Rabbit rabbit yap yap

Stuffed saddle of rabbit with crispy belly, courgette flower with chicken mousse and ravigote sauce

Today was the compulsory starter dish for our final exam. Râble de Lapin Farci avec Courgette Fleur et Sauce Ravigote. A stuffed saddle of rabbit with a stuffed courgette flower and Ravigote sauce. Lots of stuffing! And lots of technical things to enjoy. Plenty of push, push too. I was bouncing around the kitchen humming along to Chas and Dave.

Butchering the saddle was the same as the saddle for the lamb noisettes. Basically the same skeleton structure, just smaller and more finicky. You could literally push the belly meat off the ribs but you still had to surgically extract the tips of the ribs from the meat. They had a tendency to snap. Bear in mind the goal was to remove the bones without tearing the skin or separating the meat along the spine. That didn’t quite go to plan. Lol. When I unfurled the saddle I had almost severed the 2 halves of meat. I rolled it all up nicely on my tray—trying to hide my handiwork. While I was off doing something else, chef came along and unravelled it. They know all the tricks. Giggle. Since it was going to be rolled into a ballotine there was a chance I’d be able rescue it.

The liver and kidneys were pan-fried. The liver was then diced and folded into yet another chicken mousse—this one without egg whites, which, it turns out, are only necessary if you want the mousse lighter in texture. I’ll come back to the mousse.

The rabbit fillets were laid along the centre of the saddle—where the spine had been. Blanched spinach was laid on top. Then the kidneys, cut in half. And then more spinach. One of the belly-sides was cut short to help with rolling. Dial 999. This is where the rescue happens. The saddle was rolled as tight as possible in Bayonne ham. And then as tight as possible in cling film. If the rolls didn’t work, it would be obvious when the ballotine was sliced. Fortunately I made it work—kind of. It didn’t split the saddle. Phew. But my roll in cling film wasn’t tight enough. If you think of the thumb-and-finger test for steak cooking, the uncooked ballotine needs to feel like well done. Mine was more medium. I’d also managed to compress the saddle lengthways resulting in a fatter ballotine. I told chef I was modelling my own physique. Ploop! Into the water bath. 65C for an hour.

Deboned saddle of rabbit

Rabbit liver and kidneys

Ballotine of rabbit

The belly off-cut was sliced into strips, salted for 10 minutes, dredged in flour and cayenne pepper, then fried to crispy. Crispy! Yum.

Back to the mousse. This was piped into a courgette flower. They aren’t the easiest things to open up, you know. Under pressure, a rip or tear is easily accomplished. While holding the delicate petals open you had to get a piping bag in there. And not overfill. Then a twist to seal it off. The flowers were steamed and the stalk cut diagonally.

Courgette flower stuffed with chicken mousse and rabbit liver

Chicken mousse with rabbit liver inside the courgette flower

The ravigote sauce was a vinaigrette made with Dijon mustard, sherry vinegar and oil. Chopped parsley and tarragon were added along with finely diced shallot, a hard boiled egg passed through a fine drum sieve, macédoine of Charlotte potato and gherkin, and Lilliput capers—isn’t that just the best name? Capers from Gulliver’s favourite place. Tangy and tasty. It would work with steak and some nice crusty bread. Must try.

When the rabbit came out of the water bath it went straight into an ice bath for 10 minutes. This was enough to stop the cooking and cool the outside but the centre would still be warm. It was rolled in beurre noisette to crisp up the ham and sliced into 4cm barrels to serve.

The rabbit was surprisingly gamey and actually quite different to the rabbit leg. The best thing on the plate to eat was the sauce. Frankly it could have done with something way more interesting than spinach in the centre—even a peppery creamed spinach would be better.