There it was, in a bowl of salt water on the table. Something I never thought I would have to cook, and as luck would have it, it was my turn to be in the kitchen. The catch of the day was a rabbit.
It had already been cleaned and skinned, so don’t picture Peter Rabbit looking up with sad rabbit eyes. Rabbits are cute except when they are eating your garden, and it was clear that this one had eaten more than his fair share of baby kale, baby chard, baby cabbage and much of anything else in the fall garden. This one had been freshly shot as part of pest management.
I have never considered myself particularly good at cooking. I can bake- I love baking…exact recipes to follow, precise directions, and then delicious cookies, cakes, breads, treats to eat. Cooking, however…I freeze when someone suggests I “throw something together.” In addition, it had been a long time since I cooked any sort of meat, and now I had this bona fide piece of game. I don’t think I had ever eaten rabbit before in anything…was I supposed to cut little rabbit steaks to cook over the fire?
Fortunately, my friend had some experience with rabbit- she knew someone who knew someone who had prepared rabbit stew. The steps were simple- boil the rabbit, drain off the broth and make a roux, add broth and vegetables to cook, then add the meat, shredded and removed from the bone. In a regular kitchen, this would be a piece of cake.
As it turned out, it was more time consuming than difficult. The longest part was boiling the rabbit; since it was a bright, hot, sunny day, I cooked him on the solar cooker. We call this gizmo the death ray- it is a parabolic dish that focuses the sun’s rays to a point, and this point creates heat- a lot, or at least enough to cook a rabbit! The cooking pot hangs from a hook above the dish, and then the focal point is adjusted to fit the pot. I started him at about one o’clock, and sure enough- by three o’clock that rabbit had been cooked. I left him there a while longer- just to be absolutely certain he was done.
The next step involved making the roux. Typically this is a mixture of butter and flour. However, no one in my family eats dairy or products with gluten- there are no allergies, this is just a preference. Anyway, I ground oatmeal to make flour and mixed with an equal amount of olive oil (and, in case you are wondering, I did not have to press the olives myself!) in a sauce pan. After cooking for a couple of minutes, I added broth from the rabbit as well as whatever vegetables were on hand…potatoes, corn, carrots, peppers (lots of peppers- we are in the middle of a pepper deluge). Finally, I took the meat off the bones and added that to the pot. I continued to cook the stew for about another half hour- at least until the potatoes were finished.
All in all, I believe it took about five hours from start to finish. I don’t know that a traditional kitchen would have shortened the needed cooking time as wild rabbits are notoriously tough. What I am realizing, as I learn to use these alternate cooking methods, is how much energy it truly takes to prepare food. In addition to the slicing, dicing and chopping that happens in any kitchen, there is now prep surrounding the cooking apparatus. Chopping wood, lighting and maintaining a fire- these tasks now associated with cooking on a daily basis have been eye-opening. How often did I even stop to think about the work that went into my supply of easy energy in the past? I really did take my electric induction stove for granted…there was no preparing the fuel to cook with, etc. I just pressed some buttons and the stove would heat up and maintain the proper cooking temperature without any attention. There was never a thought about how much energy I was using to make pasta sauce, but now that energy can be easily visualized as our pile of stove wood becomes visibly smaller. And while this doesn’t present a hardship, it is reminder that someone will have to harvest some more wood at some point.
Regardless, the rabbit stew turned out ok. This rabbit had a lot of meat- clearly he had had a great diet of freshly sprouted, local, organic baby greens. And you know what? It tasted like chicken.