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Key Ingredient: Rabbit lungs

Cooking with rabbit lungs takes Jeffrey Hedin of Leopold's breath away.

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The Chef: Jeffrey Hedin (Leopold)

The challenger: Justin White (Small Bar)

The ingredient: Rabbit Lungs

Jeffrey Hedin regularly works with whole rabbits at Leopold, but they arrive with the lungs already removed—which meant he had some trouble sourcing rabbit lungs. He's not entirely sure why they're usually taken out, but said, "it's probably just something that the inspector would rather not have in there."

So where did he get them? "I know a guy," Hedin joked. "There's half a dozen rabbits running around back there without lungs."

Chef Jeffrey Hedin - JULIA THIEL

Rabbit lungs aren't commonly used in cooking, Hedin found. "There's one old German soup that I found that had rabbit lung. That was about all." He seared one just to see what it tasted like, and described it as minerally, somewhat similar to liver. "It's almost like you overroasted a shiitake mushroom. A little bitter on the finish; it had some umami, that meaty kind of flavor."

The texture, he said, was a bit unusual. "It feels really—not marshmallowy, but lighter than you'd think it would feel. It's filled with air still. Even when I seared one off you could see all the air kind of bubbling out of it."

Rabbit Lungs - JULIA THIEL

The lung wasn't bad on its own—"I expected worse," Hedin said—but also wasn't particularly appealing, so he decided to put it in a terrine. Hedin usually makes terrines with rabbit liver and loin, so the lungs seemed like a natural fit. He left the pieces fairly big and mixed them with some ground rabbit loin, noting that the lungs stayed a nice, bright red even after it was cooked. "It maintained a smooth texture, which is nice," he noted. "You don't want anything to be gritty in your terrine. We're going to add [the lung] to a salad on top with a little bit of herbs, so you get that reinforced lung flavor."

He served the terrine with pickles, mustard, toast, and the seared lung salad, as well as a jelly made with kriek, a Belgian sour-cherry lambic beer. There was also a lambic in the house-made mustard: gueuze, which goes through spontaneous fermentation. "A lot of domestic brewers pick specific strains of yeast that they use in making their beers, but there they just keep it in a vat and open the windows and let the natural yeasts flavor the beer. Which ends up giving it a little bit of tang, a little sour flavor."

Tasting it, Hedin said, "That's good. You get the sour cherry, you get the terrine coming through. Nice bite with the mustard. . . . The seared lung really helped on top in the salad. It brings out that meaty flavor."

But would he know it had lung in it if he hadn't made it or been told? "I would think that there was just some assertive liver in it. It's got that kind of profile to it."


Video by Michael Gebert/Sky Full of Bacon

Who's Next:

Dave Dworshak of Carnivale, working with milkweed. "It grows in vacant lots here in the city," Hedin said. "It's edible, but people would just think it's a weed. It's like purslane; it grows in the cracks of the sidewalk, but it's a little more interesting than purslane might be." v

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