Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Rabbit Dishes are Back!

Last week I stumbled upon an article titled “rabbit dishes are regaining popularity” and I must say I was quite intrigued. I first was surprised to learn that rabbit dishes had once been a common occurrence on dinner tables across the United States. Upon reading further I learned that rabbit meat was highly popular during the World War II era. With most food shipped to the soldiers overseas and ration stamps at home, many Americans turned to raising rabbits in their backyards for meat and growing “victory gardens” for produce. Eating rabbit was considered patriotic, but somehow this trend dropped off after the war and most rabbits since then have been seen as household pets instead of a delicious meal. In Europe, however, rabbit has consistently been a part of the menu. The second main thing that I learned about rabbits was the small environmental footprint that they leave.

With today’s craze of all things “local”, “organic”, “sustainable” and the increased popularity in game meats it seems that rabbit meat is primed for a comeback in the US. Slow Food USA states that a rabbit produces 6 pounds of meat while a cow produces 1 pound of meat using the same amount of food and water, talk about sustainable! According to Whisper’s Rabbitry, rabbits can be raised in the country or suburban areas, make little noise, take up less space to raise, and are a very nutritious and lean meat. The Los Angeles Times reports that rabbit meat is higher in protein but lower in calories, fat and cholesterol than many other meats, such as chicken, beef and pork. So not only is rabbit meat local and sustainable but it is also very nutritious!

I had been thinking about cooking a rabbit dish of my own for some time now and after reading more about rabbit meat I decided to give it a try. Finding rabbit meat seemed like a daunting task at first but I soon realized that it wasn’t that bad. I tried my local Publix first but was unsuccessful there. I found out online that there are several rabbit breeders in Florida, most sell their rabbits as show breeds or as pets but some of them sell rabbit meet as well. This website has a listing of the various rabbit breeders in Florida with descriptions of the intended use of the rabbits they sell http://rabbitbreeders.us/florida-rabbit-breeders. After some more searching I discovered that Petty’s Meat Market in Longwood FL did occasionally sell whole frozen rabbit. I gave them a call and asked them to hold the only rabbit they had in stock which was a 2.7 pound frozen whole rabbit.

After I picked up the rabbit meat I went home and searched for a recipe. I choose to make a German dish called Hasenpfeffer (Rabbit Stew) that I found on allrecipes.com. Butchering the rabbit once it defrosted was not as challenging as I had anticipated although all I had to do was cut it into pieces and cook it with the bones still intact. It’s important to note that the bones are very small so be careful when eating the finished product! The cooking process itself was fairly simple. I have heard stories of how rabbit meat (which is all white meat) dries up really quickly, so I was very nervous that I might mess it up. Thankfully this wasn’t the case; I followed the recipe I printed off and the stew turned out delicious and tender! I wasn’t sure what kind of flavor to expect from the rabbit meat, although my suspicion was that it would have a gamey taste. Much to my surprise the rabbit meat was not gamey at all and really held the flavor of the seasoning well.

Overall my experience with making the rabbit dish turned out great and was easier to do than I had imagined. Although the rabbit meat was expensive per pound ($11.59/lb), it was an experience that I would like to repeat in the future. So if you’re looking for something new for dinner, give rabbit a try, it’s delicious and nutritious! Below I’ve included the recipe I used, if you have any recipes you would like to share please comment. Happy cooking!

~Stefanie, MS, RD, LD/N

Hasenpfeffer (Rabbit Stew)
Original recipe makes 4 servings:
3 pounds rabbit meat, cleaned and cut into pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 pound bacon, diced
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup water
1 tablespoon chicken bouillon granules
1 tablespoon currant jelly
10 black peppercorns, crushed
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed

1. Place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Drain on paper towels and set aside. Sprinkle rabbit with salt and coat with 1/3 cup flour, shaking off excess. Brown rabbit in remaining bacon fat. Remove from skillet, along with all but 2 tablespoons of the fat, and reserve.

2. Sauté shallots and garlic in skillet for about 4 minutes, until tender. Stir in wine, 1 cup water and bouillon. Heat to boiling, then stir in jelly, peppercorns, bay leaf, and rosemary. Return rabbit and bacon to skillet. Heat to boiling, then reduce heat to low. Cover and let simmer about 1 1/2 hours or until rabbit is tender.

3. Remove bay leaf and discard. Place rabbit on a warm platter and keep warm while preparing gravy.

4. To Make Gravy: Stir lemon juice into skillet with cooking liquid. Combine 3 tablespoons water with 2 tablespoons flour and mix together; stir mixture into skillet over low heat. Finally, stir in thyme. Pour gravy over stew and serve, or pour into a gravy boat and serve on the side.
Sources:  Noelle Carter, “Rabbit dishes are regaining popularity” The Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com/food/la-fo-rabbit-20140426,0,4933210.story#ixzz30HiViAhC, April 26 2014. Whisper’s Rabbitry, http://whispersrabbitry.webs.com/allaboutmeatrabbits.htm. Allrecipes.com, http://allrecipes.com/recipe/hasenpfeffer-rabbit-stew/.