Roasted Rabbit Legs with a Spicy Prickly Pear Sauce

Wild Rabbit and Prickly Pear Sauce

Contributed by Editor-in-Chief J. Townsend

I sent a text to my wife, “Let’s drop everything this weekend, throw the air mattress in the back of the Jeep, and cruise up the Eastern side of the Sierras for an epic adventure.” I patiently waited for a response…waited… and waited for what seemed like hours but was really just a few minutes. She responded, “Sure”. That was not quite the enthusiastic response which I had expected but then again my wife was slowly growing into being outdoors and camping so that was a good sign. We also had our two year old, Zoe Kathryn, to take with us as well. Like I said…epic.

The Eastern Sierras and the Alabama Hills all seen from our campsite
The Eastern Sierras and the Alabama Hills all seen from our campsite

Four hours from home and we found ourselves pulling into the quaint town of Lone Pine, CA which is just south of Bishop, CA. Lone Pine sits at the base of the Eastern Sierras. The landscape around the town, including the famed Alabama Hills, have been the back drop for many movies, mostly Westerns, dating back to the 1930s.

Once we got checked into our camping site we headed to the county lake for a couple of hours’ worth of fishing. The nearest lake to town is Lake Diaz which holds rainbow trout, small mouth bass, and carp. Unfortunately for us, the area got some rain the day before and the water was extremely muddy. We ran out of time before we could land a fish. Zoe did show some interest in fishing and the lures. She tried to reel but her coordination is still developing so she ended up losing interest quickly.

Zoe determined to catch fish
Zoe determined to catch fish

From the Lake we headed back towards our campsite which was nestled in the middle of a large tract of BLM land. This area was really nothing but high desert scattered with cactus, brush, and rocks. Perfect for rabbits. We parked in an unoccupied area of the land, I grabbed my shotgun, and set off on foot. My plan was to cross a dry creek bed then walk out for about ¼ of a mile and then circle back towards the Jeep where my wife and Zoe were waiting.

I was no more than 100 yards past the creek bed when I jumped up the jack rabbit. He held tight hidden behind a bush until the last instant. I could have reached out and grabbed him. Boom… he took off running from behind the bush. It is always surprising how noisy a rabbit can be in comparison to their size. I raised my shotgun and fired but missed…forgot to lead. I tracked the rabbit with my gun, chambered another round, and let it rip. The rabbit rolled forward in his tracks and ceased to move.

High Desert Jack Rabbit
High Desert Jack Rabbit

I walked over to the rabbit and said a quiet thanks for his sacrifice. This meat would feed my family and I was always taught to show appreciation and respect to the animal. I picked him up and began my trek back to the Jeep as the sun began to dip behind the mountains at my back. While walking I began to think about the meal I would prepare with the meat. I looked at my surroundings to find inspiration.

Long ago I was studying the memoir of Marco Pierre White who was one of the original famed chefs… long before Emeril or Bobby Flay. Marco Pierre White is much more intense and admirable. Marco Pierre White always said to pair wild animals with a food that they eat. This will help blend the natural flavors from within the meat. This concept is something I have always tried to follow as I develop recipes and it has never let me down.

As I walked in the desert I scanned my immediate vacinity to see what this rabbit would have normally eaten. I know that in drought, similar to the one we are in, rabbits will often eat the base of the napoles cactus to obtain both nutrients and moisture. I noticed that there were several reddish purple fruits attached to the napoles cactus pads. This delicious fruits are most commonly called prickly pears and they have some amazing culinary uses. Once such use is a sauce to coat the roasted rabbit legs I am showing you today.

Garlic Sage Brine

Ingredients:

6 cups of water

1 tablespoon Fresh Sage, Minced

1 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes

6 Garlic Cloves, smashed

6 tablespoons Salt (non-iodized)

Preparation:

  1. Bring all of the ingredients to a boil in a medium sauce pan
  2. Simmer for 2-3 minutes
  3. Remove from fire and allow to cool
  4. Soak the cleaned rabbit quarters (1 hour for each 1 lbs of meat)

Prickly Pear Sauce

Ingredients:

Please be mindful of the small hair-like thorns even though most stores clean them off prior to selling. If you harvest them from the wild then they should be removed before cleaning.

8 Red Prickly Pears, skinned

1 tablespoon of Lime or Lemon juice

1 teaspoon Chili Powder

½ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

1 teaspoon Salt

1 tablespoon Honey

Preparation:

  1. Puree the Prickly Pears in a food processor. You will have to strain out the seeds from the juice. Discard the seeds.
  2. Place the juice in a medium pot over medium heat
  3. Mix in the Lime Juice, Chili Powder, Cayenne, and Salt
  4. Reduce the juice by half.

Roasted Rabbit Legs

Ingredients:

4 Rabbit Quarters

1 tablespoon Olive Oil

1 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

1 teaspoon Salt

1 teaspoon Dried Sage

1 teaspoon Garlic Powder

¼ cup White Wine

Preparation:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees
  2. Remove the rabbit legs from the brine and rinse well with water
  3. In a large mixing bowl, toss the rabbit legs in olive oil and then season with the salt, ground black pepper, garlic powder, and sage.
  4. Place the legs in a glass baking dish and add the white wine
  5. Cover the pan with Aluminum Foil
  6. Bake for 40 minutes covered and then an additional 20 minutes uncovered.
  7. Remove the legs from the pan
  8. Coat the legs with the Prickly Pear Sauce

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