They say that children start remembering things and accumulating memories at the age of three, when the child starts gaining proper consciousness and acquiring the most important tool that will accompany the child throughout life, language. As a thirty three year old woman I have very vague recollections of myself as a three year old , there are snippets of fugue instances that sometimes resurface; like me sitting on the white Formica table, the one with the rusty legs, wearing a new pair of white sandals, and somehow being told off for rubbing the soles of one shoe on the top of the other. However, the one memory that stuck most vividly for all these years are those Sunday morning sounds in our house, most of all in our kitchen.
I’ll never forget the thud of the metal mullet against the cleaver to chop through the rabbit bone and meat, and, somehow, the memory of this sound always brings along a singing and dancing Shirley Temple on T.V. Maybe it’s because of how my mother would always tease me that she loved Shirley Temple more than me, her voice usually followed by my routine tantrums that lasted about five minutes, until I would be called in to help out in the kitchen once again.
Sundays were definitely rabbit day; my mother always bought two rabbits to feed a family of six. She was adamant that any woman who bought her rabbits pre chopped was a wuss of the worst kind, and unworthy of cooking rabbit. I remember her saying how if anyone was lazy enough not to butcher their own rabbit they should not bother eating it at all. Also, knowing my mother’s mistrusting nature, the real reason behind butchering her own rabbit was so that she made sure the farmer did not keep any parts for himself, and thus short changing her, without forgetting the urban legend that some butchers would sell skinned street cats instead of rabbits to the pre chopped rabbit fans. This was possible of course since pre copped rabbit fans would also be naturally squeamish about cooking the rabbit head, and every three year old child knows, that the main difference between a skinned rabbit and a skinned cat lies all in that head.
Now few people know that there is a specific hierarchy in the consumption of a cooked rabbit between members of the same family, this does not apply for when the rabbit is eaten amongst friends, but it’s sacrosanct amongst Maltese family gatherings.
So it all starts with the chopping that might be specific to whoever is cooking the rabbit, the pieces cannot be too big, a rabbit which is cut in huge chunks will never taste as good when fried as one which is cut in small pieces, that cook and colour faster and do not dry out in the process. This makes perfect common sense.
The kidneys, also known as the rabbit’s olives, are usually consumed during the frying phase of the rabbit, and since the rabbit has two kidneys, like any other mammal, one was always eaten by my mother and the other was given to the person helping out in cleaning the kitchen, usually this was me, and sometimes my sister. However, if my grandmother was doing the cooking, we would have been told to fuck off in her own loving way and she would eat the two kidneys herself. Fried rabbit kidneys should be eaten piping hot, squirting boiling oil on your tongue to be fully appreciated.
The kidneys would be the only perk and taste we could have before lunch time, as after frying, the pan would be deglazed with white wine, garlic is added, some bay leaves are thrown in, finally a bit of seasoning and that’s it, the fried rabbit would then cook in this potion for the next two hours. In the mean time we would form a production line for the peeling and chopping of about four kilos of huge potatoes into fries.
My mother would fry the whole lot with lots of onions that would turn transparent and so sweet after cooking.
Prime cuts such as the thighs and legs would be given to the men aroundthe table, the liver always shared amongst the youngest and oldest familymembers as it’s the part with no bones and also full of iron to help growth, the lungs were my grandmother’s favourite part and given to her as a sign of respect, the middle female children would get the sides and anonymous parts, which could not be identified, but still tasted great, and my mother would always eat the head and the meat around the ribcage. She said they were her favourite parts but my suspicions are that there would not have been a lot of rabbit left; I began realising this when I started cooking rabbits in my own kitchen, the realisation made me feel utterly sad for her and so grateful at the same time. I do hope that now she gets to eat whatever part she feels like when frying a rabbit in her kitchen which after a lot of deaths, marriages, and migrations has somehow become a much more private space.
Ingredients For Garlic Fried Rabbit
- 1 Whole Rabbit
- 1 Head of Garlic
- 500ml Dry white Wine
- Sunflower Oil for frying
- Salt Pepper
- 4 bay leaves
Chop the rabbit using a cleaver into bite size pieces of approximately 7cm in length each, save the kidneys, liver and lungs to fry on their own, as they contain a lot of water and they will splatter a lot of boiling oil right at your face, be careful.
Shallow fry the rabbit pieces, season with salt whilst still in the pan and flavour with freshly ground black pepper, do not overload the frying pan, be patient and fry a little at a time, otherwise the rabbit meat will steam instead of fry, and you would end up with a nasty looking grey rabbit instead of a golden one.
Set aside and let rest, eat the piping hot kidneys at this point, make a child happy.
Reserve the frying oil in which you will fry the lashings of garlic and then deglaze with the wine, add the bay leaves and seasoning , bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a minimum and add the pieces of fried rabbit to the pot of bubbling liquid gold.
Cook on low heat for about two hours.
Take ¾ of the gravy obtained after the 2 hours of cooking, strain into a sauce pot and heat until the liquid volume is reduced by half, sometimes even more, this will have an intense salty rabbit deliciousness to it, that will bring your dish to another level of lip smacking.
That’s it, really. Do give rabbit a go, it’s a delicious and underrated meat, which with a little effort can feed a whole family with half the price tag of a beef roast.