Rabbit & Andouille Sausage Gumbo -- Try This Recipe with Your Next Batch of Cottontails
Few types of hunting are more enjoyable and entertaining than rabbit hunting with a pack of incredible short-legged beagles. The little dogs diligently snuffle every square inch of ground until they pick up the scent, then urgently sound off, telling their pack mates, “Get on over here and help me give chase.”
We had a couple excellent rabbit hunts this year, including one at Monquin Creek Outfitters, after the Virginia deer season ended. Cool mornings, working fields and overgrown productive edge habitat yielded a bounty of bunnies. Some of us, including Colton Josselyn and I used shotguns (including my Mossberg Silver Reserve over/under in 28 gauge), but Frank Spuchesi, the beagles’ owner and his regular rabbit-hunting partner Roger Summers like to ratchet up the degree of difficulty. They use .22 lever-action rifles. Spuchesi was toting a new Henry lever-action classic while Summers had a well-broken-in Winchester. They like the fact that a .22 leaves no fine shot to be removed from the rabbit meat.
Meat from a wild cottontail is typically very mild and cooked carefully it can be delicate and tender. We seasoned the rabbit and then cooked it first in an Instant Pot pressure cooker. This helped the meat get delectably tender with the residual liquid becoming part of the base for a fantastic Rabbit and Andouille Sausage Gumbo. Whoo-wee! Man, I wanna tell you, this gumbo, dat’s a winner -- sumpthin’ that gonna make you lick clean da whole pot.
Exact quantities are not that critical in many Cajun-style dishes. Just be in the ballpark. Always adjust the seasonings to your taste. Prep and assemble ingredients before beginning the roux. If you don’t have “Better than Bouillon” jarred paste, you can use half water and half chicken stock. Or you can use both like we did – it’ll simply enrich the flavor. Creole Potato Salad is like traditional potato salad, but the additions are finely chopped and the potatoes a little more mashed, with Creole mustard and seasonings added.
Here’s how you can make it, along with a side dish of Creole Potato Salad:
For the rabbit and broth:
4 pounds rabbit pieces on the bone
½ large onion, unpeeled and cut into 2 or 3 large chunks
2 carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 rib celery, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 big bay leaf
2 quarts of water and chicken stock (50/50 mix)
2 or 3 teaspoons Better than Bouillon
½ teaspoon black pepper
For the gumbo:
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup flour
2 cups chopped onion
½ cup chopped green pepper
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
½ cup chopped celery
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 pound Andouille sausage (can substitute any smoked sausage but if won’t have Andouille’s kick)
2 teaspoons creole seasonings
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Broth and rabbit previously prepared
Salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper and/or hot sauce to taste
3 tablespoons filé powder (sassafras)
Cooked white rice and/or Creole potato salad
Additional green onion or parsley for garnish
Brine the skinned, cleaned and jointed rabbit in a salt/brine solution for at least 4 hours, or up to 24 hours. (Don’t use a lot of seasoning other than salt in the brine because the gumbo has plenty.) You could also use Hi Mountain Seasonings Game Bird and Poultry Brine. This has a little brown sugar and maple syrup that helps sweeten the meat.
Drain and pat dry. Put the rabbit and all broth ingredients into the pressure cooker and cook for 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool, remove meat and strip off the bone. Thoroughly strain the broth. Set aside to cool. You can add some or all of the vegetables used to make the broth to the pot of gumbo later as it simmers (if desired).
Make a roux (equal parts of fat and flour, slowly cooked to a consistency that can be stirred). Add oil to a large Dutch oven and then, over medium heat, slowly add the flour, constantly stirring to ensure no lumps. Keep stirring. The mixture will steadily darken. When you get a shade of brown slighter lighter than peanut butter, the roux is finished. Do not let the roux scorch. If necessary, reduce the heat to medium low. A good roux is essential to a good gumbo.
Add the chopped vegetables and cook, stirring often, for 6 or 7 minutes until they vegetables start to soften. Next, add the sausage and seasonings, and cook another 4 or 5 minutes – keep stirring! Now, slowly stir in the reserved, cooled broth that you made when cooking the rabbit. Bring everything to a simmer and cook uncovered about an hour. Stir occasionally. If any foam or excess oil rises, skim it off. The gumbo should start to thicken slightly. Taste and add salt and peppers as desired. Cook another 15 minutes and add the rabbit. Reduce heat to minimal setting and cook another 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and make any final seasoning adjustments.
Remove from heat and stir in the filé powder. This helps thicken the gumbo a little. You can also add a small amount of filé to your bowl as you serve the gumbo. Serve over white rice or Creole potato salad, garnishing as desired.
Creole Potato Salad
Note – when served under gumbo, pimento is usually not included. Best to make while the potatoes are still warm, and then refrigerate for at least 45 minutes. Start cooking the potatoes in cold water.
6 cups gold potatoes, boiled, peeled and cubed
½ to 1 ½ cups mayonnaise, based on your preferred wetness
2 teaspoons Creole mustard (can use Dijon)
½ cup celery, finely chopped
2 or 3 hardboiled eggs, finely chopped
¼ cup green onion, finely chopped
¼ to ½ teaspoon Creole seasoning to taste
white pepper to taste
salt to taste
¼ cup pimento strips, well drained and chopped – optional
¼ cup bacon pieces – optional
Combine all ingredients, stirring well and slightly mashing the potatoes. You can start with ½ cup mayonnaise and add until you get the consistency you prefer. This dish is often a cross between traditional chunky potato salad and mashed potatoes.
Here's to a great hunting crew in 2021! Let's get some more next year...