The French know a thing or two about the perfect braise, so I wasn’t surprised when I tasted the rabbit in cider, Calvados (apple brandy) and cream that my host family served me during my semester abroad in Nantes. If you ever find yourself in France, I highly suggest seeking out this classic dish that finds itself perhaps under the radar of many Americans.
Back stateside, I’ve created my own slightly Americanized version of the dish, making just enough swaps to lighten up the dish and make it weeknight-friendly while also capturing the iconic flavors.
While rabbit is a relatively lean protein choice, I use chicken thighs and legs for the braise simply because they’re readily available, easier to cook perfectly and less expensive, and because my daughters may have freaked out a little about eating a bunny.
Both the French version and mine get most of their apple flavor from hard cider, which is available in many stores near the sparkling wines. If you can’t get your hands on hard cider, use half white wine and half regular cider instead. We like using sparkling apple cider — the kind that mimics nonalcoholic champagne.
In a somewhat bold move, I completely omit two classic ingredients: cream and apple brandy. The cream, while luscious, added a ton of fat grams and actually muted the other ingredients. While I certainly love an occasional creamy sauce, the main flavors of the dish are more pronounced without the cream.
Without fatty cream, the brandy became almost too strong. Leaving out an expensive ingredient that I don’t often use is always my preference as long as its presence won’t be overly missed. It wasn’t missed at our house. I use unpeeled pears instead of apples because I like the texture of their peels after braising, but certainly some tart Granny Smiths would feel right at home. A tiny bit of smoky bacon and a hefty dose of sweet, caramelized onions round out the dish, and make it a bright, slightly sweet braise that you can make in under an hour anytime of the year.
Food Network star Melissa d’Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook "Supermarket Healthy."