When I still lived in Texas, I received a phone call from a friend whose car had broken down. He was in need of a ride home, so I said I would do it. Dale lived a few miles south of Fort Worth in the town of Cleburne, but his car was at a repair shop near where I lived northeast of Fort Worth, so it was easy to pick him up, although it was a long ride to his home. I didn’t mind.
We had just turned off the interstate highway toward his home when Dale nearly leaped out of the car. “Pull Over!! That truck just ran over a squirrel!”
I stopped, but I didn’t understand why it was such a big deal. Squirrels, rabbits, ‘possums, armadillos, skunks, and just about anything else was often flattened on Texas roads. However, Dale jumped out of the car and picked up the squirrel. What was he going to do? Take it to the vet? Nurse it back to health?
Dale got back into the car with his prize and said, “Gonna add this to the ones in the freezer. A couple more and I’ll have enough to make me a stew.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I just started the car and finished the drive. Dale, on the other hand, had plenty to say. He apparently had a freezer full of roadkill, and was planning to have a barbeque in the near future. He also had a saying, “If it’s round, get it off the ground. If it’s flat, leave it where it’s at.” To that I quickly developed my own saying, “Round or flat, leave it where it’s at.” Not that I was ever tempted to do anything else.
When I dropped Dale off at his home, he invited me to come back for the barbeque in about three weeks. I told him I thought I would be in Chicago.
Well, the three weeks passed, and I forgot to be in Chicago. I stopped in the company store in Fort Worth to talk with the store manager, and the first person I saw was Dale. He was shopping for a new smoker.
“David! I thought you were going to be in Chicago today.”
“I just got back.” Dang! I should have said I was getting ready to go.
“Great. Come on by this evening. I’m smoking up some of the good stuff from my freezer.”
Oh, Me! “Sure, I’ll be there.”
I’ve eaten, or attempted to eat, just about every kind of meat found in North America, but it was taken by hunting with a weapon (think rifle, bow and arrow, shotgun), not a car or truck. For some strange reason, Furry Frisbees have no appeal to me. But I was trapped. There was no way out of this without damaging our friendship.
I drove to Dale’s place hoping to run over some nails and have several flat tires. I checked the gasoline in the car, but the tank was full. I tested the brakes, but they were working just fine. Why did I have to own a reliable car? And the road was dry, not wet and slippery. Where is all the ice and snow when you need it? Basically I drove there without having any problems at all.
Dale answered the door, and we went to his back yard where about twenty people with worried expressions on their faces were sitting around staring at the four smokers. I joined them. But I have to admit the smell was fantastic. One man commented he was “standing in the middle of the road” about this meal.
All too soon Dale announced the smoking was done. He lifted the lid on the first smoker and there was a turkey. A whole turkey. It wasn’t flat, and it wasn’t even lopsided. When he lifted the lid on the second smoker, there were about ten racks of pork ribs. Smokers three and four contained pork loins and beef briskets.
It was as though the entire world breathed a sigh of relief. Suddenly all the worried looks disappeared and meaningful conversation began. Later I asked Dale what happened to the idea of the roadkill barbeque.
“Oh, I wouldn’t do that to my friends. Besides, it always tastes like tire tread.”
Rabbit StewServes 8 to 10.
2 domestic rabbit (or 6 wild cottontails—please, don’t use roadkill)Kosher salt
Olive oil for sauteing
18 white pearl onions, peeled
1 large red onion, sliced
1 small yellow onion, sliced
7 cloves garlic, chopped
12 allspice berries
12 black peppercorns
2 (3-inch) sticks cinnamon
5 bay leaves
1 small sprig fresh rosemary
2 tablespoon dried oregano
8 ounces pitted prunes
1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
¼ cup tomato paste
8 large tomatoes, skinned and chopped, or 2 (14 1/2-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 cup dry red wine
1 cup sweet red wine such as port or Greek Mavrodaphne if you can find it
1 cup chicken stock (if you just happen to have rabbit stock, use it instead)
½ cup red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
Grated kefalotyri cheese
Cut the rabbits into pieces and remove as much meat as possible from the bones. Cube the meat into bite-size pieces. Add to the meat any scraps of meat such as the front legs (with bones), belly trimmings, etc. Salt the meat well and set aside for about ½ hour. Salt the leftover bones and set aside in a separate dish.
Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a skillet or sauté pan and brown the rabbit pieces. As each piece browns, move it to large Dutch oven. After browning the rabbit, saute the onions, adding more olive oil as necessary, for 4-5 minutes over medium-high heat, until they are beginning to brown. Add the garlic and saute for another minute. Sprinkle with a little salt. Do not let the garlic burn. Remove the onions to the Dutch oven along with the rabbit pieces.
Add the rabbit bones to the skillet and sauté until brown. Remove the bones to a platter lined with two layers of cheesecloth. Gather the cloth into a bundle and tie the top. Add this bundle to the Dutch oven. Into another square of cheesecloth, place the allspice berries, peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, and rosemary. Tie into a bundle and add to the Dutch oven. Then add the oregano, prunes, and artichoke hearts to the Dutch oven.
To the skillet used for browning the rabbit and onions, add the wines, wine vinegar, stock, tomato paste and chopped tomatoes. Reduce over high heat for about 5 to 6 minutes, then pour the mixture into the Dutch oven.
Bring the Dutch oven to a simmer. Cover and slowly simmer for about 1 hour before checking for doneness. Then check every 15 to 20 minutes until the meat is almost falling apart.
To serve, remove the two bundles from the Dutch oven and discard. Ladle the stew into bowls, and give each bowl a few grinds of black pepper and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Top with a tablespoon or two of the grated kefalotyri cheese.
Wild cottontails have a little more flavor than the domestic rabbits, but domestic rabbit is more readily available for most people. Whichever you choose, please, don’t go for the interstate edition.