Rabbit is one of the most under-appreciated types of “fowl”. Many people have a visceral negative reaction to eating rabbit, since in some countries rabbits are more likely to be pets than a dinner item, but in Italy and other countries, rabbits are highly esteemed for their culinary value and, in these days of tasteless factory chicken, rabbits make for a fine alternative, if you can find them. Rabbit can be used in just about any dish where you would otherwise use chicken. In fact, many chicken dishes we know today got their start as rabbit dishes. Rabbit was the original ingredient for the cacciatora, for example, which makes a lot of sense, since who hunts chickens?
Most rabbit dishes employ moist heat, which helps keep the meat moist. (Unlike chicken, rabbit has little or no internal fat and lacks the fatty skin that helps chicken meat stay juicy.) But if you take a few precautions, a dry heat dish like spit roasted rabbit can also be excellent. And on a hot August day, what better way to cook a rabbit than on a barbecue spit?
- 1 rabbit (whole)
For the marinade:
- 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
- 2 sprigs of fresh sage
- 2 sprigs of fresh parsley
- 2 cloves of garlic, slightly crushed
- A few black peppercorns Salt
- The juice of half a lemon
- Olive oil
Place the rabbit in a plastic bag large enough to hold it comfortably. Then add the marinade ingredients, seal the bag completely (letting out as much of the air as you can manage) and shake it up. Place the rabbit in the fridge to marinate as long as you like, as little as an hour and as long as overnight.
When you are ready to roast the rabbit, take it out of its marinade bag, reserving the marinade. Place the rabbit on a spit, using kitchen string to tie it to the spit so it will rotate properly. Place the spit on your barbecue, placing a aluminum foil pan below the rabbit to catch the drippings from the rabbit, which would otherwise cause flare ups. Pour some water (or better, some white wine) into the pan.
Get the spit rotating and roast over a very hot fire until the rabbit is nice and golden brown.
While it roasts, make sure to baste the rabbit often with the reserved marinade and replenish the drippings pan with water or wine.
When the rabbit is done, let it rest for a good 10-15 minutes (or more) and then remove it from the spit (carefully, as the spit will still be hot!), cut away the kitchen strings and cut the rabbit up into serving pieces. Season the rabbit with salt and pepper, drizzle with a bit of olive oil and serve.
The marinade will help to keep the rabbit moist, but you should be careful to baste often and not to overcook the rabbit as well. For extra protection, you can opt to brine the rabbit before you marinate, as you might a turkey or chicken. Rabbit is also excellent when spit-roasted in porchetta, or in the manner of suckling pig. The recipe for pollo in porchetta can be easily adapted: just make sure to tie up the rabbit well so the stuffing doesn’t fall out.
Post scriptum: By the way, speaking of spit-roasted rabbit and hot August days, anyone remember Lina Wertmuller’s 1974 film, Swept Away? (Original title: Travolti da un insolito destino nell’azzurro mare di agosto.)