It is easier to think of rabbit butchering day as pate-making day.
I’ve been raising rabbits in my Oakland backyard for the past two years. I have a small herd with three breeding does and one buck. I mate the does about three times a year. After a doe is weaned from her new litter, I let her rest a while and then mate her again. This means that about every six to eight weeks, it’s time to butcher. At best, the act of butchering is meditative. At worst, grim. But one of its great rewards is eating some portion of the animal I’ve just killed, as soon as I can. That fresh meat has something special in it, some lingering energy. When I eat it, the world seems cleaner, like it’s just been washed by rain.
But not all the meat is ready to eat immediately. After the carcass has been soaking for a few hours in water to ensure that the rabbit has been thoroughly bled, the meat’s pretty stiff. The legs stick straight up, and the back doesn’t bend. So it’s best to let it rest in the fridge in a dish, giving the muscles a chance to relax. Two days suffice. If you cook it sooner, the meat lacks suppleness.
The fresh meat has something special in it, some lingering energy. When I eat it, the world seems cleaner, like it’s just been washed by rain.
Which means one of the only parts of the animal I cook right away is the liver. I make pate because it’s easy and fast, and I’m tired after I’ve been butchering, and it tastes best.
Before I make pate, the butchering area has to have been cleared and cleaned; the other organs of the rabbit have been fed to Inge, my roommate’s dog, or stored; the rest of the innards buried; the fur rinsed lightly of blood and frozen for future tanning. The vegetable garden has to have been fed with the rinse water from cleaning the carcass, and I’ve showered, and gotten the scent of the raw meat off of me, so that I can feed the rabbits that are still living in the backyard garden without freaking them out with my smell.
Then I get to cook and eat, which makes me forget my tiredness, the physical and emotional stress of having killed an animal or a series of animals. I’m eating in gratitude because I’ve worked quite hard to get to this point.
I use my friend Kristin’s recipe. She’s a former cook at Camino, a restaurant in Oakland where they make their own vinegar, cocktail bitters and charcuterie. Rustic is akin to purity there. Now she’s a farmer, with hands that shine like graphite from the clay-rich soil. Standing in a field, leaning on a hoop hoe, she told me the recipe. No measurements.
“Salt the liver, then sear it in a hot sauté pan with butter. Set it aside and add more butter to the pan, and put in some shallot. Hit the pan with cognac, or port, or sherry, and scrape up all the brown bits. Then put it all on a chopping board and chop it finely. You can use a bench scraper to smush it down.” And she used her hands to mimic smushing.
It didn’t sound like a recipe, and well, she doesn’t really like recipes. But I tried it and it worked.
I’m proud of my pate. I’ve had dinner guests sneak over to the kitchen to eat whatever’s left of it — after dessert. And when I butcher for friends I always ask if they’re going to do anything with the liver, because if not, well, I can definitely eat it. It doesn’t look like much, just pink brown mush, but it’s quite rich, the alcohol lending a caramel sweetness that rounds out the mild, savory flavor of the liver. In France, it’s served on toast, with mustard and cornichons, but crackers or bread will do.