The people of South Louisiana have many ancestral ties to their French cultural roots–cooking included. For instance, a delicate roux made by a trained saucier in the kitchen of a Michelin-starred French restaurant takes the same basic technique as a Cajun recipe for one made by a skilled Cajun cook on a home stovetop. Although the bayou version invariably dives deeper and darker in search of flavor, the method is identical. The same can be said of mustard, and this recipe for mustard-braised rabbit celebrates the culinary linkage, yet differences in taste of the two cultures. It is a recipe I discovered some years ago.
In my long career, I’ve had the opportunity to represent some very interesting clients–none more so than the ABC of France tourism cooperative. The Alsace, Burgundy and Champagne regions of Eastern France searched the United States for an ad agency to represent them in building an American travel market and they selected mine because of our cultural tourism focus. Marketing the culturally rich region was a dream assignment and for over six years we developed communication programs to highlight the historical, culinary and wine-producing significance of this colorful European travel destination.
It was a journey of discovery. Touring this vast area east of Paris, I found out just how culturally diverse France can be. From the rolling hills of the vineyards to the mountains of Alsace, the culinary differences are dramatic. While I enjoyed the German influence of Alsatian cuisine, I must admit that the area around Dijon in the Burgundy region boasts more earthy, intensely rich flavors that are closer to my home in South Louisiana. The mustard-growing region anchored by the famous Maille mustard operation is responsible for the endless interpretations of dishes featuring that ingredient.
Cooking with rabbit is a common ingredient of both rural Louisiana and French cultures. And it was the pungent punch of a mustard-braised rabbit I had in a French farmhouse that helped me connect the two cuisines. It was a grand and gratifying combination of flavors. The rich white meat of the rabbit was cloaked in a velvety sauce of peppery mustard that created perfect symmetry of tastes.
As I set out to recreate that dish, it gradually became clearer how much the culture of my Acadiana has in common with the rural regions of France. Although our tastes may have evolved in different directions, our connections to farmers and artisans are a key to the cultural traditions that we both value. In Louisiana, we are partial to grainy Creole mustard as a spice-infused base for many of our Cajun recipes, and in Burgundy it is the sweeter and smoother Dijon-style mustard that is preferred. To balance this full-flavored Mustard-Braised Rabbit dish, I use both.
- 3 strips smoked bacon, chopped
- 1 cup diced yellow onion
- 1 cup diced celery
- ½ cup diced green bell pepper
- 2 cups fresh mushrooms, cleaned
- 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- ½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 cup chopped fresh kale
- 1 whole rabbit, cut into pieces
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup canola oil
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 2 tablespoons Louisiana Creole mustard, such as Zatarain's
- 2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard, such as Maille Dijon Originale
- 2 cups chicken stock, divided
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- In a large cast-iron skillet with heavy lid on medium-high heat, add the bacon. Cook until the bacon is crispy and remove to a paper towel and drain.
- In the same pan on medium heat, add the onions, celery, bell pepper, and mushrooms to the remaining bacon grease. Sauté the ingredients just until the onions turn translucent and then add the carrots and garlic along with the parsley, rosemary, and kale. Stir all the vegetables together for 2 minutes and then remove to a platter.
- Place the rabbit pieces on a platter and pat dry with paper towel. Season with salt and pepper. Dredge the pieces lightly in flour and place on a platter.
- In the same pan on medium heat, add the oil. Once the oil is hot, add the rabbit pieces. Brown the rabbit on both sides.
- Pour off any remaining oil from the pan and add the sautéed vegetables and the bacon pieces back to the pan with the rabbit. On medium heat, add the wine and deglaze the pan. Cook until the wine reduces by half. Add both mustards and stir until combined. Add 1 cup of chicken stock. Lower the heat to a simmer, place the cover on the pan and let cook for 20 minutes.
- Uncover, add the cream and stir to combine. Cover and let simmer for 10 minutes. Stir to make sure the sauce is thickening, but not sticking on the bottom of the pan. Add more chicken stock to thin it out, if needed. Cover and simmer for another 10 minutes until the rabbit is tender. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper as needed. Cover the pan and keep warm.
- For serving, present the pan in the center of the table in traditional farmhouse style. Serve with steamed rice or mashed potatoes along with crusty French bread, and of course, a bottle of French Burgundy wine.
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