This rabbit stew is one of our winter favorites. The flavors of chocolate, saffron and chili are reminiscent of a south of the border mole but with a lot less fuss. Unfortunately, rabbit is still hard to find and often expensive in most parts of the US. Chicken or turkey makes a good substitute. Serve with a crisp salad and crusty bread to sop up the yummy sauce.
Based on the recipe Braised Rabbit: conejo a la tarragona in Spanish Country Kitchen: traditional recipes for the home cook by Linda Tubby (this cookbook is unfortunately no longer in print).
1 rabbit, about 2.5 lbs, cut into serving pieces and dredged in flour seasoned with salt and pepper
Oil for browning meat and vegetables
Liver from the rabbit (also dredged in seasoned flour) or 1 T chopped almonds
¼ lb pancetta or other ham product, cubed
1 medium onion, sliced thin
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes (preferably Muir Glen)
½ cup red wine
2 sprigs rosemary
1 t fennel seed, crushed
1 lb new potatoes, parboiled
1/8 t saffron
1 dried chili, seeded and coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 oz. unsweetened dark chocolate, chopped
½ cup hot water
3 T chopped flat leaf parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350°.
In a Dutch oven heat oil over a high flame and brown the rabbit pieces (including liver if using) in batches to prevent crowding. Remove from the pot and set to the side. Brown the pancetta in the same oil and set to the side along with the rabbit pieces.
Add more oil to the pot if necessary, reduce heat to medium and add the onion. Sauté until soft but not browned, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and continue to cook for an additional 4 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil over a medium-high flame. Cook for 2 minutes to reduce the liquid. Return the rabbit, but not the liver, to the pot along with the rosemary sprigs and fennel seed. Bring pot to back to a simmer, cover and cook in the oven for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, put the saffron, chili, garlic, chocolate, ½ cup hot water and either the liver (chopped) or chopped almonds in a blender or small food processor and blend to a smooth paste.
Add the chocolate-chili paste and the parboiled potatoes to the pot and continue cooking in the oven until the rabbit and potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes. Correct the seasoning, garnish with the chopped parsley and serve.