Wild Rabbit Confit
"Victuals. Say it the way my people have for centuries: vidls. Maybe you have seen it spelled vittles in a cartoon balloon coming from the mouth of Mammy Yokum", says Ronni Lundy in the preface of the new cookbook entitled, Victuals, about people and places across the southern Appalachian Mountains.
Or, maybe you recall me mentioning the term before I braised up some raccoon awhile back, or made that blackbird pie. Regardless, most hunters and farm folks up here in the Midwest have run across the term "vittles". It typically conjures simple, heritage cooking that reflects the way people really eat , or ate.
My first exposure to the word was as a child in the '60s. I was sitting on the padded arm of my German immigrant grandfather's chair. He was puffing from a meerschaum pipe that he alternately clinched and clattered between his teeth; the ornate bowl releasing fragrant, swirling smoke from Half and Half, or Velvet, or Prince Albert. We were watching Gunsmoke and in particular, Festus, an iconic 1960s television character. He frequently used the term "vittles". It was one of Grandpa Bernard's' favorite television shows. He would tease me saying Grandma Helen was in the kitchen making rabbit tracks fried in mosquito grease...her own version of vittles.
The cookbook came into my home via a young, jaunty, Tennessee fellow who loves to cook, has a penchant for books, good food, Spirited beverages, and speaks with a warm, polite southern drawl. And get this, his name is Hunter. Sort of perfect don’t you think? As we leafed through the pages of Victuals on his recent visit we discovered a recipe for domestic rabbit confit. It comes from the Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro in Townsend, Tennessee. As I had a wild rabbit laid up in my freezer, we popped a cork and set about slow cooking it in 5 pounds of melted leaf lard.
The whole process took two days, but by the end of it we had a pound, and one-half of irresistible meat. Though we immediately devoured a portion, I saved enough for a Rabbit Confit Cassoulet, and Rabbit Confit Stuffed Medjool Dates. Watch for those two recipes in the coming weeks.
1 wild rabbit
½ cup kosher salt
¼ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup fresh herbs
Zest and juice of 1 lime
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Zest and juice of 1 orange
About 5 or 6 pounds of lard