Baked Rabbit Crown with Letcho
Rabbit loins are Frenched and coiled into crowns, their bones standing up in a circle around the top of the meat. They are served with letchko, a traditional Hungarian vegetable dish similar to ratatouille, and tournéed potatoes. The onions for the letchko should not be browned, but they are more than just sweated in the oil; one of the secrets of Hungarian cooking is the care taken to cook down the onions without browning them.
One important key to the beautiful presentation of this dish is the iron cylinder used by the chef to reach down inside the crown of bones and sear the tops of the coiled loins. Without such a device the top can’t be reached to be browned. Chef Kalla’s cylinder is a cast iron piece about 3 inches in diameter by 3 inches tall; he lets it heat on top of his stove for 30 minutes before using it. One at a time, he turns the rabbit crowns upside down and fits them down over the cylinder; a quick sizzle and they’re browned. Look for a similar cast iron piece at hardware or ironworks places. Or, try using a salamander.
- Rabbit loin with bones - 1 pounds (4 pieces)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Fresh chopped rosemary - 2 teaspoons
- Stiff rosemary twigs - 4 large, leaves on
- Canola oil - 3 tablespoons
- Canola oil - 1 tablespoon
- Bacon - 2 strips, finely chopped
- Onion - 1 small, finely chopped
- Hungarian sweet paprika - 1 tablespoon
- Water - 1/2 cup, divided
- Tomato - 1 large, skinned, seeded, and diced
- White or green bell pepper - 1 large, diced
- Hungarian sausage - 4 ounces, any type, diced
- Salt to taste
- Hungarian hot pepper - 1 small
- Potatoes - 4 large
- Unsalted Butter - 2 tablespoons
- Salt to taste
- Parsley Leaves - 4, minced
- Red Bell Pepper - 1/2, seeded and deribbed
- Green Bell Pepper - 1/2, seeded and deribbed
- Rosemary Sprigs - 4
To prepare the rabbit: Heat the heavy cast iron cylinder like the one described above on a cooktop or in an oven set at the highest setting. The length of time it heats will depend on the thickness of the iron; a cylinder 3 inches in diameter by 3 inches tall will take about half an hour.
Spread one rabbit loin on a work surface, bones up, belly side away from you. French the ribs: scrape the surface of the bones to clean them down to the bare bone, leaving them attached at the backbone end. Lift the belly ends of the bones away from the meat and scrape them down to free them, pressing the meat downward toward the loin. Turn the loin over and trim away the silverskin and thin belly meat. Turn it back over and season to taste with salt, pepper, and minced rosemary. Fold the end without bones lengthwise over itself, then begin coiling the meat, starting with this boneless end and ending with the bone end. Fasten with a rosemary twig. The bones will stand up to form the crown. Repeat with the remaining loins.
To prepare the letchko: Render the fat from the diced bacon in a medium saute pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the diced onion and toss to coat. Reduce the heat to medium and slowly cook the onions, stirring constantly and gently in a folding motion. Remove from the heat and stir in the paprika. Add 1/4 cup of the water to keep the paprika from burning and stir to blend. Stir in the tomato and bell pepper. When they have begun to cook, stir in the sausage. Season with salt. Tear small pieces from the Hungarian pepper and add to taste; these small peppers are very hot, so begin with just a few pieces. Reduce the heat to low and let cook 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
To finish the rabbit: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Heat the oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. One at a time, press the tops of the rabbit crowns onto the hot cast iron cylinder, browning them, then place the crowns on their bases in the skillet. Cook until browned, then place the skillet in the oven and finish cooking the meat for about 10 minutes for medium-rare. Remove from heat and let rest for 5 minutes.
To prepare the potatoes: Tournée the potatoes: peel each potato and carve into small football shapes. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil and add the potatoes. Check at 10 to 12 minutes; when tender, remove from heat and drain. Keep warm.
To prepare the garnish: Cut the peppers into 1/2-inch-wide strips, then cut diagonally to create diamond shapes.
To serve: Stir the remaining 1/4 cup of water into the letchko and remove from heat. Add the butter to the drained potatoes and let melt. Season to taste with salt and add the parsley; toss. Place a small mound of letchko in the center of each warmed serving plate. Place 5 tournéed potatoes in a star pattern around the letchko. Set a rabbit crown on each mound of letchko, and stand a sprig of rosemary in each. Garnish the plates with red and green pepper diamonds.