Rabbit Rillettes

Rillettes is preserved meat in spreadable form. It’s similar to pâté-- without the liver-- and is an ideal recipe for preparing small game, such rabbits and squirrels. If you bring only one animal home but everyone in the family wants to try it, rillettes is the answer.

Serve this rabbit rillettes as an appetizer or hors d’oeuvres on crackers or sliced French baguette. On the side, provide garnishes such as cornichons, sliced onion, capers, pickled onion and/or whole mustard.

Because the meat is heavily salted and kept away from air with fat, potted meat can last awhile in the refrigerator. I suggest that you consume it within a couple months, but according to Hank Shaw of Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, who offers a recipe for duck/goose rillettes on his blog, properly potted meat can keep for as long as 6 months, if there are no air pockets and if it has been sealed with fat. After you’ve broken the seal, you can reseal by pouring melted butter over the exposed meat or use duck fat if you have it.

I usually make rillettes in the winter, after deer season is over with and when rabbit season is still available. Rillettes can also make great gifts during the holidays. Pack into clear jars and give away to family and friends who you know would appreciate it. It's too much work and too delicious to squander on picky eaters.

Servings: Makes about 3 cups 
Prep Time: 8 hours 
Cooking Time: 9 hours 
- 1 rabbit, jointed (about 1 pound) 
- 4 ounces of pork belly or fatty pork shoulder trimmings
- 1 heaping tablespoon of kosher salt 
- 10 to 15 sprigs of fresh thyme, divided
- 1 bay leaf 
- ½ teaspoon of lightly crushed peppercorns 
- 1 jar (11.28 ounces) of duck fat 
- 1 small carrot, peeled and finely diced 
- 6 scallions, finely chopped 
- Melted butter, optional

1. Rinse rabbit pieces under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels and lay into a rimmed dish. Sprinkle salt all over the rabbit, and spread 8 sprigs of thyme over and underneath the pieces. Cover and refrigerate overnight for 8 least hours but no more than 24 hours. 

2. Discard thyme and rinse rabbit with cold water. Pat dry again and place rabbit, pork, the rest of the fresh thyme, bay leaf, peppercorns, and all the duck fat inside a vacuum sealable bag. Vacuum seal the bag. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, use a heavy-duty zip-top bag and remove as much air as you can. Place the bag inside a slow cooker and submerge with water. Turn the slow cooker on low and cook for 8 hours or until rabbit becomes fall off the bone. Turn the bag over halfway through for more even cooking. Keep bag submerged with a heavy plate if necessary. 

Meanwhile, cook diced carrot with a little bit of fat until softened in a skillet, and then add chopped green onion until it begins to soften. Take off heat and set aside. 

3. While still warm but cool enough to handle, strain rabbit and herbs through a colander, catching and reserving the duck fat underneath with a bowl. Discard the herbs, and remove rabbit meat from the bones. Chop the rabbit meat and mash the pork fat; transfer to a bowl and add the cooked carrot and green onion. 

4. One ladle at a time, pour the reserved duck fat into the meat and vegetable mixture. Whip the meat with a fork as you go, adding as much duck fat as the meat can hold: the mixture will become wet and begin to “pool” at the edges when it becomes too saturated. 

5. Sanitize your holding container(s) in boiling water. You can use small jars, ramekins or bowls. Use airtight jars for longer shelf life. Spoon in rabbit, pushing down the meat with the back of the spoon to get rid of air pockets, which invites bacterial growth.

If you have leftover duck fat-- I had just enough-- “seal” the meat by pouring a thin layer of fat over the top. If not, use melted butter. The fat will help keep air out. Store rillettes in the refrigerator and wait until the fat firms up before serving.