by Amanda McDougall
aster falls early this year – and we have bunny on the brain. So we thought we’d catch the tail end of rabbit season (before they return to rampant breeding through the spring and summer) with a series of rabbit recipes.
Rabbit isn’t a very common meat to serve (fine dining excluded), which is ironic considering its ability to multiply. It’s not a supply problem. Low demand for the cute and furry creature is a set back, and its very appearance and celebrity in popular culture – the Easter bunny for instance – has a lot to do with it. (John Toulze of The Girl and The Fig is forbidden from serving it during Easter by his partner Sondra Bernstein. She thinks it’s uncouth. Sorry, Sondra.) Chef Brendan Cox of Circle Bistro puts it well: “It's difficult for a guest to separate the cute and fuzzy bunny aspect from what is on their plate. But have you ever looked at a veal cow? And veal flies out the door.” Maybe if we had an Easter calf, things would be different. » more
Epigram of Rabbit, Sweet Potatoes, and Truffle Coulis
Chef Brendan Cox of Circle Bistro – Washington, DC
The rack is frenched and roasted; legs are braised; the shoulders confit and then made into a farce and used to stuff the loin, which is wrapped in bacon and pan-roasted. An epigram or an in-depth study?
Braised Rabbit Pappardelle with Seasonal Vegetables
John Toulze of The Girl and The Fig – Sonoma, CA
Simple and classic: one technique for one whole rabbit. The meat is braised with red wine and then pulled off the bone, soaked in the braising sauce, and tossed with the pasta, vegetables, and sauce. Toulze switches out the vegetables based on seasons and what’s on-hand.
Backyard Lavender-Fried Rabbit with Romano Beans and Yellow Carrots
Chefs John Stewart and Duskie Estes of Zazu and Bovolo – Sonoma, CA
Stewart and Estes do double-duty with this bunny – braising and deep frying. Lavender and lemon thyme mixed into the panko gives the crust a floral note, complementing the aromatics in the braising sauce.
Rabbit Confit with Polenta Cappelletti and Mushrooms
Chef Dante Boccuzzi of Dante – Cleveland, OH
Typically tough rabbit leg meat is rendered tender and flavorful after slow-cooking in can’t-go-wrong duck fat with cinnamon, cloves, coriander, and citrus zest. Polenta-filled pasta is a two-for-one pairing, and Boccuzzi likes to make his nickel-sized to mock the tiny honshimeji mushrooms.
Also adding to the rabbit’s limited popularity is the cost. While the price tag isn’t prohibitive, it isn’t exactly cheap at $4 to upwards of $8 per pound for fresh meat. So getting as many dishes as you can from one animal is important. “Rabbit costs about $16 per animal,” Cox spells out, “we get two main courses between the loin and racks, and then two to three orders of a first course ragu from the legs and shoulders. […] It is profitable, but only if people buy the ragu.” Toulze uses the same tactic, rounding out the protein with pappardelle and getting up to five orders out of a single animal. Additionally, unlike many other game meats, rabbit meat generally isn’t considered high-end. Toulze has sometimes found it challenging to explain the cost of a rabbit dish to his customers. “It doesn’t have luxury built into its name.”
But beyond the soft ears, precious nose, and fuzzy tail, rabbit meat is mild in flavor, low in fat, and versatile – you've heard it before – a lot like chicken. Toulze explains: “there are so many things you can do with it! It’s so beautiful and lean, and easy to use the entire animal. The bones make a wonderful stock; the livers make great pâté, too. And the different parts inspire you to make it several different ways.”
Take it nose-to-tail or broken down into its parts, rabbit offers a lot of variety in terms of cooking techniques and end results. The loin and rack meat tend to err on the dry side (and the older the animal, the drier the meat will be). Toulze thinks that previously frozen rabbit degrades the meat, especially the more delicate loin and saddle, making it slightly mealy and dry. While these pieces can do well with dry heat cooking techniques, like roasting, they always benefit from a little added fat from either larding or barding. The legs, both fore and aft, are nearly always tough (apparently hopping develops supremely resilient muscles), which is why longer, wet-heat cooking techniques, like braising or confit, work best.
A huge variety of flavors and ingredients pair well with rabbit given its mild flavor and the variety of cooking techniques that can be applied to it. Cox’s approach to flavor pairing is functional and natural. As he explains it, “Cured meats […] add fat and their inherent funk will tease out the gaminess of rabbit. I think the simple rule of thumb for pairing rabbit is to think about what a rabbit eats, carrots, cabbage, lettuce, wild herbs, and work from there.”
Here are a few Easter bunny pairing tips from the featured chefs:
- sweet vegetables, like carrots
- anise (especially when braising suggests Toulze)
- wild herbs
- lemon thyme
- pancetta, prosciutto, speck
Rabbit Price Comparison by Region:
Washington, DC: Cox pays about $4 per pound for fresh rabbit from a co-operative group of organic farmers in Central Pennsylvania.
Protein comparison: “Rabbit is definitely more expensive than chicken and costs about the same as buying shoat and suckling pigs, but the pigs yield more diverse uses.” – Brendan Cox
California: Toulze pays about $4.25 per pound for local, fresh rabbit; it is typically available year-round
Protein comparison: “Pork can be similar [in price]. Currently we are using a Niman ranch pork shank on the menu which we are paying around $2.70 a pound. We are not using chicken right now but a local (northern California) game hen instead that runs around $3.00 a pound. Steak-wise I use a product out of Montana which is a grass fed (corn finished) antibiotic- and hormone-free. The cut we use is the flat iron and I am paying $4.15 per [piece].” – John Toulze
Ohio: Boccuzzi pays $8 to $12 per pound for fresh rabbit, depending on the cut
Protein comparison: “Rabbit is much more economical than beef or veal…. [Our] chicken is organic Gerber Farms [and] a little less expensive than rabbit. Berkshire Pork can be equally as expensive as the rabbit.” –
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