Boiling bunnies. There’s not a phrase that conjures good things. If you’ve been far too traumatised from when you saw the VHS of  Fatal Attraction from behind the couch when you were supposed to be in bed, this recipe might not be for you.

If you still harbour a fierce crush on Peter or Flopsy, Mopsy or  Cottontail when your pyjamas still had feet in them, this might not be for you.

And if you have anything from the family Leporidae as a pet, this might also not be for you. Specifically, this recipe comes with an apology to Tori. Not myself, I haven’t quite got to the deranged space of referring to myself in the third person. ‘Tori would quite like another glass of pink wine”, but Tori #1.

Tori #1 sat next to me for three years. We shared both job titles and initials. Her middle name was Alexandra, mine was Alison. Back then both of our surnames started with M. We have matching freckles on the top of our right ears. Our birthdays are a day apart. And we both have a borderline inappropriate obsession with sharks. We quickly became very good friends.

But where Tori and I cleaved paths was at bunnies. While I was occasionally fond of cooking them, her rabbit Rudy was the pride of her loft.  It’s not like she went to Amy Sedaris-lengths ( every year for Valentines Day Amy goes and gets acrylic fingernails put on, so she can give her moppet Dusty a really good back scratch), it’s just that the idea of eating rabbit would make her nose wrinkle and her bright blue eyes turn sad.

But if that’s not you, then there are many reasons to enjoy rabbit for dinner. For one, in Australia, there are frankly too many of them.

For two, the meat is soft and forgiving. It’s more robust than chicken, and I think it’s darkly sweet. If you’re more drawn to  the depths of muscavado sugar more than insipid caster and can recite more lyrics from Alanis Morrisette than to Belinda Carlisle then there’s also a good chance you’ll prefer rabbit to fowl.

And  beyond all of that, it braises beautifully.

There’s something so satisfying about browning a few bits and bobs, adding the alcohol of your choice (wine, cider, beer), perhaps some dried fruit and herbs, clamping on a lid and forgetting about it for a few hours.

And the beauty of a braise to me is how well they go with pulses- tumble in some tins of beans to huddle in with the cooking liquids and  it means you get the comfort of a bowl of soft food, without the heft of noodles, dumplings or bread (or having to make a great thwack of mashed potato at the same time as you should be cueing what the entertainment).

In this little braise there’s bacon for a boost of flavour, prunes which  beyond their digestive talents will soften into dark threads of jammy sweetness, plus the eye brightening acidity of mustard. As for the cider; you could easily cook this with white wine, but this boozy fizz of apple adds an intriguing tang.

The process of breaking down a bunny prior to cooking is not that dissimilar from dismantling a chicken. All you need is a sharp knife and gumption to cleave off the legs. Then spatchcock the centre and pull out some kitchen scissors to remove the rib bones and the neck. This will leave you with some bits to discard and a handsomely rectangular saddle.

Whatever you do once you start cooking though, don’t let this bunny boil.  It will turn tough- leaving you with a waste of a rabbit-and a shameful disappointment for your dinner.

But, if all of this seems far too much, feel free to substitute some chicken. *

*Written with my apologies to Tori #1; and sending my sincere regards to Rudy.

Braised Rabbit With Cider, Mustard and Prunes

Serves 4

Equipment

Kitchen shears and/or sharp knife. 1 strainer. 1 large Dutch oven/ oven and hob proof casserole with a lid. Baking paper.

Shopping/foraging

1 farmed rabbit, jointed into two front legs, two hind legs and saddle (rib cage removed and discarded) or 1 large chicken, jointed.
2 rashers of smoked bacon, cut into thin strips
1 tbsp olive oil
1 clove of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 large shallots, or 2 brown onions, peeled and cut into slim half moons
2 tablespoons of plain flour
8 prunes, pitted
1 x 400 gram tin of white beans/ cannellini beans/ butter beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
300 ml of apple cider
4 sprigs of thyme
1 tablespoon of creme fraiche (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste.

Method

1) Carefully joint your rabbit. Pretend it’s a chicken and use your knife to find the tendons which join the front and back legs and trace around until you’ve cut them, pull the legs out to an angle and trace around the gap with a knife until they’re separate . Then use kitchen shears to cut the saddle (fleshy bit along the back) away from the front of the rib cage and the neck. You’ll end up with two front legs, two hind legs and the middle.

2.  Preheat the oven to  180 C/350 F.

3. Add a tbsp of olive oil to the bottom of the Dutch oven and place it over a medium-high heat. Add the rabbit pieces and brown each side  until you have a light golden colour. Remove the rabbit pieces and place to one side. Don’t clean the pan.

3. Fry the bacon in the  Dutch oven for a minute or so until the fat has rendered and it starts to crisp. Then add the onion and garlic and a few thyme leaves and sautee for 5-7 minutes, until the shallots or onion have softened.

4. Sprinkle over the flour and stir to combine. Cook over a medium heat for two minutes.

5. Add the rabbit pieces and prunes into the pan. Pour over the cider and  turn up the heat. Bring to the boil and use a spatula or a spoon to scrape up any flavour that’s darkened on the bottom of the pan.

6. Fold in the white beans, mustard and add the remaining thyme springs. The liquid should come half way up the rabbit pieces. Tear off a piece of baking parchment and tuck it over the top of the casserole, like a blanket. Clamp the lid on and place in the oven for 1.5- 2 hours. The rabbit should be easily pulling off the bone and the sauce sticky and rich.

7. Serve the pieces of rabbit over the onion/prune and bean mix. Add a dab of creme fraiche if you want things a little richer. Season with salt and pepper to taste.