Calabrian Rabbit with Red Peppers
March 30, 2011 | Updated June 23, 2020
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Rabbit is my chicken, my white meat. I eat rabbit as often as I can, which is not as often as I should like, but it is still enough that I am always in search of new and interesting rabbit recipes. Every time I buy a new cookbook, I flip to the index and look under “R,” hoping to see a rabbit recipe I’ve not yet cooked.
It was rabbit that first sent me into the field with a gun. Most people start their journey as a hunter in search of mighty bucks or gaudy turkeys or nervous, flighty ducks. Not me. I first took up a gun so I could catch my own rabbits for the pot. Rabbits are the krill of the woods — numerous, fecund, and eaten by almost everything else on the food chain.
They are not hard to kill, but they are very, very easy to miss. Rabbits know this, instinctively. Anyone who has read Watership Down will remember what their god, Frith, told Hazel:
All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and when they catch you, they will kill you… but first they must catch you.
Nothing truer was ever said. I miss far more rabbits that I kill, so when I have one in hand I treat it well. Holly went so far as to collect a whole notebook of rabbit recipes for me one winter and gave it to me as a Christmas present. I could write a whole rabbit cookbook if I wanted, and maybe I should. Someday.
If I do, this recipe will be in it. It is my take on a dish in one of the more interesting Italian regional cookbooks I’ve yet read, Rosetta Costantino and Janet Fletcher’s My Calabria: Rustic Family Cooking from Italy’s Undiscovered South. This book is a trove of cool information, from making rustic breads to pasta to cheeses and preserves; I will be cooking from it often.
I was especially happy to hear that the Calabrians take culinary inspiration from the humble rabbit, and this dish is an exemplar of that, although I suspect I know where it originally comes from. Costantino’s recipe hinges on lots of red peppers and paprika.
There is another dish I cook very often that also hinges on lots of red peppers and paprika: Chilindron, the magnificent Spanish stew typically made with lamb, chicken… or rabbit. The Spaniards spent some time lording over Calabria during the Renaissance, and it is possible that the dish originated in Spain — or that the Spanish dish originated in Calabria.
No matter, both versions are wonderful.
What makes the Calabrian dish special is that typical Southern Italian habit of simmering meats without browning. This aversion to the Maillard reaction preserves the delicacy in many meats, which is especially important in rabbit, but which also does wonders for bolder meats such as venison: I make a Puglian venison stew called callaredda that also skips the browning step.
Calabrian Rabbit with Red Peppers
- 1 store-bought rabbit or 2 cottontail rabbits, cut into serving pieces
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 bay leaves
- 1/2 pound Italian sausage, cut into large pieces (hot or sweet)
- 4 garlic cloves, smashed
- 2 tablespoons dried oregano or marjoram
- 1/2 cup crushed tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon Calabrian hot pepper paste or 2 teaspoons Sriracha hot sauce
- 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
- 1 cup roasted red peppers, cut into slices
- Cut the rabbits into serving pieces. Here is a primer on how to cut up a rabbit.
- Find a wide, shallow pot. A large, high-sided saute pan is a good choice, but one of those earthen braziers is even better. Arrange the rabbit pieces in the pot and just barely cover with water. Bring to a simmer and add a healthy pinch of salt and the bay leaves. Skim any scum that forms on the surface of the water.
- Simmer the rabbit uncovered for 1 hour, turning the pieces from time to time as the water cooks away; this keeps both sides moist.
- Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Keep turning the rabbit and sausage pieces so they are coated in the sauce, and when it thickens enough -- about another 10-15 minutes -- you are ready to serve.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
What’s the 3 tbsp of olive oil for? And are we adding the sausage in at the same time as the rabbits or along with the rest of the ingredients after the simmer? Thanks!
Hank, another good example of why you are my family’s go-to site for recipes In A Time Of Covid. Farmer’s market had nice spring rabbits and I had my teenage daughter with me so she egged me on, go for it, we’ll find a good way to do it once we get it home and break it down. Plus she said she’d distract her mom.
Popped up a few of your recipes, saw this one. I bottle my own calabrian pepper oil and knew I had fresh hungarian paprika in the fridge so it was an easy call. Showed the wife and she gave the ok so long as I kept the heat toned down (I had been tempted to dump half my jar of peppers in along with the oil… glad she made me follow your lead instead).
Four weeks into lockdown cooking every night but Tuesdays now, and after a lot of dipping crusty bread into the remains of the sauce, wife and child voted your recipe “Best Dinner Yet While Sheltering”. The heat balances the sweetness/umami of the paprika (esp with “fresh” pepper paste not the dried stuff), the red pepper strips are brilliant – soak up that flavor in an unexpected way. The rabbit retains delicacy (I sous vided rather than roasted it, vacseals easily) and yet stands out in the peppery sauce, sort of like a szechuan pepper boiled whole fish. Oops I got too clever not having fresh tomatoes since not in season from the farmers, and tried half-dried sicilian cherry tomatoes – not a fit but it was ok, my family is used to scraping things I add off to the side.
I can’t submit pics but Friday on BarelyDigestible is “How Long Can I Keep Leftover Easter Bunny Is Two Weeks Still OK?” day and I’ll pop up some pictures of the rabbit breakdown and final result along with the cartoon. And credit you.
Having parents that immigrated to Canada from Calabria this dish was served on a regular bases with both domestic and wild bunnies that my dad and I regularly harvested during our weekly forays into the wilds of Ontario(during the fall)
It may differ at times but the base of the dish is the same..
Mouth watering juciy and full of flavour and well deserving of the crustiest bread around to dunk into the sauce
Found this deep in the rabbit archives. Even though it has so few ingredients, this has to be one of the most surprising, flavorful recipes I’ve found on your site. Truly a revelation
Made this last night and it came out fantastic. One ingredient I didn’t have on hand was sweet paprika- I substituted smoked hot paprika and halved the amount. I’m glad I did… even just one TBSP of this stuff threatened to overpower the whole thing!
Tacovan: Yep, that’s polenta. But pasta would be good, too.
What’s that served on the side? Polenta? I want to make this tomorrow night… maybe I’ll serve it with pasta.
Amelia: I am a big fan of agrodolce. I’ve done it with several meats, but not rabbit yet.
Cork: I think it’s better with cottontail or domestic than with a jack. It just feels like more of a white-meat dish.
Kathleen: Yes, those are my dishes, and no, rabbit is not hard to cut up. You see the links I gave on how to cut up a rabbit? It’s only a little harder than jointing a chicken.
Dan: Nice Watership Down reference….
MNAngler: You saw those rotisserie rabbits, too, eh? I am SO doing that. Chengdu BBQ Bunny!
Rohan: Yep, the saddle on a rabbit does tend to dry out. Sous vide is probably the best way to cook it, but poaching is the next best thing.
Love the recipe. And I love rabbit. But I haven’t eaten it much; at least not wild rabbit.
Life is about balance, or more to the point, marriage is about balance.
We live in the mountains of Plumas County. Cottontails visit our property every now and then. We love watching them.
If one of those wound up on the table, the balance of marital bliss would be seriously up-ended. I know my limits.
But this recipe looks excellent. I might have to buy a domestic rabbit.
But then I have issues with that. Much of my interest in obtaining my own food has to do with economics. Buying domestic rabbit ain’t cheap!
But then some times gastronomy wins out over economics.
Thanks for sharing the recipe.
p.s. Pre-ordered the book yesterday
It’s interesting to see the base flavors move from Spain, Italy and Portugal.
I’ve been cooking Catalan Rabbit for some time now and it’s always a welcome dish, especially in Autumn. Went hunting last night after work, so many rabbits but alas none in my game bag.
We also tend to poach rabbit and then add it to dish’s as a chicken replacement. It works well, most notably for those that have an aversion to eating them.
I often find the backstrap dries out especially when cooked slowly at low temp, even when submerged in a stock or broth. The leg’s and the belly are the money cut’s for me. But I’m always trying new recipes, this one is now next on the list.
We’ve tried various versions of rabbit dishes since I started shooting my own in my backyard (for pest control rather than food), but have really only liked one (braised in a dutch oven). Having decided we don’t really like rabbit, my family decided not to cook up anymore.
But then you had to post this recipe. Between this and the rotisserie rabbit we saw on Bizarre Foods recently, it looks like we’ll be eating rabbit at least twice more.
Watership Down Movie = Nightmare Fuel
Still, awesome post. I love a well cooked rabbit.
Hank, I’m for the rabbit cook book too. I’d call it: Flay-rah
Sorry, but I always enjoy a Watership Down reference and had to throw in one of my own.
Hank, You should do a rabbit book. Delicious, versatile, I’m told really easy to raise too. People should eat more of it. And of course you’ld have to include Louisiana Back Bayou Bunny Bordelaise a la Antoine. “You do not mean THE Antoine of New Orleans?” “I don’t mean Antoine of Flatbush.”
I am so making this as soon as I can reserve a rabbit, though I’ll no doubt have them cut it up for me (I’ve heard it’s hard). Second, if these are your dishes I’m so jealous!
I’m really gonna have to give this recipe a try. I’ve been intrigued by idea of combining various meats with peppers and paprika, ever since I tried your Chilindron recipe with venison from an Axis deer. It came out great. Now I’m really looking forward to trying rabbit or pheasant as an alternative. Maybe rabbit w/peppers as done here and I”ll save the pheasant for my next attempt at Chilindron.
BTW, the book looks like a great gift for my wife. Her family comes from Calabria so much of the content will probably be familiar to her.
Gawwd, I love rabbit…surprising to many after the pet rabbit killing chapter of my Vietnam prison memoir–but you just can’t get away from how tasty they are! …Would this great looking recipe also work for a jack or hare, Hank; or is it too dark of a meat?
Gorgeous use of color by Holly, too!
Rabbit is so succulent and particularly dear to Southern Italians. My family, which is from Sorrento, makes a “coniglio in agrodolce”, which has a sweet and sour sauce, made with a vegetable ragout that includes raisins. The sauce has a tangy flavor, which comes from marinating the rabbit first in vinegar and white wine, and then in lemon.
Even though i have just eaten, the images in this post made me drool firstly the Rabbit image the the book cover, I have to get that book and indulge in one of foods hidden gems in Southern Italy.
Your Rabbit recipe will be stored with my others, I live in a country community and often have gluts of rabbit.