This week I made rabbit stifado. Until I was in my mid twenties I actually thought this dish was made with chicken. Why? Because my mom had told me it was chicken as I was growing up so that I would eat it, because she thought if I really knew it was rabbit I would refuse to. As a result, I had a conversation with my younger cousin in England about 8 years ago, being of an age where I was way too old to not know that stifado is made with rabbit, when I insisted that “stifado” was made with chicken, or at the very least prided myself on the fact that my mom made it with chicken. Errrrr, nope. Entirely untrue. Anyway, this time I was sure to buy a whole rabbit from the supermarket. Though I was a bit intimidated by chopping up a rabbit, my friend, Antonis, showed me how to do it with ease and provided many tips and tricks to make it one of the most delicious stifados I have enjoyed. For example, it is actually preferable to use a rabbit that has been in the freezer for about 1 month because when you defrost it, it makes the rabbit more tender – just like using frozen octopus when making octopus stifado. The other neat thing about stifado is that you can add as many onions, as much wine and vinegar as you want suited to your preference. You could literally double the amount of onions and vinegar in the recipe below and it would still taste delicious, just in a different way. I loved Antonis’ version of stifado because it was tasty without being too heavy, and had a subtle spicy kick through use of the peppercorns and wine. I used a French beaujolais only because that is all I had, but what I really wanted to do was use a Cypriot wine! Next time, right!?
1 whole rabbit (you can ask the butcher to cut it for you in large pieces, you can remove the head and innards, but you can also cook them)
30-35 small shallots (onions are OK too, but shallots are sweeter; you can also use up to 40 onions for more onion flavour and a sweeter taste, if you add more shallots/onions I would also recommend adding more vinegar)
1 cinnamon stick
1 heaped tsp whole peppercorns
dash of cumin
2 cups of red wine (just over half of a 2L wine bottle) (this recipe is quite wine heavy, so you could add a little less, but bear in mind the sauce will reduce over the 1.5-2 hours you stew it, so I think I will always add this much)
1/4 cup of weak red wine vinegar (for a stronger vinegar flavour, add 1/2 cup, but if your vinegar is strong then 1/4 cup is OK, I would add 1/2 cup if you add more onions)
2-3 bay leaves
35g Mitsides tomato puree
1 cup water
olive oil for frying
salt and pepper to taste
plain pasta for and grated anari cheese for serving (optional)
* Antonis mentioned that for extra tender rabbit, he lets the rabbit marinate overnight in red wine vinegar. Then he continues to prepare the recipe as per below and when adding red wine vinegar, take from the vinegar that the rabbit was marinated in.
1. Peel the shallots, there is no need to dice them.
2. Chop the rabbit into pieces if you have not done so already.
3. Heat about 2 tbs olive oil to a large pan. Once hot, add the rabbit pieces ensuring that the olive oil touches the skin. Lightly brown the rabbit pieces on each side, remove and set into a plate.
4. Add about 1 tbs more olive oil to the same pan. Add the shallots, they will absorb the flavours from having lightly fried the rabbit. Once the shallots have been lightly browned add them to a large pot.
5. Add the rabbit, cinnamon, peppercorns, cumin, wine, vinegar, tomato puree, bay leaves and 1 cup water to the large pot with the shallots. Close the lid, leaving a slight gap, and bring to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, reduce the temperature to medium heat and cook for between 1.5 to 2 hours until the rabbit is cooked and falls off the bone and the juices have reduced. It is up to you how much you want the juices to reduce – runny, thick, thin, etc.
6. When serving, boil some pasta and take some pieces of rabbit, onion and juices and use it as a sauce. It goes great with grated salty anari – a type of Cypriot cheese similar to ricotta in the way you make it – but I think the Greek cheese kefalotiri which is widely available would work great as well.