Monthly Archives: May 2015

Down the Rabbit Hole: Doppelbock-Braised Rabbit

Rabbit was a rare bird on many a North American menu until relatively recently. Sure, the French had their Lapin à la moutarde and the Germans their Hasenpfeffer. But it wasn’t until European-influenced chefs on this side of the pond began wondering where all the rabbits were hiding that artisanal producers began to answer the demand for this lean and delicate meat reminiscent of chicken in taste and texture.

Unlike chicken, though, rabbit doesn’t come cheap. According to Mark Pasternak, a Marin County farmer interviewed by Karen Pinchin for an article in Modern Farmer, rabbits are difficult to produce on a large scale due to their weak immune systems and a rather unfortunate proclivity to just up and die after being startled. No factory farms for rabbits, then. A good thing for these gentle creatures, but be prepared to shell out a few pennies. Or maybe you, like me, are lucky and happen to know an intrepid backyard farmer who has gotten into this pastime that feeds so well into the desire for local products. IMG_3111

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Doppelbock-Braised Rabbit with Caramelized Onions and Wild Mushrooms

Like duck and venison, rabbit traditionally evokes the autumn hunt and harvest, but this subtly smoky rabbit suits just about any season from early fall to late spring. As I mentioned, rabbit is extremely lean, and almost demands a braise preparation or a lengthy bath in a marinade to keep it from being unpalatably dry. For this dish, I turned to a rich and malty beer that would lend depth to the braising liquid: a homebrewed Doppelbock.

You can make this recipe the “complex” way, or you can save some time and effort by skipping the step with the grill, especially if you’re making this dish in the dead of winter. To get the smoky undertones into the dish, use a Rauchbier or a smoked porter in place of the Doppelbock.IMG_3108 If you do the smoking step on the grill, you’ll free up time to caramelize the onions and prep the other ingredients. The recipe looks time-consuming, but since many of the steps are concurrent, it isn’t that onerous at all. You can start this dish in the late afternoon, and have it on the table by the time your guests have finished up with the first courses.

Wondering what to drink with rabbit? Though typically classed as a “game” meat, rabbit is closer to chicken than it is to venison, so it’s not absolutely necessary to pair it with a rich beer or robust red wine. An aromatic white, such as a Viognier, a lightly oaked Chardonnay, a Pinot Noir, or even a Cru Beaujolais would make an excellent accompaniment. Garret Oliver pairs rabbit dishes with Belgian tripels, Belgian pale ales, or bière de gardes (see his The Brewmaster’s Table, 2003). As a match with a richer sauce and braising liquid like the one in this recipe, a sturdier red (such as a Bordeaux or Côtes-du-Rhône) would not be out of place, nor would a Doppelbock, Scotch ale, Belgian dubbel, or Belgian quad.

Ingredients

For the casserole:

  • 1 rabbit (3-4 lbs.), cut into 6-8 pieces
  • kosher salt and crushed black pepper
  • 1 cup wood chips (cherrywood or applewood)
  • 1 cup dried wild mushrooms
  • 2 large onions, sliced thinly
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 3 carrots, cut into large pieces
  • 4-5 large cloves of garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 500mL bottle of Doppelbock (or a similarly malty beer like Scotch ale or Belgian quad)
  • 1 cup of water from reconstituting the dried mushrooms
  • 3 tbsp chopped chervil

For the sauce:

  • 1 ½ cups strained braising liquid
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp chopped chervil (If you can’t find chervil, tarragon’s great, too –– just use less of it.)

Directions

Prepare your grill for smoking and soak your woodchips for about 15 minutes. In the meantime, cut the rabbit into 6 to 8 pieces and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.

Once your grill is starting to smoke, reduce heat to the lowest setting and smoke/roast the rabbit in baking trays for an hour, turning every 15-20 minutes.

While the rabbit is getting its smoke on, melt 1 tbsp butter in a heavy casserole set over low/medium-low heat and caramelize the onions. Don’t rush this step.

Reconstitute the mushrooms with boiling water. When they’re ready, skim the mushrooms out of the liquid, and then strain the liquid to make sure it’s free of dirt or pebbles. Set aside.

If the mushrooms are on the large side, slice them before browning them in a skillet with the other tbsp of butter and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Remove the mushrooms to a plate, and deglaze the skillet with some of the Doppelbock. Add this to the mushroom liquid.

IMG_3109Preheat oven to 300F. Pull the rabbit off the grill, layer the pieces in the casserole with the caramelized onions, and then deglaze your baking pans with the Doppelbock, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

Pour all of this liquid along with the mushroom stock into the casserole, and then add the carrots, garlic cloves, and whole sprigs of thyme. Bring all of this up to a brisk simmer on the stove top before covering and placing in the oven for 2 hours. Reduce heat to 250F after one hour.

When the 2 hours is up, discard the sprigs of thyme and then arrange the rabbit, carrots, mushrooms, and onions on a serving platter and sprinkle with chervil. If you have a stock skimmer, this is the best way to get the onions and mushrooms out of the braising liquid. Cover. Strain 1 ½ cups of the braising liquid into a sauce pan. (You can lightly reduce the remaining braising liquid in a separate pan if you’d like a sauce for your side dish.)

Stirring or whisking constantly, reduce the braising liquid over medium-high heat until the liquid has the consistency of syrup. Lower the heat, add the heavy cream, and whisk in the ice-cold butter. Remove from heat and stir in the chervil. Adjust seasoning.

Serve with fingerling potatoes, rice, or Spätzle.

Prep and cooking time: Approximately 3.5 hours.

Depending on the number of courses, serves 4 to 6 people.

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Related Tempest Articles

The Fonduementals of Beer and Cider: Recipes to Warm Your Weekend

Five Recipes for Your Cocktail Hour

Bourbon Squared: Maple-Glazed Pork Belly Meets Barrel-Aged Beer

Dining Down the Holiday Stretch: Choucroute à la Gueuze

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Images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

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Marking Time with a 2013 Brett-Saison from Boulevard

Tempest is marking time in more ways than one these days.

  • Tempest recently turned eighteen months young.
  • It’s been far too long since I’ve been at my keyboard. April and May kept me busy with our local homebrew club, as did interview preparation for a new job. That latter effort paid off.
  • Tempest might take on a decidedly Euro flavour over the next few years, for in a little over three months I start a new position in Vienna.

Time to celebrate! For Tempest’s eighteen-month anniversary, I opened a 2013 Brett-Saison from Boulevard, and compared it with the notes I scribbled last November on a 2014 Brett-Saison a friend brought over for dinner. File these notes under cellaring –– another means of marking time.

Cheers to you for reading over these past eighteen months!

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Before we get into the Brett-Saison, here are a few highlights from the past six months.

Let Us Now Praise Famous Lagers: Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.3): Why? Because we really can’t drink too many lagers in one lifetime. For those who still need convincing, this 6-pack takes a few steps beyond the golden and the fizzy.

The MaltHead Manifesto: A tongue-in-cheek defense of malt over hops.IMG_1893

Five Ways to Become a Better Drinker in 2015: The take-away: glassware and serving temperatures.

New York’s Finger Lakes Region: A Back-Road Craft Beer Tour: Everything you need to know for your summer escape from the city.

In the Cool Shade of the Beer Garden: Summer’s on the horizon. Get ye to Munich. And read this before you go. Bonus: I was consulted for an article in The Atlantic on beer gardens.

A Taste of Oklahoma in Six Glasses: Who said there was nothing to drink in Oklahoma?

Spreading Good Cheer with a Tankard of Mulled Beer: ’Tis not quite the season, but tuck this recipe away for your winter entertaining. You won’t be disappointed.

Heading to Colorado this summer? Be sure to stop in at some of the breweries and brewpubs that I visited for my Northern Front Range series.

Striking Craft Beer Gold in Boulder

At the Foot of the Mountain: Boulder’s Brewpubs and Breweries 

Craft Beer in the Mile-High City: Colorado’s Northern Front Range Series

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And now for that Saison-Brett that has been waiting patiently.

Boulevard’s Saison-Brett is part of this venerable Kansas City brewery’s Smokestack Series of beers. The Saison-Brett begins its life as the already-excellent Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale before the brewers save some of it for dry-hopping and inoculation with Brettanomyces at bottling. Boulevard allows the bottles to condition a subsequent three months before release. The result, if you drink it within the first six months of release, is a vivaciously fruity-spicy beer with the first murmurings of Brett.IMG_1875

The 2014 vintage (April release) that I had in November 2014 was an appealingly luminescent honey-gold beer that exuded bright pineapple and passion fruit notes limned with suggestions of tangerine zest. The nascent Brett character evoked memories of hiking through Alpine meadows on a hot summer afternoon, and a hint of honey sweetness on the palate added a beguiling roundness to the effervescent and peppery-dry palate.

If you have the patience and inclination, cellaring will greatly alter the character of Boulevard’s Brett-Saison. Notice I didn’t say improve or enhance, but nor am I suggesting that the beer doesn’t gain in complexity with time. What you decide to do with your newly-purchased bottle of Saison-Brett will depend on what kinds of sensory qualities you’re after –– one of the joys of experimenting with age-worthy beers!

Fast-forward seven months. The Saison-Brett I have before me is a corked-and-caged 750mL bottling from March 2013, purchased in spring 2014 and cellared until now. Two-odd years removed from bottling, the vibrant fruit that marked the younger version has faded, replaced by predominant Brett notes of old hay, dusty blankets, farmyard, and a mixture of bandaid and allspice. Faint tropical fruit shimmers around the edges.

Age-worthy beers tend to open up and develop in the glass in ways similar to wine. After a few sips of this very dry beer that swirls together flavours of dried hay, dried flowers, and a slight echo of honey on a bracingly bitter palate that also offered up Seville orange marmalade on the finish, I turned my attention again to the aromas. And caught my breath after writing that sentence.IMG_2976

Orange zest. Dried flowers. Sagebrush. It’s as if the vivid tropical fruit of the younger version has given way to fields of herbs in dry Mediterranean climates. Head a bit north in Europe and you’ll find the muskiness of northern French apple cider alongside subdued coconut-citrus and lemongrass intertwined with hints of German Riesling (apricot and slate). Another round of sips reveals layers of white pepper and a nutty bitterness reminiscent of apricot kernels to match the flinty-dry minerality.

German Riesling meets Mediterranean summer fields and northern French apple cider? Why not.

(He’s making this stuff up, isn’t he?)

The verdict: The aged version of Boulevard’s Brett-Saison is nothing if not complex, but it’s a complexity marked less by the spirited fruitiness of younger versions than it is by a richly expressive Brett palette (meadows, hay, dried herbs and flowers, and nuanced fruit). For all the beer’s complexity, though, the bitterness of the aged version borders on distracting. That said, I wouldn’t discourage anyone from buying a bottle and forgetting about it for a year or two, especially if you’re a Brett aficionado and are willing to embrace the bitterness and dryness of the aged versions.

2014 Brett-Saison (consumed within six months of release): Two Tankards

2013 Brett-Saison (consumed two years and three months after release): One Tankard

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On the horizon: I’ll be setting out on a road trip from Oklahoma to Upstate New York in the next week or so, and will also head to Vancouver to visit family and friends before relocating to Vienna in mid-August. I’ll try to write two or three articles per month between now and early autumn. They’ll probably come out in short bursts whenever I can find the time to write, so check back periodically.

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Tempest has been on Instagram for the past six months. Check out Tempest on Facebook as well. I’ll be posting very short “photo essays” there over the summer and early autumn.

Related Tempest Articles

The Sunday Sour Sessions: Jolly Pumpkin’s Baudelaire Saison

The Curiosity Cabinet: Southern Tier’s Crème Brûlée

Gose Gone Wild: Anderson Valley, Bayrischer Bahnhof, Choc, and Westbrook

Not Your Average Wheat Beer: Schneider’s Porter Weisse

All images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.