Sunday, January 01, 2012

The Bastard Love Child: The Union of Rabbit *96* and Biryani

Typically, when you see an Indian recipe for chicken or rabbit appended with a numeric, it typically means # = how many days the animal was alive. I guess the theory is, that either the animal is tastier or most tender the younger it is. IMHO, the older a chicken is, the tastier it is. Kind of like how a woman doesn't really get any character until she's aged a bit, and has gotten saucy.
REALITY: The longer an animal is alive, the more $ the farmer has to spend on feed. As is the case with corporate farm lots (at least here in the US), they put growth hormones in the feed, to fatten up our animals for us, so the animals spend less time (and less money for the farmer) at the farm, which helps the farmer's bottom line; however, the resulting animal is usually an inferior, bland, and some might argue an unhealthy end product for the consumer. If at all possible, buy the freshest, locally grown, minimally processed rabbit, chicken or pheasant. It's healthier for you, it's better for the environment (less fossil fuels from farm-to-table), and bottom line: IT JUST TASTES BETTER.
My husband and I have been ISO an elusive recipe for Rabbit *96* for years. He only ate it once about 18 years ago (maybe more, maybe less?). And at the moment, he worries that when I do find that recipe, it won't or can't possibly live up to the deliciousness which he remembers vividly and fondly.

Not sure if the "96" part of the recipe (the rabbit curry part that is) is a true Rabbit *96*; however, I'm adapting a recipe I had for Chettinad style chicken.
Again, dear food purists: go elsewhere if you can't abide improvisations and variations on a theme. What I'm shooting for here is a delicious homage to the elusive Rabbit *96* and biryani.
There are two parts to this recipe: The rabbit + gravy, and the biryani. My approach biryani is so flawed, it might not be a "true biryani" (for an assortment of reasons to an assortment of folks, the most blaringly obvious is that I don't use a biryani powder per se), and again, to that, food purists can kiss my ass. The bottom line remains if what was crafted is fucking delicious... and in summation: IT IS.

For the record, the thing I DETEST about Indian cooking is the amount of time BABY SITTING your food, and the layering involved. Indian food, when done well, is very nuanced, and the downside to those nuances, is the amount of time and attention (not to mention the amount of pots and pans that get dirtied in the process).

Recipe calls for: One butchered rabbit, roughly the size of a small roaster chicken (however, I bet this would lend itself very well to medium sized game birds such as pheasant).

The night before, in a zip lock type bag large enough to accommodate the rabbit (chicken or pheasant), marinate overnight.
2 T oil (I used grapeseed due to lack of flavor)
2 tsp garlic paste
2 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp turmeric
big fat pinch of ground black pepper
*Note: If I do this recipe again, I will use the juice of 1/2 a lemon in this.
In a large skillet, dry roast:
2 tsp white poppy seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 inch cinnamon stick
3 green cardamom pods, whole
2 cloves
1/2 star anise
Grind then set aside to cool.
10-12 Curry leaves (fresh or dry, doesn't much matter)
1 long dry red chile pepper (more if you prefer)
1 tsp oil
Then, in skillet put 1 tsp oil and sizzle about 10-12 curry leaves and 1 long dry chile pepper (slivered) until leaves start to toast up and sizzle. Put this with the dry roasted spices in a grinder and grind down to a semi-coarse powder.


In skillet, set temp on high and put about 3 T oil in skillet. *Note: Make sure the oil you are using has a high smoke point. Do NOT use olive oil! Put rabbit pieces in the skillet, and let it sit and get a good scald on one side, meanwhile you can cut up your onion, etc. After about 3-5 minutes check it once just to ensure you're getting a good sear, then turn. Cook on second side about 5 minutes. Remove from pan. At this point you might want to drain some of the grease/oil off the pan.

1 T dessicated, grated coconut
1 Large onion diced
1 pinch Asafatoeida
1 Large tomato, diced
1 T tomato paste
1 12 oz can chicken stock
1 tsp garlic paste
1 tsp ginger paste
In the skillet cook diced up large onion about 2-3 minutes. Then add 1 T dessicated, powdered coconut. Keep stirring and until coconut gets toasty in color. If you use asafatoeida/hing normally, put a dash or two in this. Add the toasted ground spice mixture. Cook 1-2 minutes stirring well. To this, add 1 cubed up large tomato and about 1 T of tomato paste. Add 1 12 oz can of chicken stock.Add additional 1 tsp of garlic paste and 1 tsp of ginger paste. Bring to boil. Stir well, reduce heat to a simmer. Meanwhile set up your rice for the biryani part of the action.

Note: if I were to make this again, I would take 1-2 green chiles and cut them into thin disks and add them to the hot oil before adding the onions.
2 Cups basmati rice
4 Cups water
Big pinch salt
Big pinch saffron
2 Cardamom pods, smooshed a little but left whole
2 Cloves
1 Cinnamon stick
1 Bay leaf
Optional: 1.5 T butter
Into your rice cooker (I use a microwavable one, I refuse to use anything else. Perfect rice every time. Seriously!), put 2 cups of basmati rice. Wash your rice and drain it about three times until the water comes up clearer than the first rinse. Then add your 4 cups water and all the aromatics for the rice/biryani. Microwave about 13 minutes or cook in your rice cooker as you normally would. Meanwhile, get out items for the biryani itself.
Small handful cashews or pistashios
1 handful craisins, raisins, dried cherries or currants
1/2 C cut scallions
1/2 C green peas
1/2 C cilantro leaves
Optional/Use 'em if you got 'em: Pearl onions if you have them
1 C uniformly cut veggies of your choice (I used some Trader Joes garlic potato slices)

In large skillet put 2 T oil and sizzle cashew pieces until they start to turn toasty. Put in pearl onions and cook about 2 minutes. Dump the cooked rice into the skillet, removing the cinnamon stick, cardamom pods and cloves, as you find them. Stir well. Medium high heat. Turning over and over while cooking (essentially this is like a fried rice). Sprinkle with chile powder (if you want more heat), or if you're like me, use some smoked hot paprika, and sprinkle a bit of turmeric. Keep stirring. Add craisins. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Add peas, scallions, and cilantro. Give one final stir. Take off heat.

Note: Given that my husband is lactose intolerant, I cannot "finish" off with a pat of butter. Yes. This was one detail I was debating on sharing or not. My "secret" if you will. (It's also part of my secret to coq au vin: finishing off w/butter at the very end.) So what I did was use 1 T coconut oil. Though tasty, coconut does have a bit of a distinct taste. If I were to make this again, I would probably tinker around with finishing off with gingelly oil/sesame oil, as it's got a nuttier, buttery, more-subtle-than-coconut type of taste. If lactose is not an issue for you, finish off with a few pats of butter, OR when you're assembling everything for the oven, dot the top of the rice with a few pats of butter.


In a large enough baking casserole dish, spritz well with Pam. Put rabbit pieces in bottom, pour gravy over top. Sprinkle your 1 C veggies of choice over this. Then take the rice/biryani and layer that on top, pressing down firmly. Cover casserole with lid or tightly with tin foil.

Bake at 350 for 50 minutes.

From start to finish, I believe this whole process took close to 3 hours. This does not include the time the meat marinates.

Serves approximately 6 people (with one piece of rabbit per person).

Serve with raita.

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