Hunt, Then Gather

A Classic Cajun-Country Stew

Inspired by his father, chef Jean-Paul Bourgeois shares his recipe for rabbit sauce piquante

photo: Johnny autry | Food Styling by Charlotte Autry


It’s not the aroma or the flavor of rabbit sauce piquante (“pee-quohn”) that Jean-Paul Bourgeois recalls as his first food memory; it’s the experience of watching his father, Lloyd, cook a big vat of the spicy, roux-thickened tomato-based stew at the St. Philomena Parish fair. “What I remember the most is seeing a community of five thousand people come together and get so excited for a cook-off. And not only that, but seeing my dad so excited to cook—not because of the competition, but because he loves feeding people, just as I do.”

That love led Bourgeois to study at Louisiana’s Chef John Folse Culinary Institute, then drove him to New York City, to helm the kitchen (and the pits) at Blue Smoke, Danny Meyer’s pan-Southern barbecue restaurant. Bourgeois earned Blue Smoke some of its best reviews before departing earlier this year to, as he says, get back to the “purity of feeding people, not thinking about seat numbers,” at pop-ups and guest-chef stints around the country.

When he was a child in Labadieville and Thibodaux, Louisiana, squirrels were Bourgeois’s first quarry, pursued through the oak and pecan trees. Rabbits came next, run by beagles through sugarcane fields. “I was incredibly fortunate to grow up and—I mean this in every sense of the words—to live off the land,” he says. “We ate out of the freezer three or four nights of the week, whether that was perch and catfish I caught from Bayou Lafourche or ducks or rabbits that my dad would sometimes trade for redfish or wild hog.”

Sauce piquante can be made with any kind of meat, from squirrel to alligator. It simmers slowly, the broth thickened with roux. (“It’s an ongoing joke in Louisiana cooking that ‘first you make a roux,’” Bourgeois says, laughing.) That slow simmer is key, especially when working with rabbit. “You don’t want to disturb the rabbit too much,” he says. “The meat should be almost—but not quite—falling off the bones.” Fish the pieces out of the sauce and gently pull the meat apart before returning it to the pot and serving. 


Ingredients

  • Yield: 8–12 servings

    • 1 cup plus 1–2 tbsp. vegetable oil

    • 1 cup all-purpose flour

    • 2–4 rabbits, cut into serving pieces

    • 2–3 onions, chopped

    • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped

    • 1–2 ribs celery, finely chopped

    • 8 cloves garlic, finely chopped

    • 2 (8-oz.) cans tomato sauce

    • 1 (6-oz.) can tomato paste

    • 1 (28-oz.) can whole tomatoes

    • 3 ripe tomatoes, chopped

    • 4 cups chicken stock

    • 1 lb. sliced mushrooms

    • 1 (13-oz.) jar queen olives, drained and sliced

    • 1 (16-oz.) jar pearl onions in brine (cocktail onions), drained

    • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper

    • Salt, to taste

    • Freshly ground black pepper,

    • Tabasco sauce, to taste


Preparation

  1. Place a large Dutch oven or stockpot over medium heat and pour in 1 cup oil. Once oil is heated, add flour and cook, stirring often, until it takes on a chocolaty color (about 30–40 minutes), lowering heat if it’s cooking too fast. (“Once you burn a roux, you have to start over, so go slow,” Bourgeois advises.)

  2. Season rabbit with salt and pepper. In a skillet, heat remaining oil over medium-high, and brown the rabbit pieces, working in batches. Set the rabbit aside.

  3. Add onions, bell pepper, celery, and garlic to roux and sauté on medium heat until tender (about 20 minutes). Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, whole tomatoes, ripe tomatoes, and chicken stock, stirring to blend and breaking up the whole tomatoes with the spoon. Simmer for 1 hour, uncovered, on medium-low heat. Check seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste.

  4. Add rabbit meat and any collected juices, mushrooms, olives, pearl onions, and cayenne. Stir and simmer for 2 hours, covered, until the meat is tender, stirring occasionally but taking care not to disturb the rabbit pieces. (“The more you disturb it, the more it’s going to break apart, and the bones are going to come loose,” Bourgeois explains. “Use a flat-edged wooden spatula, and gently rub the bottom of the pot so it doesn’t scorch.”) Using a slotted spoon, carefully remove the pieces of cooked rabbit, and separate the meat from the bones (discard bones). Return the meat to the pot.

  5. Add salt, black pepper, and Tabasco to taste before serving. Serve over rice or spaghetti.


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