One of my favorite meats to eat is rabbit. That’s right! The cute, furry, little bunny with its adorable wiggly nose is totally edible and delicious. Rabbit is consumed the world over from France to China to Italy to Haiti. It’s quite the common source of protein for many, many cultures. However, it’s never really been a popular choice in the United States likely due to the “cuteness” factor. Americans tend to be ok eating certain animals but not ok with eating animals we deem worthy as pets. In fact, protests have even occurred because grocery stores sold rabbit meat. I know, I know…it’s totally hypocritical. But I’m here to show you that not only is rabbit meat a delicious source of protein (if you eat animal protein) but it’s also great for your health.
Skip Right to the Italian -Style Braised Rabbit if you like!
Why I Love Eating Rabbit!
You guessed it…rabbit essentially tastes like chicken. In fact, I could probably cook up some rabbit and you wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference if I didn’t tell you. You’d eat and enjoy it none the wiser. However, rabbit does have a bit of a unique flavor and if you realize it is rabbit you’re eating then you’ll likely be able to spot the difference. Rabbit meat has a slightly gamier, more intense flavor. It’s a bit on the dry side as well which is why it is often cooked in sauces and stews. Of course, if you’re eating wild rabbit then the meat will taste much more gamey as there is no control over what the rabbit consumed. However, if you’re eating farmed rabbit then it probably grew eating alfalfa and other greens which will lessen the gaminess.
I happen to love the taste of rabbit. To me, it has one of the best flavors of all meat and just makes me happy. It’s also really great at melding with the flavors you add to it so using butter, tomatoes, and other ingredients amplifies the flavor. The first time I ever tried rabbit was in Rome, Italy in the Trastevere area. I went to a tiny little restaurant in, what seemed like, the basement of a grandmotherly figure and she actually did all the cooking. You had to make a reservation and those were limited so I got lucky. The place was totally nondescript and quaint…but the food was AMAZING. I remember wanting to drink the juices from my rabbit dish because it was so delicious. That’s where my love of rabbit meat began and it has continued on since.
Is Rabbit Meat Healthy
Is rabbit meat healthy? The short answer is “yes, it’s totally healthy.” In fact, out of all the meats you could possibly eat, rabbit meat is the healthiest. Rabbit meat is, in fact, the healthiest and leanest meat available to us. If we compare it to chicken, beef, pork, and lamb then we quickly see rabbit has the lowest percentage of fat and fewer calories per pound. This means, if you eat animal protein, rabbit is your healthiest option. If you don’t believe me, here’s a link to an actual study conducted by animal scientists in Romania called Nutrient Content of Rabbit Meat as Compared to Chicken, Beef, and Pork Meat. In the study, scientists chemically analyzed meat samples from rabbit, chicken, beef, and pork for moisture, protein, fat, ash, calcium, phosphorous, sodium, and cholesterol. They concluded rabbit is “healthier over other meats frequently used in human nutrition, high in protein, and low in fat.” Of course, that’s just one source and there are many others.
Therefore, if you eat meat and are health conscience then you might consider giving rabbit a try.
Does Eating Rabbit Harm The Environment?
Look, eating meat of any kind is detrimental to the environment. But so is eating pretty much anything grown on a farm. Even your favorite vegetables wreak havoc on the natural environment. Clearing land for farming and growing monocrops is terrible for ecosystems and biodiversity. Runoff from growing crops destroys riparian ecosystems and depletes soil nutrients. That almond milk you love so much… yeah, growing almonds in California (where the vast majority of the world’s almonds come from) has depleted ground water supplies and increased water pollution with heavy metals. It’s also practically created a catch-22 bee crisis since almonds require bees for pollination but also require huge quantities of pesticides to grow which in turn actually wipes out bee populations. I’m not spouting off information from nowhere either. A little known fact about me is I have a Masters in Nonprofit Agricultural Development with a focus in Agroecology. In other words, I’ve worked to call myself an expert in this field. I’m saying all this because I think it’s important to understand that no one food is really that much better or worse than any other. Eat what you want but be aware of the ramifications of your consumption. Eating is very much a political act.
That being said, raising rabbits for meat actually has a minor impact on the environment in comparison to other animals. Rabbits grow from conception to maturity in about three months and eat far less in order to grow to suitable size for consumption. Since they are natural foragers, they don’t rely on energy-intensive soy or corn for food which reduces carbon footprints. They easily be raised in a small space in a person’s home, reproduce quickly, and are quiet and clean which makes them one of the most sustainable meats for city farmers. According to Slow Food USA, “rabbit can produce 6 pound of meat using the same amount of food and water it takes for a cow to produce only 1 pound of meat.” This also means rabbits require far less water than most other meats.
In other words, if you’re an environmentally conscience meat eater then you need to start eating rabbit.
Cooking a rabbit is a lot like cooking chicken in that the same temperature guides apply. You will also need to think of the forelegs as wings and the saddle and tenderloin as breast meat. Other than that, here are few things to keep in mind.
Cut Up Rabbit: Most the time, rabbit is sold whole which means you will need to butcher it yourself or ask the butcher at the store or shop to do it for you. If you don’t know how to do this, it’s super easy to do and you can follow this video tutorial showing you how to cut up a rabbit.
Servings: A 2-3 pound rabbit will make six portions. One rabbit can technically feed 2 people.
Baste It: If you’re planning to roast rabbit meat then you need to make sure it is basted often because it will dry out quickly otherwise.
Replace Chicken: Pretty much any recipe calling for chicken can use rabbit as a substitute. You can even marinade rabbit meat to add even more flavor.
Poach or Braise Rabbit: In my opinion poaching or braising rabbit is a superior way of cooking it. You can also stew or casserole older rabbits.
Italian-Style Braised Rabbit Recipe
This recipe combines many of the beloved flavors of Italian cooking with the delicious meat of rabbit to create a wonderful symphony in your mouth. It’s based on a simple Italian meal in the countryside of Italy and it cooks in about an hour. So, it’s a quick and easy meal perfect for Spring with friends. If, after everything you’ve read about eating rabbit, you’re still put off then you can easily substitute chicken in this recipe. I highly suggest you give rabbit a try though.
The recipe will feed 2-3 people easily so if you plan to feed more then you’ll need to adjust the recipe accordingly. You can cook it the night before and allow the flavors to meld for a day which will make it even better once reheated. Serve with a a green salad, green beans, and crusty bread. As for wine pairing, stick to whites including Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. If you want to imbibe red wine instead then keep it light with Pinot Noir, Beaujolais, or Côtes du Rhône.
Italian-Style Braised Rabbit
- Ribs, neck, and belly flaps from the rabbit
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 tsp fennel seeds, smashed
- 1 tsp coriander seeds, smashed
- 10 crushed juniper berries
- 1 tsp cracked black peppercorns
- 1 tbsp salt
- 2` carrots, cut into large chunks
- 1 rib of celery, chopped
- 1 onion, peeled and chopped
- 1 large rabbit (4lbs)
- Salt and Pepper
- 3 tbsp flour
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 onions, cut into 8 pieces
- 4 carrots, peeled and sliced in 1-inch pieces
- 1 shallot, sliced
- 3 leeks, diced finely
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
- 1/2 cup cremini mushrooms
- 3 tbsp Porcini mushrooms
- 1/2 cup Portabella mushrooms, sliced
- 1 cup dry red wine, white wine, or vermouth
- 1 cup rabbit or chicken stock.
- 5 tomatoes, chopped into pieces (See notes)
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- 1 tbsp dried Rosemary. Can use fresh too.
- 1 tbsp dried thyme. Can use fresh too.
- 1 tbsp dried sage. Can use fresh too.
- 1 tsp dried tarragon. Fresh can be used.
- 3 large potatoes cut into quarters
- The rabbit's liver (finely chopped … see notes)
- 2/3 cups olives (See notes)
- Break down the rabbit if it is not already broken down. Separate the front legs, the hind quarters, and the tenderloins. Follow the tutorial that is linked in the blog post above if you do not know how to do this.
- Put rabbit pieces into medium pot and cover with water. You can also add the good rabbit cuts during this process to blanch them. Bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat.
- Turn off the heat. Skim off any sludge that floats to the top. Fish out the good cuts of rabbit meat and place in a bowl.
- Leave the other rabbit pieces in the pot. Skim off any remaining foam and impurities that float to the surface. Add remaining stock ingredients to the pot. Partially cover and bring to a barely a simmer.
- Simmer for a minimum of 1-hour and up to 2.5 hours.
- Strain all solids from the stock pressing down to extract as much liquid as possible. Set aside. You'll use this stock in your braised rabbit. Leftover stock can be stored in the fridge for a number of days for other uses. Simply skim off any congealed fat before using it.
- Preheat oven to 325°F. Season the rabbit pieces with salt and pepper. Add the flour to a paper bag. Put the rabbit pieces in the bag. Seal it and shake to evenly coat the rabbit with flour.
- Heat 2 tbsp. oil in a large, lidded skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions, shallots, and carrots to the pan and sauté for 2-3 minutes until slightly soft.
- Add the leeks and garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add mushrooms and sautee for 2 minutes. Transfer vegetables to a bowl and set aside.
- Place the rabbit pieces in the skillet or Dutch oven and brown on each side. Return the vegetables to the pan. Pour in the wine or vermouth stir and cook for 1-2 minutes until wine is slightly reduced. Add the rabbit stock, tomato paste, and tomatoes. Stir to combine.
- Add the herbs and black pepper. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Turn off stovetop heat. Add potatoes to top of mixture and stir. Cover and place in the oven. Cook for 1 hour. You may cook longer if you like up to 2 hours. The meat should be tender.
- When there is 20 minutes left to your cook time, remove from oven and add the olives and chopped rabbit liver. Put the lid back on the pan and return to the oven to finish cooking.
LIVER: This will not make your dish taste like liver at all. You won't even notice the liver. It simply adds more depth and richness of flavor. OLIVES: The olives add a bit of tang to the dish. If you don't like olives, you can omit them. WINE: I never cook with a wine I wouldn't drink so I try to avoid cooking wine altogether. Just use a bit of the wine you plan to drink with dinner. SERVING: As suggested in the above blog post, this will go well with a green salad, green beans, and good bread. But you can be creative about your sides.
Will you give rabbit a try?
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