Before you get all weak in the knees and start humming a Disney tune, let’s examine the facts about eating rabbit meat.
- Rabbit meat is tender, lean, delicious and as versatile as chicken, to which it can also be compared in taste.
- The Italians and French eat rabbit the way Americans eat chicken, which is to say, quite often.
- Rabbits are easy to raise in small spaces, especially in urban or suburban settings, and true to their reputation, reproduce quickly.
- Rabbits are one of the most productive domestic livestock animals there is: they produce 6 pounds of meat on the same feed and water that produces one pound of beef.
Rabbit: The Basics
So rabbits are an ideal source of protein … but the United States has yet to fully embrace rabbit on the plate. Sure, when times are tough, people will turn to backyard rabbit hutches, like they did during the Depression and both world wars. But there’s something about the bunny that makes most Americans think “pet” not “pan.”
But there is a rabbit renaissance going on. Chefs who have been influenced by the nose-to-tail philosophy, and who are interested in issues of sustainability are discovering that rabbit is right in so many ways.
Urban farmers are teaching others how to raise rabbits in small backyards, and even how to slaughter and cook them. Food writers are asking questions about this neglected source of protein, and coming up with some interesting conclusions. If we eat pigs and chickens, there seems to be no logical reason to recoil at the thought of rabbit on the menu. Maybe rabbit is the new chicken.
Eating rabbit is quite common in the Mediterranean, especially in Italy and France, who are responsible for the highest production and consumption of rabbit in Europe. Typical menus in Italy feature rabbit in cacciatore, ragu and lasagna. Because rabbit meat can also be very dry, it is often found in stews or recipes that involved simmering or braising in an aromatic broth, like this stew with olives. The mildness of the meat is often accented with the bold flavors of fennel, mustard, olives, anchovies or tomatoes, as in this pot de Provence recipe. In France, rabbit is classically served with mustard, either Dijon, as in this roasted rabbit recipe, or a coarse, grainy style.
If you are cooking a young rabbit (8 to 12-weeks old), called a fryer, which will be more tender than the older roasters(15-20 weeks), you can fry or roast it. The roasters, contrary to their name, need slow, moist cooking, like braising.
If you are cooking rabbit parts, try the saddle or loin, which are the most tender of the cuts. The front legs are tiny and are best to set aside for stock or stew. The hind legs are tough and almost always need a moist braise (try this hard cider braise). Lean rabbit meat really begs for bacon, or ventrèche, to add some fat and protect it during cooking. Don’t be shy with the duck fat, olive oil, or bacon.