From the Winter Larder

rabbit stew in a yellow Le Creuset French oven

There are few things more satisfying on a cold winter’s evening than sitting down to a meal brought about by your own craft and ingenuity. When a morning spent tracking rabbits across the snowed-in woodlands yields a young hare to serve as the centerpiece to a meal, garnished by shallots from the root cellar, carefully laid aside in summer’s waning, and sour cornichons from the crock, with fresh-baked bread, sliced, toasted and topped with leeks from that same cellar, bacon curing since the fall’s slaughter and cream milked out in the barn at the crack of dawn, this is the stuff of foodie dreams, culinary transcendence.

Returning to reality, though, I would most likely have missed the rabbit (and not for lack of firing, many, many times), my leeks and shallots would be dried up – along with the cow – the cornichons would be used up or spoiled, and poor little Tom Junior would have died of cholera. I have no illusions about my ability to survive in more rustic conditions. Luckily, rather than being dependent on my instincts and wits for survival, I can avail myself of the conveniences of the modern city. Instead of hours spent trying to outsmart small furry animals, a leisurely bike ride to Clancey’s is all I need to obtain a rabbit, conveniently skinned, eviscerated and frozen – as well as some awesomely gelatinous beef stock. And while our urban living situation has forced Martha and me into quarters too small to house a root cellar with sand-filled barrels of leeks and shallots, the co-op keeps a good supply these and other allia going pretty much year-round. As much as I like to romanticize the food and eating styles of the past, I’m grateful for the modern food system. (Thanks Monsanto!)

But even if modern life doesn’t demand a strictly local and seasonal diet, we shouldn’t overlook recipes developed with a place and time in mind before such considerations were optional. There is something perfect about a steaming pot of heavy stew on a winter’s night when the snow is falling in fat flakes and the fact that I can buy asparagus in February isn’t going to change that.

The dishes that follow both come from Madeleine Kamman’s When French Women Cook, specifically the chapter devoted to Marie-Charlotte. Raised in Poitou, France and later located in Paris around the turn of the last century, for Marie-Charlotte seasonal and local were realities rather than trends. These two recipes are satisfying ways to use up the remnants of the winter larder, but are equally satisfying when the only foresight required is a trip to the grocery store in advance of a big snowstorm.

Lapin aux Echalotes at aux Cornichons

I have only prepared and/or eaten rabbit a few times in my  life, and this recipe produced the best tasting one yet. I thought the use of pickles to the stew odd but their sourness combined in a familiar and delicious way with the sweetness of long-roasted shallots. For having such a short ingredient list, this produces a very flavorful stew.

On cutting up rabbits: The recipe as printed simply called for a young rabbit, but the first time it is referred to the instructions they are called “rabbit pieces”. If your rabbit came whole like mine did, here’s how I cut mine up: remove the hind legs and the forelegs. Slice off the flaps of belly meat from either side. Cut tight along the backbone to remove the loins from both sides of the rabbit. There may be a couple of tenderloins floating in the cavity – cut them out. Reserve the ribcage and backbone for stock (I just throw it in with my chicken carcasses). To promote even cooking, tie the tapered end of the loins back over the loin to produce an even cylinder. Roll the belly meat around a piece of tenderloin each and tie into an even bundle.

rabbit pieces and a boning knife on a butcher block with peeled shallots

  • 4 T butter
  • 2 dozen large shallots, peeled
  • 1 young rabbit (I didn’t ask mine’s age)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1—1 ½ cups brown veal stock (I used the excellent beef stock from Clancey’s)
  • 6 small sour pickles, sliced.

Heat the oven to 325ºF. Heat the butter in a large, straight-sided pan. Sauté the shallots until just beginning to brown. Season with salt and pepper. While you’ve got the salt and pepper handy, season the rabbit pieces and stir in with the shallots. Allow to brown a few minutes and then transfer the pan, covered, into the oven. Bake 40 minutes, basting at regular intervals with the juices that will accumulate in the pot. (I basted every ten minutes.) Raise the oven temperature to 400ºF, remove the pan and cover and stir in the pickle slices and the stock. Return to oven, uncovered, and bake an additional 20-30 minutes until the rabbit pieces are well browned on one side (do not stir after uncovering) and the sauce is reduced to a glaze.

Roties aux Blanc de Poireaux

Garlic toast topped with a mixture of leeks, bacon, cream and goat cheese – probably not something you should eat every day, but after trying it you might be tempted.

  • 3 T butter
  • 1 large leek
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 oz bacon
  • 1 cup cream
  • 1 oz goat cheese
  • 6 slices french country bread
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • Parsley, chopped

Melt the butter in a large skillet, add the leeks and cook over low heat, covered, until the leeks are quite soft and reduced. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, chop the bacon into a rough ¼” dice and cook in a small skillet until crisp and most of the fat is rendered out. Drain the fat and reserve for another use and add the bacon to the leeks.

Add cream to bacon-leek mixture and allow to cook on medium low heat, uncovered, until cream is much reduced. Stir in goat cheese to melt. Cover and keep warm.

Toast the slices of bread and rub each with the garlic clove. Top each slice with a healthy spoonful of leek-bacon-cream-goat cheese mixture and sprinkle with parsley. Serve hot.


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3 comments on “From the Winter Larder”

  1. Trout Caviar 24 February, 2011 at 9:22 am

    That looks like a fine thing to eat after a brisk turn on the skis–or bike, but I wouldn’t do that in winter. I don’t know how I’ve managed to miss that leek dish, all the times I’ve paged through that book. I do still have a few leeks in the cellar, and that looks like just the way they’d want to go out.

    And now, Tom, I realize you’re exaggerating for dramatic effect, but I’m just going to note that you don’t need a root cellar to keep shallots–we have a beautiful braid of them from one of the Dallas (WI) Farmers Market vendors that’s just been hanging in our kitchen all winter, and they’re still in great shape. That said, it is a wonder how much local produce is available at the co-op right through the winter. And the meats! It used to be an epic quest to locate something as “exotic” as rabbit. Bless Kristen and Clancey’s and her producers, and the farmers markets, too. It’s a carnivore’s paradise out there these days.

    Salut~ Brett

  2. Trout Caviar 24 February, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    Vintage shallots, I love it. But I’m not gonna throw any stones here, bein’ as how I live in a glass house….


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