Recently participated in a Marsala recipe challenge. And although I didn’t win, I certainly enjoyed experimenting in the kitchen with Marsala. In fact, I created several Marsala-inspired dishes, including this one. While this — Marsala Braised Rabbit with Sage, Rosemary, and Tart Cherries — was not the dish I ultimately chose to submit, it did win my taste buds over.
The rabbit turned out beautifully moist, succulent, and delicious. I browned the rabbit first, then let it slowly braise over low heat in the Marsala. As the Marsala reduced and mingled with the flavors of the rabbit and other ingredients, it produced a scrumptious pan sauce that not only kept the rabbit moist, but was excellent for spooning over the finished dish.
In addition to Marsala, I added….plenty of fresh herbs (sage and rosemary), tart cherries, cremini mushrooms, cipollini onions, whole cloves of garlic, and roots — sunchokes and turnips, to be exact. Layer upon layer of earthiness, from the fresh herbs to the mushrooms to the sunchokes (Have you tried sunchokes [aka Jerusalem artichokes]? They have a nutty, earthy quality to them, and were a perfect addition to this stew.).
All and all, the Marsala braised rabbit makes for a wonderful, hearty, comforting winter dish. That being said, I know that rabbit tends to scare people off. However, in my opinion, rabbit has a lot going on from a flavor standpoint. I know what you’re thinking — tastes like chicken. Au contraire.
Rabbit tastes, well, like rabbit. It has stronger, earthier flavor compared to chicken. I know I’ve used the adjective earthy several times, but I can’t think of a better way to describe these flavors. Bottom line: Try this dish.
Am eager to try other preparations of rabbit. There’s a classic French preparation — rabbit cooked in mustard sauce (lapin a la moutarde) — that’s on my short list.
For those of you who are local (Washington, D.C.), this rabbit comes from the always friendly and very knowledgeable Bev Eggleston of EcoFriendly Foods (at Dupont Cicrcle Farmers’ Market).
First things first, you’ll need to break down your rabbit. It’s not that hard if you want to give it a go. I used this chef demo as a guide. For those of you who are a bit squeamish and/or pressed for time, have your butcher do it.
This was only my second time breaking down a rabbit. Did my best. Not too shabby for a beginner.
I topped the finished dish with crispy capers and crispy sage leaves. The salty, briny notes of the capers balance out the tart, sweet notes from the cherries and the reduced Marsala wine.
Marsala Braised Rabbit with Sage, Rosemary, and Tart Cherries
1 (4-pound) rabbit, broken down
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
8 cipollini onions, sliced in half
12 cremini mushrooms, sliced in half
5-6 roots (such as turnips, ruttabaga, sunchokes, potatoes), chopped into 1-inch cubes
5-6 whole garlic cloves, peeled
12 sage leaves, divided
1 large sprig of rosemary
handful of tart (unsweetened) dried cherries
3/4 bottle of dry Marsala
rabbit kidneys and livers (or chicken livers) (optional)
crispy capers for garnish
Break down the rabbit as demonstrated here or have your butcher do so. Pat the rabbit pieces dry with paper towels. Season generously with salt and pepper.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, deep cast iron skillet or Dutch oven. When smoking hot, add the rabbit pieces in a single layer (in batches), until nicely browned, about 4 minutes. Turn the rabbit pieces over and brown on the other side, about 4 minutes. Remove and set aside. Repeat with remaining rabbit pieces.
In the same skillet or Dutch oven, add another tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onions, cremini mushrooms, roots, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Saute, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are nicely browned, about 5 minutes.
Add the browned rabbit pieces back to the skillet with the sauteed vegetables. Add 6 sage leaves, the sprig of rosemary, and dried cherries. Add the Marsala wine. Bring to a boil. Turn down the heat, cover, and simmer for about 40 minutes over low heat, until the rabbit is tender. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, add the kidney and/or livers if desired.
While rabbit is cooking, heat a small skillet with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When hot add the capers and cook over medium heat, about 3 minutes, until crispy. With a slotted spoon, remove and set over paper towels to drain. Add the reserved sage leaves to the hot oil, until nice and crispy, about 30 seconds. Place on the paper towel to drain.
When the rabbit is tender, remove from the heat, and top with the crispy capers and sage leaves.