First, let me thank you for clicking on a post with the word “rabbit” in the title. Are you curious or nostalgic? Maybe you have eaten rabbit before, or you are interested to know how to cook it should you ever find yourself on Chopped pulling a rabbit out of a box.
Rabbits hold several symbolic meanings in my house.
Brandy, our darling 6-year-old boxer Pitt, has successfully chased baby rabbits in the backyard. I wanted to call it her attempt to mother them. Rahul’s side eye to that statement meant he did not quite agree with me. Let’s just say the rabbits didn’t win the race.
For two years now, my dad has surprised me with a clean and frozen rabbit on Christmas Day. He heard I tried rabbit and wanted to try it again, and that was enough for him to come up with something to get me for Christmas for the rest of my life. I’m OK with that. This is his rabbit.
WHY DON’T WE EAT MORE RABBIT?
Rabbit is not a typical protein found in butcher shops or grocery stores. Meat the Rabbit is a local farmer/supplier that sells to a few butcher shops, but aside from that, rabbit rarely pops up on Indiana restaurant dishes and does not get the attention it deserves. This topic prompted me to ask the almighty Google “Why don’t we eat more rabbit?”
Joanna Brady Schmida wrote an article in 2010 that sums up what I think most Americans think. She states:
Because the prolific rabbit is probably the easiest creature in the world to raise, I can only guess that our stores don’t often stock the meat because of buyer resistance. Is it our memories of Bambi’s friend, Thumper? The Easter bunny? The ever-appealing Bugs Bunny? Or is it because we consider them rodents? Whatever the reason, we’re missing out on an excellent source of protein and some very tasty meals.
OK, little rabbits are cute … but so are little pigs, baby cows, lambs and goat kids and we don’t hesitate to eat them. And no, they aren’t really rodents, although they do share some common traits with them and perhaps some related lineage.
Rabbits are very close to bridging the gap between wild animal and domesticated pet. I have a colleague who has a rabbit and she gives me odd looks whenever I talk about eating them. To her, it’s her cute, cuddly, furry baby. To me, it’s dinner. And now that urban chickens are hip and cool, it makes me wonder if the general public will begin to accept that one can give their meat a cute name and eat it, too. Creating relationships with animals that we slaughter for food is important, and we need to teach future generations that meat does not simply come from a plastic-wrapped package.
But Schmida brings up a great point about rabbits as a source of protein. Rabbit meat is incredibly lean and not the least bit dry (if you prepare it correctly). A TIME Magazine article titled “How Rabbits Can Save the World” enlightened me on the fact that rabbits are halal and acceptable for Hindus who do not eat meat. And if raised properly, can drastically improve the hunger situation in many parts of the world. Dr. Stephen Lukefahr, a pro-rabbit eating farmer, states:
Rabbits, Lukefahr points out, are easy to raise, procreate, er, like rabbits , are relatively disease-free, more easily digestible than some other proteins, are low-fat and have a pleasant taste. While wild rabbits are a little gamier, domestic rabbits taste—okay–a lot like chicken and can be adapted to a wide variety of international culinary tastes.
But perhaps the most important element in popularizing rabbit production is that the animals can be raised on a grain-free diet. In a world of rising prices and increasing demand for grain, the ability to raise a good protein on garden forage is a plus in poor countries.
But hold up now – if rabbit is an excellent source of lean, grass-fed protein, why are we not eating it more, aside from the issues of pets vs protein?
Back to Dr. Lukefahr: In the U.S., rabbit meat has not been a feature on most family dining tables since World War II when the animals munched on Victory Garden scraps and later landed on the table while other meat products were diverted to the troops. “But on the cooking channels and with chefs rabbit meat has taken off,” Lukefahr notes, adding that he believes the economy likely will prompt more and more families to consider raising rabbits.
21st century Americans know beef, pork and chicken really well. But before the Civil War, Americans actually ate very little of those three proteins. Cattle were primarily used for dairy, and the packaging and shipping technology just was not there for Americans to purchase or preserve large amounts of protein. It wasn’t until incomes rose post-WWII that consuming beef became a status symbol for the middle class. This article sums up research from several notable books about this subject, if you’d like further reading. Since the 1940s, rabbit has been seen as the food eaten by those who can procure it. My dad both grew up on rabbit because he ate what he could hunt and gather.
And lastly, my own search for urban rabbits has been a costly one. A 3 or 4 pound rabbit could cost between $20 and $30 at a butcher shop, which, in comparison to a whole chicken of the same weight, is 4 to 5 times the price. How did rabbit go from becoming the prepared meat of the poor to an almost delicacy? That said, you can see how this “delicacy” is really one that is close to my heart since I now have a reason to be gifted one annually.
My final parting thoughts are reflected in the fact that I post a recipe for you here. If I didn’t want to eat rabbit, I wouldn’t. Sure, many find rabbit too close to a pet to ever put one on a plate, and that’s an opinion I 100% respect. But if we think of the greater good of raising rabbits for lean meat, some may decide to reconsider where their protein sources come from.
My attempts at preparing rabbit have not been without merit. The first attempt was by frying it, second as a cheesy pasta dish, third as beer braised and now fourth as slow cooked and shredded for faux chicken and noodles. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about how rabbit should be cooked for a tender, juicy and game-free taste.
Rabbit can be cooked many ways, but I find that slower cooking with braising liquid is my favorite. Just like my beer braised rabbit, when the meat is submerged in liquid, it slowly and gently tenderizes the connective tissue holding the meat together. Once braised, the meat will fall off the bones just like it would if you cooked a whole chicken in a slow cooker for 8 hours.
If you are not slow cooking and pulling the meat off the rabbit, you actually lose out on some of the precious meat that can be pulled from the ribs and torso. Rabbits have several small bones that must be picked out so you do not accidentally bite on one, and many of them exist in that region. Careful picking allowed me to acquire at least 2 1/2 cups of pulled rabbit meat from this slow cooking method.
Slow cooking changes the taste of rabbit. While I have tasted rabbit and venison in a variety of ways, I’ve never had a poor preparation that made me taste the game flavor associated with animals that consume a lot of grass and are very lean. Though if there is a game flavor to remove, it would be through slow cooking. If you are extra cautious, you could soak the rabbit in milk to tenderize the meat and remove game flavor if you wish. It will all depend on the rabbit – where did it come from, how old was it, what did it eat, etc. Whole, dried juniper berries are added to the chicken stock as the rabbit cooks to mellow out any game flavor that may exist. You can find them at Penzey’s Spices on 82nd and Allisonville Road.
Rabbit can be compared to dark meat chicken, though I do not find it to be nearly as fatty or greasy as the legs and thighs of chicken. As a lean meat, it can dry out easily, so I suggest pairing it with a sauce or putting it in a soup.
Now the noodles, those are extra special. The noodles you see in these photos, the ones I so happily slurped down, were made by my Uncle Joe. Now that I think of it, this whole recipe is somewhat inspired by him. His chicken and noodles make an appearance every year at Christmas Eve when my mother’s side of the family gathers at Grandma’s house for an evening of food, gifts, and fun. Sadly, we did not have it this year as my grandma has moved into assisted living and we no longer have that one central home to connect at. I didn’t get to taste those noodles, but he made a large batch, dried them, and gave me a large gallon-size bag.
I know his recipe, but I tried it once and I failed at not making the noodles thin enough. His recipe includes several eggs, lots of flour, and seasoning from garlic, onion, salt, and pepper. You are welcome to use your favorite noodles for this recipe.
So tell me, have you cooked rabbit? Or eaten it? If you haven’t, why not? I’d love to hear the story of how rabbit has made it’s way onto your dinner table.
SLOW COOKED RABBIT AND NOODLES
FOR THE RABBIT:
- 1 cleaned rabbit
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- Salt and black pepper
- 8 cups chicken stock + water
- 10 whole dried juniper berries
- 1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
- 1 large carrot, cut into thirds
- 2 celery stalks, cut into thirds
For the composed dish:
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 1 large carrot, diced
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- Salt and black pepper
- 8 cups chicken stock
- 3 cups dried noodles or 16 ounces frozen noodles
- Chopped fresh parsley for serving
If you are lucky enough to have a slow cooker you can also brown food in, then use it! If not, place a large skillet on the stove that has enough surface area to fit the rabbit. Turn the heat to high and add the tablespoon of cooking oil.
Pat the cleaned rabbit with a paper towel on all sides. Season generously with salt and black pepper. Place the rabbit in the skillet to brown the surface for about 3 minutes per side.
Remove the rabbit and place it in a slow cooker. Add the rest of the ingredients and enough chicken stock to submerge the rabbit in water. If 8 cups aren’t enough, just add water until the rabbit is submerged. Set the slow cooker on low for 4 hours.
Once cooked, pull the rabbit out and discard the liquid and the rest of the ingredients. Let the rabbit cool for 5 minutes before shredding the meat with your fingers, being careful to feel for any small bones to remove.
In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, heat one tablespoon cooking oil over medium high heat. Sweat the diced onions, carrots and celery for 5 minutes. Season with a pinch of salt and black pepper.
Pour in the chicken stock and noodles and cook until tender. For my dried noodles it took about 8 minutes, your time may be different depending on dried or frozen noodles.
Once the noodles are cooked, toss in the shredded rabbit meat and allow to simmer for 3 minutes. Serve with chopped fresh parsley for color if you like. Bon appetit!