A whole unboned stuffed roast rabbit may be a thing of beauty, but it is impossible to carve; the stuffing is crushed and scattered and the flesh shredded as one attempts to sever sections of the backbone and the large quantity of stuffing engulfed by the rib cage can only be reached with a spoon once the initial carnage is finished. A boned stuffed saddle is cut into neat slices without further ado.
To Bone a Saddle
Cut the rabbit in two at the vertebral joint between the second and third rib, the two terminal ribs adhering to the saddle section (scrape the meat free from the remainder of the ribcage and from the forelegs and put it aside with the liver and the heart for the stuffing; the bones will be joined to the neck, the head, and those from the saddle to prepare a stock).
A small, sharply pointed paring knife is easier to work with than a boning knife: Lay the saddle out flat, back to the table, legs farthest away from you (best work seated and relaxedly). Remove the ribs from the inside surface of the thin apron of flesh, pinching the flesh downward, away from the rib on each side, slipping the point of the knife through the flesh just beneath the rib and slitting it free; break it loose from its point of attachment to the spinal column.
The median described by the spinal column inside the carcass serving as a starting point, loosen the flesh progressively the entire length of the backbone, working mostly with the tip of the knife, following carefully the undulating cross-like contours of the vertebrae. Don’t attack the filets until the filets mignons have been folded outward, remaining attached to the filets but exposing the wing-like protrusions to each side of the vertebrae. Loosen the flesh between the wings of joining vertebrae with the knife tip. Now free the filets almost to the back, leaving the summit of the spinal column attached the whole length.
The final detachment of the length of spinal column is the only delicate part of the operation, for each vertebra is terminated by a cartilaginous attachment reaching to the outside surface of the flesh; to avoid piercing the flesh at any point, one must snip through each vertebral extremity, leaving its cartilaginous tip embedded in the flesh, the tip of the knife then describing an inverted U to free the flesh between joining vertebrae. It may be easier to break off sections of two or three vertebrae as they are freed from the back, and one may, without inconvenience to carving, leave the final joint at the base of the tail.
To Lard the Saddle
Turn the saddle over, legs spread out, back facing up. Cut the fatback into long strips about ⅛ inch square (it is easier to cut if well chilled). A larding needle with a hinged crochet at the larger, hollow end (rather than the classic splayed blades) will prevent the lardons from slipping free of the needle while larding. The needle should pierce the flesh with the grain (in the sense of the length of the saddle and of the legs rather than running crosswise), shallowly, surfacing again at about ¾ inch, pulling the lardon in its train so as to leave a ¾-inch section embedded in the flesh; each lardon is then trimmed, leaving about ¼ inch visible at each end (1¼- to 1½-inch lengths, in all, but it is only practical to work with much longer lengths, trimming after they are in place). Lard in rows of alternating alignments (the flesh of the second row being pierced on a line with and at the halfway point between the points at which the lardons of the first row have surfaced).
A pound of green chard leaves without ribs, parboiled, squeezed dry, and chopped, will render the stuffing even more bonne femme in spirit and more rustic in flavor.
It is possible to leave the rabbit whole (removing the eyes for aesthetic reasons), but the spinal column, from the rib cage to the base of the tail, must, in any case, be removed; in this case, there being nothing from which to prepare a stock, the breadcrumbs are soaked either in water or in the strained marinade and squeezed dry (the marinade saved for basting).
Parboiled little peas scattered over the rabbit at the moment of serving affords a pretty picture and a delicious accompaniment—or parboiled, drained, and butter-stewed, creamed sorrel will marry wonderfully.