Lapin, Moutarde, Panais, Miam


When it comes right down to it, I don’t feel that I have permission to mess with such a time-honored recipe as lapin à la moutarde.  But recently I had some of the iconic rabbit in mustard sauce at a local café and thought, heresy though it seemed, that I could do better at home.

I got some gorgeous rabbit legs from the butcher, something I don’t do often enough, although I don’t know why not.  There’s no skin to mess with, no fat to speak of,  and it makes a lovely, presentable portion.  Oh right, now I remember.  It’s bland.  Farmed rabbit is sometimes said to “taste like chicken,” but in truth, chicken is a lot more flavorful.  What rabbit does really well is lend itself to saucery, melding beautifully with the flavors of your choice.  And one of the most classic sauces for French rabbit is based on mustard and cream, strong mustard and sweet cream to lighten the assault. 

If you ever studied French using the video series French In Action, as I once did, you might have learned about lapin à la moutarde when Tante Georgette tries to order some, only to learn that the restaurant is out of it.  That’s when she declares, to the general amazement of beginning French students, that mustard is going up her nose, despite the fact that there’s no mustard in sight.  Of course. the expression “la moutarde me monte au nez” doesn’t really mean that you actually have a snootful of mustard, but rather that you’re really losing your cool, something’s really bugging you.  And what was bugging me about the recipes I had for lapin à la moutarde was that none of them looked really mustardy.

I unabashedly adore mustard.  When I travel, mustard and honey are the two products that I like to bring back from foreign places.  I always have several kinds of mustard in the house, but I seldom have really strong mustard.  So, how to make my bunny hop down the mustard trail, using the milder mustards in my cupboard?  No dilution with cream, I decided first.  I’d pretend that this was an informed bit of culinary expertise, but in fact I didn’t have any cream in the house anyway.  And then, something to sweeten the dish a little, as the cream would have, but also soak up as much mustard as possible in the process.  What on earth would that be?

Oh yes, the forgotten vegetable!  In France there’s a class of vegetables called “les légumes oubliés,” those older vegetables that have fallen out of favor in modern times.  And for some reason, this includes the sweetly alluring panais, or parsnip, which is fairly common in the US.  But it’s so out of favor here that several French people to whom I’ve served it didn’t even recognize the word panais, leading me to take a quick trip to the vegetable drawer for a mid-course show and tell. 

So here you go, a really and truly super delicious recipe for lapin à la moutarde, my way.  And if you can’t get rabbit legs, feel free to use chicken thighs, bone in, skin off.  It won’t be exactly the  same, but I’m guessing that it will still be very good, and that your guests will say miam, miam, or yum yum, depending on their inclinations.

Abra’s Lapin à la Moutarde

4 rabbit legs
3/4 cup mustard – I used half Maille mi-fort and half whole grain
2 large parsnips
1 large sweet onion
4 large carrots
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup veal stock – I used fond du veau powder
salt and pepper

Salt and pepper your rabbit and coat thoroughly with the mustard.  Add even more mustard if you like.  Let the rabbit marinate while you prepare the vegetables.

Peel and slice the vegetables.  Steam the parsnip and carrot slices lightly until they just begin to get tender (you can do this in the microwave and it won’t hurt a thing), drain them thoroughly.  Spread the onion slices on the bottom of a baking dish.  Spread the carrots and parsnips over the onions and salt and pepper the vegetables.  Set the rabbit pieces on top of the vegetables, making sure that each piece is completely covered with mustard.

Place the dish in a 220°C/425°F oven, uncovered, for 15 minutes.  Mix the wine and veal stock together and after the 15 minutes have passed, pour them over the vegetables, being careful not to disturb the mustard coating on the rabbit.  Continue baking, basting once or twice,  for another 35-40 minutes, until the rabbit is crisp and deeply golden on top and the vegetables are tender and swimming in a mustardy sauce.  I served this over steamed potatoes, but it would also be miam with polenta.

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6 Comments on “Lapin, Moutarde, Panais, Miam”

  1. Barbara Says:

    My poultry marchand in Chaville sold me some “crepine” to cover the cut up lapin pieces and head, with the mustard coating, but I was almost too upset to eat it since it looked for the world like my cat !

  2. Eden Says:

    Parsnips are sadly out of favor here too, although still findable, and they are one of my favorite root vegetables.

  3. Nancy Says:

    Ah, so it isn’t only the Brits who say “that really gets up my nose”! I get funny looks when I use the expression in the States.

  4. Sylvie Says:

    3/4 cups of mustard for 4 legs of rabbit? yes indeed you do like mustard! I know it mellows out considerably when cooking, and act as a nice crust or thickener when in sauce. Yes, I do like the reading of Abra’s Lapin a la Moutarde!

  5. Alex Says:

    Loved “French in Action”! Really helped me improve my conversational French. Who could forget Mireille!

    Not to be pedantic, but the dish that Tante Georgette tries to order was “Tete de Veau”. When she is told the Bistro is out she is offered Lapin a la Moutarde as a substitute. She points at a man at a nearby table and asks, “Ce Monsieur la, qu’est-ce qu’il mange”? (He’s eating “Tete de Veau”). The waiter apologizes saying it was the last order and again offers the Lapin a la Moutarde. It is at this point Georgette utters the famous phrase.

    I will have to try this recipe just for the nostalgia!

  6. Alex Says:

    “La moutarde, la moutarde! …. il me monte au nez”

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