Rabbit is making its way back onto dinner tables
Considered a patriotic food during World War II, rabbit later went out of fashion. But as game meat regains popularity, so has rabbit.
During World War II, rabbits were raised by thousands of Americans in their backyards. Along with victory gardens, rabbits helped put food on the table when much of the nation's supply was shipped to soldiers overseas and ration stamps provided little at home. But even though rabbit consumption spiked during the war, it all but disappeared afterward.
For years, it seemed the only place you could find “the real deal” was occasionally on the menu at German, French or Italian restaurants.
But rabbit appears to be going through a renaissance of sorts.
“I think it's gaining in popularity,” says Mark Pasternak, co-owner, along with wife Myriam, of Devil's Gulch Ranch in Marin County, Calif. Their farm supplies rabbit to a number of butcher shops and restaurants in and around Northern California.
And in an era when game meats and nose-to-tail eating are redefining fine dining as food sport, rabbit is both familiar and exotic enough to appeal.
“It almost has a Prohibitiony quality to it, like it was something your grandfather ate. It's a great ‘old-fashioned' meat,” says chef Ken Addington, who, with restaurant partner Jud Mongell, owns restaurants in California and New York. “We've always had rabbit on the menus in Brooklyn. It's a fun, versatile meat.”
Although Mongell was hesitant to feature rabbit at first, he's come around to the idea. “In these times, when we're trying to be so conscious of what, and how, we're consuming, it's something to consider.”
At a time when buzzwords like “organic,” “local” and “sustainable” are driving the market, rabbit is ripe for resurgence. The animals require few resources to raise and have a well-known reputation for quick breeding. According to Slow Food USA, rabbits can produce six pounds of meat using the same amount of food and water it takes for a cow to produce only one pound. Not to mention the health benefits. Rabbit is a lean meat that is higher in protein but lower in calories, fat and cholesterol than many other meats, including chicken, beef and pork.
But, how does it taste?
Domestic rabbit's all-white meat is fine-grained and has a mild flavor compared with other game meats.
“Rabbit is one of my favorite subjects because it is so versatile, like veal or chicken,” says chef Evan Funke of Bucato. A favorite dish of his for those new to rabbit is ragu. “Any time I get the opportunity to introduce people to rabbit, (I do). Ragu is easy.”
Addington likes to pair bright flavorings, such as citrus, with rabbit; he currently has a lemon grass rabbit ragu on the menu.
Though rabbit is mostly available through butcher shops and online, it is turning up more frequently in upscale markets. It is usually sold whole, though you can have your butcher break the animal down into parts. (But if you've ever wanted to learn how to break down any four-legged animal, rabbit is a great place to start because it's so small. Be careful with the bones, however; rabbit bones are even more delicate than those of a chicken.)
And, despite its reputation as an inexpensive option during frugal times, store-bought rabbit is not cheap; local prices range from about $7 to $12 per pound.
Of course, you could always do the patriotic thing and raise your own.
Noelle Carter is a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times.
Rabbit Stew and Preserved Pears With Ginger
Adapted from “The Cooking of Southwest France” by Paula Wolfert.
Total time: 4 hours, plus marinating time for the rabbit
For the Preserved Pears With Ginger:
2 tablespoons grated fresh gingerroot
1⁄4 cup sugar
3⁄4 cup dry white wine
1 cup unsalted chicken broth
3 large Bosc pears (about 1 1⁄2 pounds)
Butter, for pan
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
For the Rabbit Stew:
3 large shallots, halved
2 cloves garlic, halved
1⁄4 cup olive oil
3 cups dry white wine, divided
2 rabbits, cut into serving pieces (about 4 pounds dressed weight)
1⁄3 cup rendered duck or goose fat
5 ounces lean salt pork, blanched in water for 5 minutes and cut into 1-inch cubes
1⁄2 teaspoon herbes de Provence
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 onions (about 3⁄4 pound), thinly sliced
Scant 1⁄2 cup Dijon mustard, divided
2 large egg yolks
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup heavy cream
Juice of 1⁄2 lemon
3 tablespoons minced fresh chives
To prepare the pears: Heat the oven to 375 degrees. In a medium saucepan, combine the ginger, sugar and wine. Bring it to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat and simmer until the syrup is reduced to 3 tablespoons. Add the broth and bring it to a boil, stirring.
Meanwhile, peel, halve and core the pears. Arrange, cut sides down, in a single layer in a large buttered baking dish. Sprinkle with half of the lemon juice. Pour the syrup over the pears.
Bake, uncovered, until golden brown and glazed, for about 45 minutes. Baste often with the syrupy juices. Sprinkle with the remaining lemon juice. If not used at once, set aside at room temperature for up to 8 hours and reheat gently before serving; do not refrigerate.
To prepare the stew: In a large glass or nonreactive bowl, combine the shallots, garlic, olive oil and half of the wine. Add the rabbit pieces and turn them over until well-coated. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 to 3 days, turning the rabbit pieces once or twice a day. If the rabbit is frozen, defrost it directly in the marinade.
About 3 hours before serving, remove the rabbit pieces and pat them dry with paper towels. Strain the marinade, reserving the garlic and shallots separately from the liquid.
Heat the oven to 300 degrees. In a large skillet, heat the fat. Saute the salt pork, transferring the pieces to a 4-quart casserole dish after they are browned. In the same skillet, brown the rabbit pieces a few at a time, on both sides, transferring them to the casserole dish after they are browned. Sprinkle the rabbit and the pork cubes with the herbs and season with salt and pepper.
Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the skillet. Add the onions to the skillet along with the reserved garlic and shallots. Saute over moderately high heat, stirring to avoid burning, until soft and golden brown, for 6 to 8 minutes.
Stir in 1⁄3 cup of the mustard with the juices in the bottom of the casserole until well blended. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the onions, shallots and garlic to the casserole. Deglaze the skillet with the strained marinade liquid and bring to a boil, skimming off any scum that rises to the surface. Add the remaining 1 1⁄2 cups of wine and return to a boil. Skim again and pour the boiling liquid over the rabbit and onions. Cover with crumpled wet parchment or waxed paper and a tight-fighting lid.
Set the casserole in the oven and cook until the rabbit is meltingly tender, for about 2 hours. (To avoid stringy rabbit, do not rush the cooking; if the rabbit is not tender, let it slowly finish cooking in the oven.) Remove the rabbit pieces to a warm bowl; cover and keep moist. (The recipe can be done up to this point in advance. Leave the rabbit pieces in the sauce. Gently reheat, then remove the pieces to a warm bowl and continue with the recipe.)
Strain the cooking liquid, pushing down on the vegetables to extract all their juices. Quickly cool the liquid and remove any fat that surfaces. Place the juices in a heavy saucepan over moderately high heat and bring to a boil. Shift the pan so that only half of it is over the heat. Slowly boil down to 1 cup, skimming often.
About 5 minutes before serving, whisk together the egg yolks, nutmeg, remaining mustard and cream in a small bowl until well-blended. Whisk a few tablespoons of the hot reduced cooking juices into the egg-yolk mixture, then whisk the mixture into the saucepan. Heat gently, whisking until the sauce thickens. Do not allow the sauce to boil. Add the lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the chives. Spoon the sauce over the rabbit and serve hot with the Preserved Pears With Ginger.
Makes 4 to 8 servings.
Nutrition information per serving (based on 8 servings): 860 calories, 46 grams fat (17 grams saturated), 261 milligrams cholesterol, 60 grams protein, 31 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams dietary fiber, 589 milligrams sodium
Italian Braised Rabbit (Conglio Bianco)
Adapted from a recipe on Hank Shaw's food blog “Hunter Angler Gardener Cook.” Shaw recommends serving the rabbit “with mashed potatoes, white polenta or rice. A green thing alongside is always nice, too.”
Total time: 3 hours, 15 minutes
2 bay leaves
1⁄2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
10 juniper berries, crushed, optional
1 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
1⁄3 cup olive oil
1 onion, sliced root to stalk
1⁄2 cup white wine or vermouth
1 teaspoon dried thyme
5 to 6 cloves roasted or preserved garlic
Salt, to taste
10 to 20 green olives, pitted and halved
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Cut the rabbits into serving pieces. Place all of the rabbit pieces — including extra bones — into a pot and cover them with cool water by about a half-inch. Bring this to a boil, then remove the pot from the heat. Skim off any sludgy stuff that floats to the top. Fish out all the good pieces of rabbit — legs and saddle — and put them in a bowl in the refrigerator. Add the bay leaves, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, juniper berries (if using) and cracked black peppercorns to the pot. Return everything to a bare simmer and cook for 1 hour. Strain, discarding the solids, and set aside. You will need 1 cup of this rabbit stock to complete the recipe; any remainder can be covered and refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 3 months.
In a heavy, lidded pot, such as a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When it is hot, add the sliced onion and cook until soft and translucent. Do not brown them. Add the white wine, 1 cup of the stock, the rabbit pieces from the refrigerator, the thyme and the garlic. Bring to a simmer and add 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and cook until the meat is tender, for about 1 1⁄2 to 2 hours.
Finish the dish by adding the green olives and fresh parsley. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes and serve.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Nutrition information per serving (based on 6 servings): 642 calories, 33 grams fat (8 grams saturated fat), 207 milligrams cholesterol, 74 grams protein, 4 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram dietary fiber, 615 milligrams sodium
Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes, plus chilling times
11⁄2 tablespoons kosher salt
Zest and juice of 1⁄2 lemon
1 1⁄2 teaspoons minced thyme leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
1⁄2 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1 rabbit, cut into serving pieces
2 cups buttermilk, more if needed
3 cups flour
1 1⁄2 teaspoons table salt
4 to 6 cups lard
1 large onion, sliced into thick rings
In a deep, medium bowl, combine the kosher salt, lemon zest and juice, minced thyme leaves, several grinds of black pepper and garlic to form a rub. Add the rabbit pieces to the bowl, massaging the rub all over each piece. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or for at least several hours.
The next morning, pour the buttermilk over the pieces and gently toss to coat; the buttermilk should barely cover the rabbit; if not, add just enough to roughly cover. Cover the bowl again and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.
To season the flour, place the flour in a large bag, bowl or baking dish, and add the table salt and 1 1⁄2 teaspoons of freshly ground pepper. Taste the flour, and adjust seasoning if desired.
About 1 hour before frying, remove the bowl from the refrigerator. Remove each piece of rabbit from the buttermilk, shaking gently to remove any excess buttermilk. (Do not attempt to dry the pieces.) Dredge each piece in the seasoned flour mixture, coating completely. Shake to remove the excess flour, and set the pieces aside on a rack to dry and warm to room temperature.
While the pieces are resting, place about 4 cups of lard in a large, heavy skillet or frying pan over medium heat. Melt the lard; it should come about 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 inch up the side of the pan. (Melt additional lard if needed.) When the lard is just melted, add the onion rings and continue heating the lard until the onion is caramelized and the lard is hot. Remove the onion (discard it or save for another use), and check the temperature of the lard; a thermometer should read 350 degrees.
Gently place the rabbit pieces in the hot lard, being careful not to crowd. Lower the temperature to 325 degrees and fry the pieces on each side until crisp and golden brown and the meat is firm and opaque, for about 5 minutes for smaller pieces and 7 to 8 minutes for larger. Flip the pieces over and fry on the other side until done. (A thermometer inserted in the meat should read 160 degrees.) Remove the pieces from the hot oil and drain, skin-side up, on crumpled paper towels. Repeat until all of the pieces are fried.
Serve the pieces hot or at room temperature.
Makes 2 to 4 servings.
Nutrition information per serving (based on 4 servings): 687 calories, 29 grams fat (10 gram saturated), 170 milligrams cholesterol, 62 grams protein, 40 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams dietary fber, 1,221 milligrams sodium
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