Rabbit bolognese is an amazing dish that the home cook might think is too tough to tackle in their home kitchen, when in fact, it can't be further from the truth. Ill give you a simple rundown that you could use for cooking anything from classic bolognese, to veal cheek bolognese, tofu bolognese, or rabbit bolognese like is pictured in this article. Every recipe is merely a guideline, and nothing should ever be set in stone, cooking is ever evolving, and should always be fun, and never feel like work. All of my recipes will be written in a way where they allow you to make your own choices, create a dish that is all your own. As long as you understand the fundamentals of a dish, and the steps involved, from there you can begin to open your eyes to a whole new culinary world, one that allows you to make your own choices, and be the chef of your own kitchen, without having to hover over a set of measuring cups and spoons, a prisoner to every line of the recipe in front of you.
Bolognese sauce, or simply Ragu in Italian, is just a cooked down meat based sauce originating from Bologna, Italy. Every bolognese has 5 main components; protein, vegetables, aromatics, liquids, and of course tomatoes/tomato concentrate. Here is where you can take some creative license when making your own bolognese, to cater to your tastes and flavour preference.
Ground; beef, pork, veal, lamb, chicken, turkey, wild boar, alligator, sausage, tofu (hard), mushroom
Braised; beef (chuck, ribs), lamb (shoulder/leg), rabbit (whole), Wild boar (shoulder/neck), pork (belly/shoulder)
Cured or smoked; pancetta, salami, prosciutto, bacon (pork or wild boar), smoked ham hocks
Fresh; mussels, clams, prawns, scallops, lobster, tuna, shaved fresh beef (striploin or ribeye)
Onions, celery, carrots, garlic, mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant, peppers.
Bay leaves, red pepper flake, fresh thyme, parmesan rinds, basil stems, Italian parsley, rosemary tarragon, black peppercorn, white peppercorn, dried chilies.
Whole milk, white wine, red wine, rose, sparkling, dry vermouth, heavy cream.
Canned San Marzano tomatoes, tomato paste, canned plum or roma's, tomato puree, fresh on the vine tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes.
You can take this list, mix and match and use as many, or as little as these as you like, this is where you make the sauce your own. If you want to start with just the classic bolognese, I have highlighted the ingredients used above.
I am going to show you the method with a series of pictures, of a rabbit bolognese that we do for the business, and as we go, I will show you where you can deviate at different stages, to make the necessary changes to make it your own.
Step 1 - Choose your proteins
Here we have chosen whole rabbit still on the bone. The beauty of choosing something that is still on the bone, is that you will be making your sauce and your stock at the same time, which is killing two birds with one stone, and is always ideal in the kitchen. We also decided to use salami ends and pancetta, with rabbit being a lean animal, it was ideal to find a way to add some richness back into the meal.
Step 2 - Choose Your Vegetables/Mirepoix
Here we went with a more classic bolognese vegetable preparation, with the onions, carrots, celery, garlic. We added in the mushrooms, as with using rabbit, the earthiness of the mushrooms is a nice symmetry. If you are wanting something more like a primavera pasta, omitting the carrot and celery in place of zucchini, eggplant and peppers, is always nice and fresh.
Step 3 - Select Your Aromatics
For the rabbit bolognese we decided to use some of the classic bolognese aromatics: parmesan rinds, bay leaves, fresh thyme and parsley, red chilli flake, we added in some, salami and prosciutto for enhanced richness, and a couple sprigs of rosemary (which is rarely used in bolognese, but the woodsiness is a very nice complement to game or lamb in the sauce). If I were taking this down the seafood route, I would be omitting the meat, cheese, and scrub herbs (rosemary, thyme) and replacing with soft herbs like parsley, basil, or tarragon. The best way to add your aromatics, is placed in a cheese cloth, and wrapped with butchers twine (like a flavour pouch).
Step 4 - Searing Off Your Protein
Here we are just placing the rabbit into a deep hotel pan, you may also use a baking sheet at home, and if using a smaller pot, you can take a cleaver, or heavy set knife, and severe the rabbit in front of the hind legs, so that it will be able to fit. Simply drizzle with some olive oil, and then place into a 450 degree oven, to get some colour on the outside (this would be the same technique used with any of the braising meats). In this case, the rabbit was in the oven for no more then 25 minutes. If you were using a ground meat, or choosing to use a cured meat, you would start by getting the pot you are going to make your sauce in, and add a healthy amount of olive oil, and brown your ground meats, and rendering the fat from your cured meats.
Step 5 - Sautée Your Vegetables/Mirepoix
Here we would start by sautéing our vegetables in a good amount of olive oil, 1/4 cup or so. If using ground meat, or cured meats, after removing the meat from the pot, you would leave the remaining oil in the pot, and add olive oil to top up to around a 1/4 cup, then sauté your vegetables in that, until translucent. Here is where we will deglaze with your alcohol, usually white or red wine, but you can choose a rose, sparkling, dry vermouth, or dry marsala.
Step 6 - Puree Your Tomatoes
Step 7 - Everybody In The Pool
At this stage we put together our protein, vegetables, aromatics, tomatoes/tomato paste, all into the same pot or hotel pan, and season with salt, cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees covered for 3 to 4 hours or so.
Step 8 - Check The Meat For Doneness and Reserve Cooked Meat
Check the meat for doneness, if it is failing off the bone, or braised to your liking you may take it out of the sauce to portion, if it is a larger piece. In this case the rabbit should easily come off of the bone with just a fork and a pair of tongs. If you are using ground/cured meats in your sauce, those can just stay in the sauce without being removed.
After pulling the meat from the bones, reserve the cooked meat to add back to the sauce.
Step 9 - Add Milk and Cook It Down
At this point we will add in the whole milk or heavy cream, and we will start the process of cooking down the sauce. This can be done on the stovetop or by putting the sauce back in the oven for 1 or 2 hours with no cover on top. The sauce should darken in colour and thicken up slightly.
Step 10 - Add Your Protein Back Into The Sauce
You will add your braised protein back into the sauce, and cook it long enough for it to incorporate into the sauce, 30 minutes or so.
The Finished Product
Your sauce at this point should have a nice, dark, rich colour and flavour. Check for any last minute seasoning, usually just salt. This is also the chance if you are making a seafood based sauce or using fresh thinly sliced protein, where you would add that in raw at the last minute, just to barely cook through.
Pairing the meal with the perfect wine is always one of my favourite parts of putting a meal together. In this case with the rabbit bolognese, I chose a Chianti Classico. A regular Chianti would be fine, and wouldn't ruin your day, but the added richness, and barrel aging of a Classico, with its flavours of dark cherry and smoke, would pair excellently with a rich sauce that has been cooked down over hours, concentrating flavours, and caramelizing sugars in the tomatoes. A regular Chianti would be better with a fresher tomato sauce, where the bright cherry, and racy acidity would be the better pairing.
So there you have it, a look at one of the classic sauces in the cooking world, play around with different flavours, depending on the time of year, the guests you plan on entertaining, or just your personal preference. Every time you make it, you should try something different, make a new family recipe, start a tradition, and have fun, because thats what cooking is all about.