April 26, 2017
Why Eat Rabbit?

Rabbit is healthier and more sustainable than most other meats we cook with. So why don’t we eat more of it?

While rabbit is consumed everywhere from Haiti to China to France, it’s never taken off here in the United States the way it has in some other parts of the world. In fact, even the topic of whether or not stores should stock rabbit meat has been contentious in recent years. In 2014, Whole Foods briefly carried rabbit, but sales were discontinued after a series of protests and petitions accused the supermarket chain of being “bunny butchers.” So perhaps I’m treading on thin ice by proposing that we should eat more rabbit. But hear me out on this.

As someone who had a pet rabbit growing up, I can understand that some may find the prospect of feasting on the meat offensive, and I respect that decision. Yes, they’re cute and fluffy and perhaps conjure up fond childhood memories.

So why eat rabbit? Well, rabbit is one of the healthiest, leanest, and most environmentally friendly meats you can eat. Compared to beef, pork, lamb, turkey, veal, and chicken, rabbit has the highest percentage of protein, the lowest percentage of fat, and the fewest calories per pound. The alfalfa-loving herbivores are foragers (which means they don’t rely on energy-intensive soy or corn for food) that grow and reproduce quickly. According to Slow Food USA, “rabbit can produce six pounds of meat on the same amount of feed and water it takes a cow to produce just one pound.”

The meat tastes a bit like chicken (though with a slightly stronger, meatier, earthier flavor), and it can be prepared similarly to chicken. For example, you can sauté it in oil or butter with a sauce made by deglazing the pan or in the style of a fricassee—partially in fat and then simmered in a braising liquid. One of my favorite rabbit recipes, which I first tasted in a tiny Parisian wine bar many years ago, is a French bistro classic: rabbit in mustard sauce (or lapin à la moutarde).

But where does one buy rabbit in a country that has a complicated relationship with the meat? The meat can admittedly be challenging to source and pricier than most run-of-the-mill grocery-store meats. When I lived in D.C., I used to buy fresh rabbit at A&H Quality Foods in Bethesda, Maryland. On a recent day trip to New York, I picked up a rabbit at Marlow & Daughters for about $10 per pound and carted it all the way back to my home in Philly in a cooler. In other parts of the country, the best bet is often to order rabbits through a local butcher, at a farmers’ market, or even online.

Rabbit is often sold whole, but you can ask your butcher to break it down for you or take a DIY approach with a cleaver and a few YouTube videos, like I did.  If you’ve broken down a chicken, then you’ll find butchering a rabbit comparable. Once you find the ball-and-socket joints, removing the forelegs and hind legs is pretty easy. Separating the saddle from the ribcage is the trickiest part, but once you get the hang of it, it’s doable. My beginner’s effort wasn’t perfect, but it still looked and tasted delicious.

Ingredients

  • 1 3- to 4-lb rabbit, cut into 6-8 pieces
  • salt and pepper
  • 1½ tablespoons butter
  • 1½ tablespoons oil
  • 1 medium onion or 4 shallots, diced
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2½ cups chicken stock or broth
  • 2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
  • a few sprigs of thyme
  • 12 sage leaves
  • ½ cup crème fraîche
  • 2 teaspoons chopped capers
  • sliced chives for garnish

Rabbit in mustard sauce, or lapin à la moutarde, is a French bistro classic worth getting to know. Braising the rabbit in the rich and flavorful mustard sauce yields succulent, tender meat. You’ll want to slurp the sauce up with a spoon or soak it up with some crusty bread.

  1. Season the rabbit with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat a Dutch oven or large, deep, heavy pan over medium-high heat. Add the butter and oil. When sizzling hot, working in batches, sear the rabbit, about 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until nicely browned. Remove browned rabbit from pan and set aside.
  3. Add the diced onion/shallot and sauté until softened and lightly browned, stirring occasionally, about 5 to 6 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle onions with flour and stir until well incorporated, then cook for a minute or so until mixture starts to smell toasty. Add wine and 1 cup broth, whisking as the sauce thickens. Whisk in remaining broth and 1 tablespoon of mustard and bring to a simmer. Taste for salt and adjust.
  5. Return browned rabbit pieces to the sauce. Add thyme and sage. Cover pot and simmer until meat is fork tender, about 45 to 50 minutes.
  6. Using tongs, remove rabbit pieces from sauce, set aside, and keep warm. Put saucepan over medium heat and bring contents to a simmer. Whisk in crème fraîche, 1 tablespoon of mustard, and capers and simmer until somewhat thickened, about 5 minutes. Taste sauce and adjust seasoning.
  7. Transfer rabbit to a warmed serving bowl and ladle the sauce over. Sprinkle with chives.

Linda Schneider

Linda Schneider is a home cook who is obsessed with good food and all things local. Follow her adventures at Wild Greens and Sardines.