What to Eat in France: Lapin au Miel et à la Moutarde, or Honey Mustard Rabbit
In the Orléanais and Beauce regions around where I live in Chartres, rabbit is king. They raise them and hunt them as well, eating hare during hunting season. They make distinctions depending on the age and kind of rabbit.
Historically, the French have had a preference for lièvre or hare or lapin de garenne or wild rabbit. Gastronomes like Prosper Montagné considered the flesh of domestic rabbits tasteless and in need of heavy seasoning.
In the late eighteenth century, poor Parisians consumed rabbits regularly. They fed them cabbage leaves and kept the rabbit hutches by their beds.
Domestic rabbit must be eaten young — at 3 to 3 1/2 months old — and is called lapin, while young wild rabbit is called lapereau. Domestic rabbit has white, tender flesh, while the young hares produce firmer meat of which the flavor has more character. It can, however, taste musty. It’s best to check for mustiness before cooking because it can sometimes render it inedible.
Today, the most common recipe is for Lapin à la Moutarde, or rabbit with mustard. This recipe can in fact be made with both honey and/or mustard, giving a classic honey mustard taste to the flesh.
The region has been known for its honey, Miel du Gâtinais, since the Middle Ages, and is a blend of acacia, heather, chestnut and forest honey.
2 T. butter
2 T. cooking oil
3-4 T. whole-grain mustard
2 carrots, chopped
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
2 tsp. thyme
1 leaf of laurel
3 1/3 c. dry white wine, preferably from Loire
3-4 T. thick cream or crème fraîche
3 T. honey
- Cut rabbit into pieces.
- Melt butter in oil in a large stewpot.
- Coat rabbit pieces with mustard and brown well on all sides.
- Half-way through, add carrots, onions, garlic, salt, pepper, thyme and laurel and continue to cook.
- Add wine and simmer until cooked, turning from time to time. This should take about 45 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. Check cooking time as you would for chicken on the bone.
- Remove rabbit and cover to keep it warm.
- Strain the broth from the rabbit and pour it back into the stewpot. Boil until it reduces by half.
- Lower heat. Add 3-4 T cream, depending on how rich you want your sauce to be. Mix with a wooden spoon or spatula.
- Once cream is incorporated and the sauce is smooth, add honey and stir just until it melts.
- Pour this sauce into a sauce boat.
- Serve rabbit pieces with sauce.
Note: Be careful to add the honey only at the end. Otherwise, it might burn and stick to the pan. In this region, they use Miel du Gâtinais for this recipe, but any of the types of honey listed above can be used. Steamed potatoes or tagliatelle are a perfect accompaniment; they soak up the sauce. Pearl onions can be substituted for the large onions.
I grew up on Wendell Berry and food straight from a backyard Kentucky garden. I live in France and Switzerland, and am a freelance writer specializing in French cuisine. I attended Le Cordon Bleu and La Varenne cooking schools in Paris and the Académie du Vin, worked for the GaultMillau restaurant guide and CityGuides in France and Paris and for Gannett Company in the U.S., and collaborated on Le tour du monde en 80 pains / Around the World with 80 Breads with Jean-Philippe de Tonnac in France; André Raboud, Sculptures 2002-2009 in Switzerland; Ma Cuisine Méditerranéenne with Christophe Certain in France; At the Table: Food and Family around the World with Ken Albala, and a biography of French chef Pierre Gagnaire. I ran a cooking school in France, and owned a farm-to-table restaurant, The Three Sisters’ Café, with my two sisters in the U.S. I organize the Taste Unlocked bespoke food and wine tasting awareness workshops with James Flewellen, am an active member of Slow Food, and run the food writing website The Rambling Epicure (theramblingepicure.com). My work has been published in numerous international publications and I have been interviewed on international public radio in France, Switzerland, and the U.S. I just signed on at In Search of Taste, a British print publication, and am now working on two books, The French and What They Eat and What to Eat in Venice.