- Labs, Beagles & Bassets
- Secret, Succulent Rabbit Recipe
By Jim Low
My friend Dave Urich has hunted rabbits behind beagles since childhood. He has always loved the music of baying hounds, but he doesn’t enjoy racing to rescue freshly shot bunnies from a pack of crazed canines. He has never succeeded in teaching his beagles not to tear up rabbits, so he found another solution.
Enter Smith & Wesson*, a pair of Labrador retrievers. Smith is a black lab, while Wesson is more or less the same shade of yellow as the well-known brand of cooking oil. Dave keeps Smith & Wesson at heel while his pack of six to eight beagles rousts rabbits. When he bags a bunny with his .410 over-under, the labs go into action. They usually beat the beagles to the game and gleefully deliver it to Dave’s waiting hand.
This system works fine, but Dave isn’t one to settle for “good” when a little tinkering might get him to “better” or all the way to “perfect.” In that spirit, Dave added a basset hound named Porterhouse to the mix. Beagles are an excitable and hasty lot, prone to missing small olfactory clues and being fooled by of cottontail chicanery. They would mill around in circles for hours if not forcibly redirected.
Bassets, on the other hand, have keener noses than their longer-legged cousins and are nothing if not deliberate. Porterhouse normally trails minutes behind the beagle pack, patiently following meandering traces of rabbit spoor as if every molecule were the finest French cologne. Rabbits that cross a creek or double back and then hide in out-of-the-way nooks watch the howling beagle pack pass by and think they have it made. Next thing you know, Porterhouse has his nose beneath their backsides and the chase is on again.
This is much more orderly in theory than it is in practice. Individual beagles go off on tangents that take them to the next county. Others decide it would be fun to chase deer. Labs get bored and wander off to roll in raccoon poop when Dave isn’t looking. “Chaos” is too mild a word for a hunt with Dave’s dogs, but entertainment is never in short supply. To keep things manageable, Dave fits every member of his pack – except those carrying guns – with shock collars, which he controls individually to correct the behavior of whichever dog might go rogue at a given moment. How he keeps track of the dogs, let alone the collars, is beyond me, but we haven’t lost a dog yet.
That is more than I can say for rabbits. We do well enough shooting them, but with so many eager dogs in play, we seldom get through a day without losing at least one rabbit to canine exuberance. It’s a small price to pay for so much fun. Eating them can be extremely pleasant, too. Rabbit meat is a lot like chicken minus the generous helping of fat that goes with chicken skin. Frying in back grease and then slow-braising in a covered skillet supplies the moisture that rabbit flesh lacks, and that is a perfectly acceptable way to cook it. My favorite, however, involves heavy cream, white wine and bowtie pasta. Here’s how I do it.
Meat and Cooking
Remove the meat of two or three quartered rabbits from the bone. Sear them in olive oil with chopped garlic in a cast-iron Dutch oven. Cut into half-inch chunks and set aside in a covered container.
Sautee 4 green onions in butter in the Dutch oven until they start to soften. Add 12 ounces of dry white wine and 12 ounces of chicken stock and stir to dissolve browning residue from bottom of oven. Add four bay leaves, two teaspoons of peppercorns, 12 chopped sprigs of fresh thyme and simmer until reduced by two-thirds.
Add 8 ounces of half-and half to the sauce and simmer until reduced by half. Remove from heat and strain the sauce into another container. Discard the seasonings and return strained sauce to the Dutch oven.
Dice a stick of butter and whisk it into sauce. Add salt and fresh lemon juice to taste. Stir in the diced meat and keep it warm while preparing the pasta.
Slice two bell peppers – one red and one green – into thin strips. Cut 16 ounces of fresh mushrooms into quarters. Sautee pepper strips and mushrooms in butter until they begin to soften, but are still firm. Set aside.
Cook a large package of bowtie pasta or wide egg noodles, drain and pour into a large serving bowl. Arrange the peppers and mushrooms on top. Pour on the sauce and serve.
* I asked Dave how his basset hound acquired such an unusual, but undeniably descriptive name. “None of my dogs answer to their names,” he said, “So I give them names that I like. For a while I was in the habit of naming them after cuts of meat.” He says that led to “Pork Chop,” “Ribeye,” “Tenderloin” and “T-bone.” If I ever acquire a beagle of my own, I’m calling him “Ground Chuck.” “Chateaubriand” might be a good choice for a classy bird dog.