Winter is a wonderful time for using assertive herbs. When I am cooking, I want people to know it the moment they open my front door. Warmth and fragrance is so welcoming!
So, considering what I’d call an assertive herb, let’s pick one with a history, shall we? Most of us know about juniper’s use in gin making, locally and historically. But juniper is also long associated with spiritual purification, refuge, and protection. Medicinally, Juniper is used to alleviate digestive disorders and flatulence as well as for antiseptic purposes.
This winter, try using pungent and warming juniper berries in the following recipe for Rabbit with Bacon and Juniper. Juniper berries are readily available almost everywhere you look outside in the winter months, (or at Morse’s Sauerkraut in Waldoboro in small packets, if you’re not into foraging). Paired with lardons or thick cut bacon and rabbit, this flavor profile with fill your kitchen with bracing piny woodland aromas. As a bonus, its reputation as an aid to digestion works well with most fatty or wild meats, all game birds, and in marinades. Playing well with others, juniper works nicely in a variety of potato and vegetable preparations, too.
Juniper berries and I first got acquainted way back when I was “living off the land” in the 70’s, and canning most of my own food. At the time, I made my own sauerkraut and discovered (via German cookbooks) the happy marriage that is fermented cabbage and a bit of juniper berry.
Juniper Berries image courtesy of drterrywillard.com
Wondering where to source rabbit in the Midcoast? Try the excellent Bleeker and Flamms Maine Street Meats in Rockport. If bunny is not your style, chicken on the bone works well in this recipe.
RABBIT WITH BACON AND JUNIPER BERRIES
Laura Cabot, Laura Cabot Catering, Waldoboro
1/4 cup xvoo
1 cup cubed smoked bacon
1 large rabbit, cut into pieces, and dredged in seasoned flour ( salt, pepper, and paprika)
2 onions, diced
2 bay leaves
1 carrot, scrubbed and sliced
2 stalks, cubed celery and leaves
1 level Tablespoon crushed juniper berries
1 bunch of fresh thyme, wrapped with string
Half a bottle of red wine
Chicken stock, as needed
1/2 cup stemmed and chopped parsley
Heat up a large skillet and cook the bacon. Set bacon aside.
Leaving the rendered bacon fat in the pan, add the oil and, when hot, add the dredged and seasoned rabbit, cooking until nicely browned but not finished cooking. Remove rabbit from pan and set aside.
Saute the onion, celery, and carrot in the drippings, stirring for about ten minutes. Add the thyme, bay, and juniper and cook five minutes more.
Return the bacon and rabbit and any juices to the pan with vegetables and seasonings, and add the wine and chicken stock just to cover.
Cover with a close fitting lid and turn heat down to a simmer for a good hour. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
Check for seasonings. The flour on the meat should make a thin gravy of the stock and wine.
This dish is very nice over polenta or mashed potatoes, with a side of vibrant greens. Hale and hearty!