Friday, October 19, 2007

A Rabbit in Every Pot

Tonight I made my first rabbit curry. Stephen and I acquired our eco-friendly rabbit at the Arlington Farmer's market last Saturday from a farm I deeply admire. Rabbit is remarkably like chicken, only with more bones in unexpected places. So I roasted it like a chicken on a bed of diced butternut squash, celery, onions, and carrots. I smothered it in a sauce based on my mom's honey-baked chicken recipe: 1/3 cup butter, 1/3 cup honey, 1/4 cup Dijon mustard and a heaping tablespoon of Kaeng Par curry paste. I poured a 14 oz. can of whole coconut milk and a sprinkle of salt over the whole dish. In it went to a 225 Fahrenheit oven for an hour and a half, then up to about 375 for the last half hour. I say 'about' because my oven seems to run about 75 degrees hotter than the dial says. Stephen and I ate it with our fingers and whole wheat sourdough flatbreads.

The flatbread was an all-day experiment. I tried two different Naan recipes with my two starters (grape juice and grain), and liked this rendition best:

1 cup (8 oz) Carl Griffith's starter, fed on equal weights whole wheat flour and water
2 cups (8 oz) Kamut flour
1/4 (2 oz) cup yogurt (organic grass-fed creamline)
2 T (1 oz) melted butter (organic grass-fed bright yellow and Amish!)
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp honey
1/4 tsp baking soda

Knead everything together, cover and leave it alone. I kneaded some more water into the dough after 4 hours because it felt too stiff. After another 6 hours, I pinched off a little walnut-sized ball, flattened it as thinly as possible with my fingers, then spread it on a greased cutting board to rest another 15 minutes. Then I melted some butter and bacon drippings in a smoking hot, wimpy hotel frying pan. Cakes went into the pan, covered, 30 seconds on each side. Hotel room filled with smoke. Panicked, turned down heat, turned on hood, realized fan didn't work, opened window and door. Smoke cleared up in time for dinner.

These cakes were tougher than the Naan served at Indian restaurants, but still fun to eat with and delicious with the curry sauce. This recipe would make a good pizza dough. It was more workable than the other recipe, but the finished bread was tougher. Further investigation is in order.

Bread experiments always throw me off. I had my money on the grape starter because it had the most dough-like consistency at first, but when they came off the skillet, it wasn't as fine-tasting-and-textured as Carl's starter. It was also disturbingly purple and had a faint grape flavor. Now the other recipe looked like mud from start to finish. It looked so unusable that I almost threw it out, but in the end I spread it out on the flimsy hotel broiler pan and left it for about half an hour. It rose beautifully. Then I baked it at 225 another twenty minutes or so. It puffed even more in the oven and came out looking and tasting like a fluffy biscuit - so buttery and soft it blew me away. This recipe, too, is a keeper:

1/2 cup (4 oz) starter
3 cups (12 oz) spelt flour
1/2 cup (4 oz) yogurt
4 T melted butter
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp honey
1 tsp baking soda

I have searched high and low for a whole grain sourdough pizza dough. My usual sourdoughs are too soft and sticky to shape, so everything comes out shaped like the loaf pan. Both of these recipes have great potential for non-loaf applications - pizza, focaccia, bread sticks, pretzels, cinnamon buns, doughnuts, pastries, biscuits - so many possibilities! I can't wait to experiment.

One valuable conclusion from these experiments is that Carl Griffith's starter has superior rising power. In both recipes, with both doughs rolled side by side, Carl's rose almost twice as high - and tasted better to boot. This was a surprise, as I'd been under the impression that the yeast from fermented grapes would produce a lighter loaf than sourdough.

I also learned that the best learning experiences happen when I think I have nothing to lose. For the second recipe, it looked so useless that I was about to throw it out were it not for a little voice in my head saying - "just see what happens if you shape it and bake it now." It's when the dough looks good and I don't want to touch it for fear it won't rise again - that's when I don't learn a darn thing.

Last but not least, if you haven't forgotten our rabbit adventure, the most satisfying part of roasting a bone-in critter is tossing all those mineral-rich bones and joints into the stock pot to simmer overnight and wake up to a hotel room smelling divinely unlike any other in the United States.

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