Hop to It 

Cooking up rabbit with plum sauce.

I was in the front yard when my buddy Thumper drove by slowly. He tossed something out his window at me.

"I'll see you tonight," he hollered, speeding away, as I held out my hands to catch the flying package.

It was a dressed and frozen rabbit, which I placed, still wrapped in plastic, in a big bowl of hot water to thaw. I had all day to decide what to do with it.

At a fancy restaurant, I recently saw rabbit on a menu, roasted with tarragon and rosemary. I was struck by how this preparation resembled the way one might prepare chicken. Indeed, the tastes-like-chicken comparison surpasses only the rabbit's mating capacity in the annals of rabbit cliché.

But why, I wondered, would a rabbit taste like a chicken? A rabbit is a mammal, like a cow. A chicken is a bird. My farmer friend Bob doesn't ask why. "Rabbit's a little drier," he says, "not as fatty. But you can do anything to rabbit that you would to chicken. We always have some rabbit stock simmering on the stove."

I scoured the Internet in search of interesting ways to cook rabbit. The best site I found was http://diju.tripod.com/Rabbit/recipes.html, where I was tempted to try "Beer-Butt Rabbit," in which open cans of beer are stuffed with chopped garlic and onions, and the rabbit, rubbed in spices, is draped over the beer cans on a grill. But I had only three cans of Pabst left, and I didn't want to split the last one with Thumper.

Another recipe read, "Grill for two hours, or until legs and wings wiggle freely."

Was that an avian slip or are the front limbs of rabbits really called "wings"?

I settled on a recipe for braised rabbit with prunes. If you want the recipe exactly as it appeared, you can find it on that Web page. I modified it in a few key ways, substituting breadcrumbs for flour, adding whole garlic cloves, and most important, I swapped fresh plums for prunes.

Plums! Now is the season, and my little tree is finally producing fruit. How could I go to the store and get dried plums (aka prunes) when plums hang ripe on the tree? Okay, technically, plums and prunes are not exactly the same. Prunes are a type of plum that is usually dried. But I'm not here to split hairs; just rabbits.

I cut off the arms and legs (which really did resemble wings), drumsticks, and thighs. I sliced across the long torso, through the vertebrae, until I had manageable chunks. I treated the liver and heart like everything else. First, I seasoned the meat with salt and pepper and dredged it in breadcrumbs. In a large cast-iron skillet, I melted four tablespoons of butter on medium heat and slowly browned the rabbit parts. Once everything was brown and crispy I placed it all in a big cast-iron pot and added two cups of chicken stock. Then I added two pounds of fresh, split, and pitted plums (more plums would be fine). Finally, I added the whole cloves of a head of garlic and another 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs. I stirred it all together and baked it with the lid on, stirring occasionally, at 375 for about 2 1/2 hours, or until the rabbit was falling-off-the-bone tender.

Thumper came over with a container of fresh feta cheese. We made a salad while the rabbit cooled to an edible temperature.

It was an Atkins evening of rabbit and salad vinaigrette, which complemented each other beautifully. The best part was the liver, drenched in plum sauce.

Thus began my exploration of the plum. The next day I marinated salmon in soy sauce, garlic, and ginger. Meanwhile, I cooked some chopped bacon and fresh plums and a little cider vinegar. When the plums dissolved, I added the salmon and the marinade to the pan and fried it home. Ooo la la.

Yes, the plum and the rabbit have taught me plenty. But there is so much more to know. If anyone ever tries "Beer-Butt Rabbit," please tell me what it's like.

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