One of my favorite things about living in Ukraine is the easy access to plenty of game meats. And since I especially love rabbit it is wonderful that it is so accessible here at most large grocery stores. When I think comfort food, it’s usually between making a chili or a Ukrainian rabbit stew.
This recipe is actually really easy since most of the work is done by the pot. In fact, I would consider this stew a one pot + one pan meal. It is one of my favorite Ukrainian recipes and was actually taught to me by my grandmother in law who loves to cook rabbit!
Do I Need A Whole Rabbit?
Rabbit is often sold skinned and gutted, but other than that whole. I would say the head is there about 50% of the time. I’ve already made an easy guide for breaking down a rabbit, so if you are doing it at home you can follow that. Or possibly ask your butcher to do it for you.
Don’t throw the carcass away either. There’s still good meat on there and it is perfect for making rabbit stock for risotto. Your rabbit will have four main parts:
- Hind Legs: The rabbit hind legs are the most popular part. They are muscular but flavorful and perfect braised in sauce.
- Front Legs: The front legs of a rabbit are much smaller and tougher than the hind legs. I almost always use them in stews, but if prepared correctly they can be fried just like chicken wings!
- Saddle: The saddle of rabbit is the tenderloin shaped piece of meat that goes down each side of the spine from ribcage base to tail. It can be cooked a variety of ways, but I like to sear it and serve it atop pasta.
- Flap: The flap of a rabbit can be considered the belly meat, although there really isn’t that much of it. It is a thin piece of meat that covers the internal organs and is connected to the saddle. Usually you get two since the rabbit is sliced down the belly to remove the organs when cleaning.
Making Ukrainian Rabbit Stew
The first thing we need to do when making this stew is to brown the meat a bit. Just heat up some butter (or oil) in a pan, pat the meat in some flour, and fry for a couple minutes a side to brown.
I do this in two batches – front and hind legs first, then saddle and flaps. Remember, we aren’t fully cooking the rabbit in this step so it is okay if the center is raw. We only want to brown the outside. Once done place the rabbit pieces in an empty pot.
For the saddle and flap I chop them into bite size pieces and don’t use flour to brown them. You’ll notice the pan and oil looks quite dirty, DO NOT clean the pan or throw anything out. When the meat is done tip it into the pot with the legs.
Add the onion and garlic to the pan and use a wooden spoon to scrape up all the bits stuck to the pan. This is flavor. Cook the onions and garlic just for a few minutes; if you notice the garlic burning then the pan is too hot.
Move the onion and garlic to the pot (I’m using a Dutch oven) and add in some sliced carrots. Add enough water to cover everything and bring to a boil. Add salt and pepper and reduce to a simmer. I suggest keeping the lid on, but if you don’t have a lid then just be sure to add a cup of water now and again if you notice the liquid getting too low.
Let the rabbit stew simmer for around 1.5-2 hours. Next is the key ingredient: smetana. This is a type of extra rich sour cream popular in Eastern Europe. If you cannot find smetana don’t worry, you can substitute with creme fraiche or the highest fat sour cream you can find. Add the smetana to the pot and give it a good stir.
I like to serve my Ukrainian rabbit stew with a side of pasta. It may sound untraditional, but this is actually a common way of serving rabbit stew, at least in the west of Ukraine. I also cut some dill over the top for that herby freshness, but you can use oregano or basil, or any herbs you prefer. If you want to double the carbs you can also add some pampushky on the side!
Ukrainian Rabbit Stew
- 1 Pot or Dutch oven
- 1 Pan
- 1 Rabbit skinned, cleaned, and broken down
- 3 tbsp Butter or oil
- 2 cups Smetana or sour cream
- 2 Carrots peeled and cut into circles
- 3 tbsp Flour more or less, for frying
- 1 Onion diced
- 3 cloves Garlic thinly sliced
- 1 tsp Salt adjust to taste
- Black Pepper to taste
- After breaking down the rabbit (see guide in the link above) begin heating up some butter in a pan. Pat the rabbit pieces with flour on all sides and place in the butter to brown. About 3 minutes, do this in batches so as not to crowd the pan.
- When the meat is browned put it in a pot off to the side.
- Add the onion and garlic directly to the pan and cook for a few minutes to soften everything and release the oils. Tip entire contents of pan into the pot.
- Add enough water to the pot to cover the meat and add in the carrot, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. If you cook with the lid off, check the pot every once in a while to see if you should add some more water. You only need enough to cover all the ingredients.
- After about 2 hours your stew should be cooked. Add in the smetana or sour cream, give a good stir, and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Turn off the heat and serve this rabbit stew over some boiled pasta or by itself.