There are 3 main parts to the recipe.
- Making a Stock
- Preparing the mushrooms and pearl onions
- Cooking the meat in the sauce
You may want to consider making this over 2 days. Either that or start early in the day!
I deboned the rabbit in order to get the carcass to make the stock. I didn't have a chicken carcass on hand but I did have homemade chicken stock so I made rabbit stock and blended it with the chicken stock at the end.
I also pre-cooked the rabbit meat (which means just searing it), covered and refrigerated.
The next day I made the mushrooms, pearl onions and finished cooking the rabbit in the sauce. It turned out to be a good division of labour!
Another 'full disclosure' moment... I got about 15 oz of meat off my 2 ½ lb rabbit. So for four servings that is just slightly under 4 oz per serving. The mushrooms and pearl onions make a substantial contribution to the 'weight' of this dish. All this to say don't skimp out on those ingredients!
Storage for French Rabbit in Mustard Sauce
Like many stew-like dishes this actually tastes really good the second day! So it will keep a day or so in the fridge.
You can freeze it but the cream in the sauce and the mushrooms are not quite as nice a texture after they have been frozen.
Wine Pairing for French Rabbit with Mustard Sauce
The classic pairing would be a Burgundy Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. I think a Vouvray or Viognier would also pair well.
French Rabbit in Mustard Sauce
- 2-3 lb rabbit leg and loin meat cubed and carcass reserved
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 rabbit carcass
- 1 chicken carcass (alternatively have ½ liter (2 cups)of good chicken stock on hand to blend with rabbit stock for the sauce)
- 4 cups water approx. 1 liter
- 1 medium carrot peeled and rough chopped
- 1 stalk celery chopped in 1" pieces
- 1 leek white part only, sliced horizontally
- 1 yellow onion
- 1 bouquet garni To make bouquet garni: ¼ cup dried parsley, 2 dried bay leaves and 2 Tbsps dried thyme tied up securely in a cheese cloth bundle
- 3 whole cloves
Mushrooms and Pearl Onions
- 10 oz button mushrooms
- 2 Tbsps unsalted butter divided 1 + 1
- 2 cups water
- 2 Tbsps lemon juice
- 8 o z white pearl onions (about 1 ½ cups)
- 2 tsps sugar
- 1 yellow onion
- 2 Tbsps flour
- 4 cups rabbit/chicken stock
- 2 Tbsps Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon chopped
- 2 Tbsps 35% cream
- parsley for garnish
- Detail the rabbit cutting meat from the legs and loin portions into 1" chunks. Set meat aside.
- Add the rabbit carcass and the chicken carcass (if using) to a large pot. Add the water and bring to a boil.
- Cut the onion in half and tack the cloves into the onion pieces. Set aside. Add the onion, vegetables and spices to the pot with the carcasses. Cover and simmer 45 minutes.
- After 45 minutes strain the solids out of the stock. Note: You want to end up with 4 cups of stock so if you made a blend of chicken/rabbit stock measure out 4 cups. If you are using pre-made chicken broth then measure out 2 cups of the rabbit stock and add 2 cups of premade chicken stock to make up the 4 cups.
- Allow the stock to cool. If making the day before refrigerate overnight.
Precook the Rabbit Meat
- Heat 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon oil in a dutch oven. Season the rabbit meat with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium low and brown the rabbit meat on all sides. Set aside.
- You can prepared the stock and pre-cook the rabbit meat the day before and refrigerate overnight if you like.
Prepare the Mushrooms and Pearl Onions
- Clean and trim the stem ends off the mushrooms. Leave them whole. Add the mushrooms to a sauce pan in one layer and just barely cover with water. Add 1 tablespoon butter and lemon juice to the pan. Bring the water to a boil and simmer for 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat and let the mushrooms steep in the pan liquid.
- Peel and trim the pearl onions, leaving them whole. Add pearl onions to another sauce pan and just barely cover with water. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and 2 tsps sugar. Cook over low heat until all the water has evaporated. This took about 40 minutes in my saucepan. Timing will vary based on the size of your pan. Watch carefully toward the end since the onions will be caramelizing in the sugar and can burn after the moisture evaporates. Remove from heat and set aside.
Cook the Rabbit in the Sauce
- Slice the yellow onion finely in the pot you precooked the rabbit in. (If you prepared that the day before you will need to heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon oil in the pan before adding the onion.)
- Allow the onion to cook about 5 minutes, then sprinkle with 2 Tbsps flour. Cook for about 2 minutes. Add the 4 cups of combined rabbit/chicken stock. Bring to a boil and oil uncovered until liquid reduces to about 2 ¼ cups.
- Add the pre-cooked rabbit meat, cover and allow it to cook on very low heat for 45 minutes. Do not exceed 60 minutes cook time or rabbit will become tough and dry.
- After 45 minutes remove the rabbit meat. Add 2 Tbsps Dijon mustard and the tarragon to the sauce. Add 2 Tbsps heavy cream and heat through. If the mixture is too thin, dissolve another Tablespoon of flour in some of the hot mixture. Stir to ensure there are no lumps and mix it back in to the sauce. If the sauce is too thick add more cream. When you have achieved the desired thickness for the sauce add the rabbit back into the sauce. Drain the mushrooms and add to the sauce along with the pearl onions.
- Serve rabbit over broad egg noodles, rice or with boiled potatoes. Garnish with parsley if desired.