Spring Lamb Stew/ Rabbit in Savoury Chocolate Sauce. Happy Easter!

I am the sort of person who has dishes that I like to make every year for holiday meals and Easter is no exception.  I like to make Lamb and Bunny.  However, the dishes that I like to make with Lamb and Bunny are a bit expensive and very involved, and I have been unable to pull of the full on celebration for the last many years.   So, today will be the first time that I will be serving my favourite Easter dishes in a long time and I am very excited!

These recipes are from the Silver Palate Cookbooks, which I think have the very best recipes for celebratory food.  As I mentioned, they are a bit involved to make, but well worth the trouble!  I started making the meat stock for the sauces on Friday and I am finished the meat a full day in advance so that I can spend today baking and cleaning the house before people come over.

Lamb Navarin is a very traditional French lamb stew associated with the Spring that usually involved (and is named for) turnips.  The Silver Palate version is not traditional at all.  It doesn’t even use any turnips!   This recipe includes light, tart flavours like red currant jelly in the sauce and snow peas for color and crunch.  If you don’t like snow peas, English peas, asparagus or green beans would all be equally delicious and beautiful.  I kind of wanted to add turnips this time, but I could not find any little ones and I don’t care for the flavour of big old turnips, so I left  them out.  The balance of flavours in this sauce is just perfect in my opinion.  Some of the ingredients may seem a bit fussy and particular….why red current jelly?  Does it have to be potato starch?  Is sherry vinegar necessary?  Here’s the thing, this dish takes a long time to make and, in my opinion, is a bit expensive.  So, if you are going to do it I highly recommend making this perfect sauce as its written.  It will be worth it!

My friends call the rabbit dish “Chocolate Bunny” because the sauce has chocolate in it…but it is more of a not-so-secret ingredient than an up front flavour in this dish.  The sauce also includes lemon zest, currents, pine nuts and rosemary!  It is in an odd combination on paper, but it all comes together beautifully.  This is absolutely my favourite way to prepare rabbit.

You will need  a good rich beef stock for both of these dishes.  I will include a recipe for making beef stock from scratch here.  Making beef stock is very, very time consuming.  Do it in advance of the day that you plan to cook your meat.  If you have access to a gourmet shop you might decide to buy ready-made rich beef stock.  I personally find the cost of these dishes more daunting than the amount of time they take to make so I make the stock from scratch with free marrow bones that I get from my butcher.

I like to serve these Easter meat dishes with simple steamed spring vegetables, lemon rice pilaf, gluten-free herb and goat cheese popovers and a chocolate hazelnut cake.  One year I also made carrot soup, a spring vegetable pot pie and hot cross buns…but as I recall, this was too much food.  This year I am  going to serve a composed bird’s nest salad inspired by the Rosolje beet salad that my Estonian grandmother used to make.


barely adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook

  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 3 pounds boned lamb cut into 1 inch chunks for stew
  • 18 medium-sized pearl onions (I use a bit more)
  • 3/4 lb trimmed snow peas (I used a pound)
  • 1/2 cup cognac
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons potato starch
  • 2 Tablespoons red currant jelly
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cups rich beef stock (recipe below)
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 medium-sized yellow onion, peeled and sliced
  • 4 carrots peeled and sliced into 1 inch slices (I never peel the carrots)
  • 5 garlic cloves peeled and crushed
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley (plus more for garnish)
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary (I have 1 Tablespoon of fresh on occasion and its fine)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme (I have 1 Tablespoon of fresh on occasion and its fine)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  1. In a large heavy skillet, heat the olive oil and butter in a skillet.  Brown the meat in small batches on all sides.  I use very high heat and fill the pan in a single layer, because I am an impatient person.  The silver palate suggest doing them a few pieces at a time over medium heat.  Transfer each piece as it browns  to a deep medium-sized casserole, using a slotted spoon.
  2. Bring 2 quarts of salted water to a boil.  I bought peeled pearl onions (again with the impatience) but assuming that yours are not peeled, you will need to score the root end of each onion with an x and then drop them into the boiling water for 10 minutes.  Remove the onions with a slotted spoon and peel them.  If you have bought peeled onions just boil them for 10 minutes.
  3. Drop the snow peas into the boiling water for one minute, then remove them and drop in icy cold water to prevent over cooking.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  5. When all of the lamb is browned, drain the oil off of the skillet.  Put all of the lamb back in the skillet and place it on very low heat.
  6. Heat the cognac in a small sauce pan and then pour it into the skillet with the lamb.  The Silver Palate instructs to light the cognac on fire with a match and let it flame for 30 seconds.  I am too chicken to do this on purpose, although I did do by accident once (just from a neighboring flame on the stove).  The result was a huge burned spot in the untiled wall next to the stove.  My current kitchen is larger than that one was, but everything is still close enough to catch fire.  So, I just let the cognac reduce by half.  Whichever method you choose, remove the lamb to the deep casserole dish once again using a slotted spoon when you are done.
  7. Add the vinegar, potato starch, current jelly, tomato paste, beef stock and red wine to the skillet and stir well.  Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil, stirring constantly for 5 minutes.  You will have a silky sauce with a gorgeous  reddish-brown color.
  8. Add the sliced onion, carrots, garlic, parsley, rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper and bay leaf to the deep casserole with the lamb.  Pour the sauce over the whole thing, stir well and cover.
  9. Bake covered for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Uncover and bake for 15 minutes more.  This much can be done a day in advance is you wish.
  10. Before serving gently reheat (if you made it in advance) and the toss in the snow peas and pearl onion.  Serve garnished with fresh parsley.

Lamb Navarin (above)

Ingredients for Chocolate Bunny (below)


adapted from The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook

  • 1 rabbit (3 and 1/2  pounds), cut into 8 pieces
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 8 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons red wine
  • 4 Tablespoons butter
  • 4 medium-sized leeks, cut in half lengthwise, rinsed and chopped
  • 1/4 cup prosciutto chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  •  1 teaspoon dried rosemary (I sometimes use  1 Tablespoon fresh and it works fine)
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 and 1/3 cup rich beef stock (recipe below)
  • 3 Tablespoons  finely grated bittersweet chocolate (sometimes I add more)
  • 1/4 cup dried currants
  •  1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (I used the zest of one medium-sized lemon)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  1. A full day or several hours ahead, rinse the rabbit pieces and pat them dry.  Coat the rabbit with all of the oil, 2 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar and 2 Tablespoons red wine.  Let the rabbit marinate in the fridge over night or at room temperature for at least 4 hours.
  2. Drain the rabbit and let the rabbit come to room temperature if you have refrigerated it.  This is important!  Don’t try to brown cold meat!
  3. Heat the butter in a very large, heavy bottomed dutch oven.  I usually double the recipe, so I use two big dutch ovens and a large skillet so that I have enough room to brown all of the meat in one layer.  If you are making just one recipe, you will probably want to spread out between one large skillet and one large dutch oven.  I let the butter get very hot and then I place the rabbit pieces in a single layer.  By the time I’ve layered them all in, the first ones have already browned, so I go back and flip them to brown the second side.  By then the oil has cooled a bit, so I let the rabbit brown on the second side for about 5 minutes.  While the second sides are browning, I add the prosciutto so that it can crisp up a bit.
  4. After 5 minutes I add the leeks.  I cook them for 5 minutes and give them one stir half way through.
  5. When the leeks have wilted a bit, move all of the rabbit pieces and leeks from the skillet into the dutch oven(s).  Add the  remaining 6 Tablespoons of vinegar, 1/4 cup wine and the sugar to the skillet that you have just emptied and use it it to deglaze the browned bits from the bottom.  Do not let the sauce reduce though, when it is warm pour it over the rabbit in the dutch oven(s).
  6.  Add the rosemary, salt, pepper and stock.  Cover and simmer until the rabbit is tender (45 minutes to 1 hour).
  7. While the rabbit is simmering, toast the pine nuts over very low heat in a small skillet until they are golden brown.
  8. When the rabbit is tender, stir in the chocolate, currants and lemon zest and simmer for 10 more minutes.
  9. Remove the rabbit to a serving platter and keep warm.  Heat the sauce to boiling.  Reduce the heat to and simmer until thickened.   Taste the sauce and add more chocolate or vinegar to get the balance of sweet and tart right.
  10. Pour the sauce over the rabbit, sprinkle with pine nuts and serve.


This is not an exact science.  You can vary the amounts or leave off certain ingredients if you like.

  • 6 to 8 pounds meaty beef bones cut so that the marrow is available
  • About 4 cups roughly chopped onions
  • About 3 cup carrots
  • 1 or 2 leeks rinsed and chopped
  • 2 parsnips and or turnips
  • 1 knob of peeled fresh ginger root
  • 2 or 3 ribs of celery
  • 3 Tablespoons salt
  • 1 or 2 Tablespoons dry thyme
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 6 cloves
  • 12 peppercorns
  • 6 parsley sprigs
  • water to cover
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Spread the beef bones in a single layer across two baking sheets with high sides and bake for 1 and 1/2 hours turning occasionally.  You may need to drain the rendered fat occasionally.  Set about a half cup of the rendered fat aside.
  3. Heat 1/2 cup of the rendered fat in a very large stock pot.  Add the vegetables and brown them in the oil, stirring often for about 25 minutes.
  4. Add the browned bones and the remaining ingredients to the stock pot along with enough water to cover.
  5. Drain all of the oil out of the baking dishes and then use a cup or two of the hot water from the stock to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pans and add them to the stock pot.
  6. When the stock reaches a boil, reduce it to a simmer, partially cover and cook for 4 hours.  You should occasionally skim fat and scum off the surface and discard it.
  7. After four hours, allow the stock to cool with the lid still partially on.  Fish the bones out and make sure that all of the marrow is scooped out into the stock.  Discard the bones.  Strain the stock.  I strain it once through a colander and then again through a mesh sieve.
  8. Taste your stock.  If it tastes like a nice broth for a noodle soup, it is not concentrated enough to use for stews.  Return it to the pot and boil it down until it is a bit thick and too strong in flavour for soup.  This recipe should make enough for one batch of lamb stew and a double recipe of chocolate bunny.


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