Happy Groundhog Day! Not only is today the day that inspired Bill Murray’s second-greatest film ever, it’s the day we get to find out whether we’re going to have six more weeks of winter or if it’ll be an early spring. But the little furry groundhog is more than just a glorified weatherman. He makes for a mighty fine dinner! “The meat takes very well to a braise and is similar to rabbit, but it’s dark meat instead of light meat,” explains Ian Knauer, a former food editor at Gourmet and the author of the forthcoming cookbook The Farm: Rustic Recipes for a Year of Incredible Food.
“It is not at all gamy, but is distinct. It has subtle flavors of onion and grass. I treat it just like rabbit — brown, then braise. I’ve made pulled groundhog sliders, hasenpfeffer, cacciatore, cider-braised — and anyone who is brave enough to try it is always pleasantly surprised,” he says.
Knauer notes that it is very important to remove the grayish-colored glands that are under the front legs as they impart a super-strong flavor that affects the entire dish. He also suggests saving the liver, which makes for a tasty pâté. “When I was at Gourmet, I brought in a groundhog liver pâté and everyone was amazed, including Ruth [Reichl], who wrote about it in the foreword to my cookbook.”
Here’s Ian’s go-to recipe, featured in The Farm, for cooking groundhogs. For more tasty recipes of country living, though, you’ll have to wait until the book comes out on April 17.
You can never really understand bloodlust until you start growing your own vegetables. You carefully select your seeds and watch them pop up out of the earth, reaching for the sky. You pull weeds, a lot of weeds, with the idea to give your plants a fighting chance. You hope and plan and dream about dinners to come. And then, one day, you walk to the garden and there’s nothing there. All the lettuce … is … gone. So are the cauliflower and all the soybeans. Gone. This could only be the work of one evil varmint: a groundhog! If you’re me, this is the point when you load the rifle and carefully peer in the direction of the garden with the hopes of finding him red handed in the sweet pea patch. But after the groundhogs are dead, I always feel a little bad. As it turns out, there’s no need to, because groundhogs (like their rabbit cousins) are delicious! I naturally put their meaty little carcasses to use in my take on cacciatore, the tomato-based Italian hunters’ stew. But if you’re squeamish, this recipe works just as well with chicken or rabbit.
1 groundhog, quartered
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup dry white wine
2 lb tomatoes, chopped, or 1 (28 oz) can whole tomatoes in juice
3 tablespoons chopped brined capers
2 strips fresh orange zest
2 anchovy filets
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Kosher salt and black pepper
Remove the glands from the front legs. Pat the groundhog dry and season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and ¾ teaspoon pepper. Heat the oil in a large heavy pot over medium high heat until it shimmers. Brown the meat well on both sides, in batches if necessary. This will take about 6 minutes per batch. Transfer it to a plate.
Add the onion, carrots, and garlic to the pot and cook until the vegetables are browned, this will take 8 to 10 minutes. Add the wine and boil until the liquid is reduced by half.
Stir in the tomatoes, capers, zest, anchovies, and bay leaf, then nestle the meat into the sauce. Simmer, covered, until the meat is tender. This will take 1½ to 2 hours.
When meat is tender, remove it from the pot, leaving sauce in the pot. Simmer the sauce until it is slightly thickened. This will take about 10 minutes. Stir in the butter. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste, then return the meat to the pot.