It all started with an Amish auction we went to in the fall. We saw some friends leaving with a couple of cages, one with two bunnies and one with two chickens. They were planning to fatten them up and eat them for dinner in the next couple of weeks. I guess James absorbed more of this conversation than I realized.
Fast forward a few weeks and we were talking about what we wanted for Christmas. James announced that he would like a bunny. We don’t have pets, and he’s shown little interest in animals, so I was a bit surprised. “Like, as a pet, or to eat?” I asked. “To eat. A bunny and a chicken.” He did not waver in his conviction that that is what he wanted for Christmas.
Fast forward again and I’d gotten my hands on three backyard-raised bunnies, skinned and cleaned by our friends from the auction. I’ve eaten rabbit before but have never cooked it, so I wanted to play with one before I launched into Christmas dinner. Now, to some degree meat is meat — as a chef friend once told me when I asked how to prepare a Thanksgiving turkey: “Season to taste, cook it ’til it’s done” (insert nonchalant, all-knowing shrug on his part, and then a slight glare on my part). I thought I’d try something a little more fun than roasted whole animal but not too daring. I portioned out the meat, which was an adventure in itself; I’ve only ever dealt with taking poultry off the bone or breaking down a large animal like goat or lamb. Without any kind of bone saw at my disposal (do they have mini-saws for smaller animals?) I left the spine and ribs intact for soup and cut large chunks off the loin and then detached the cute little arms and legs. I patted the pieces dry, dredged them in seasoned flour, and threw them in a pot to brown.
As I removed and added pieces, a nice dark fond was developing on the bottom of the pan. Once pieces were all browned I deglazed the pan, added onions, honey, herbs, apple cider vinegar, and vegetable stock, then threw the lid on and braised the rabbit for an hour or so at 350 (you know, I seasoned it to taste and cooked it ’til it was done).
The results? Fantastic. And the creamed rabbit gravy was not too shabby either. Rabbit stock? Also tasty.
Fast forward to Christmas dinner. A bunny and a chicken. I pretty much did the same thing I’d done with the first rabbit but I was able to fit it all into my gorgeous Christmas All-Clad 3-Quart Saute Pan and braise it on the stovetop with apples, herbs, mustard, stock and maple syrup. Also fantastic.
I hope my kiddo continues to be an adventurous eater who appreciates trying new things and sees food as a valid and lovely gift. I learned some great tidbits as well. To sum up:
- The rabbits we ate were only 6 weeks old but were pretty meaty and generous. They fed 4 of us at dinner comfortably. My research (aka Travis) notes that rabbits are actually one of the best return on investments in terms of meat for inputs. Unlike a cow, which takes pounds upon pounds of grass (not grain! Put down the grain-fed beef!) and water to create a certain quantity of meat, rabbits are incredibly efficient meat producers and do not require a lot of time for growth and development.
- Rabbits are one of Heifer International’s gift options. We thought this was a nice addition to Jamie’s Christmas gift – we donated a trio of rabbits to a family in Honduras. We also found some tree seedlings to donate for Travis and a hive of honeybees for me. I thank James for starting us on what I hope will be a family tradition of food for ourselves and others at the holidays!
- Domesticated and raised rabbit has a pleasant mild taste that lends itself well to all kinds of seasonings. It’s the other other other white meat and a great blank slate for food creativity and adventure.
- Rabbit is decent bang for the buck. The rabbits from our friend were $20 each, which is about what I budget for a 4lb organic chicken. The poundage is definitely less than a chicken, and we did not get as much stock from the rabbit as the carcass is also smaller, but at only 6 weeks of growth the necessary inputs for a rabbit are less than a chicken so I feel that we are eating “lower on the meat chain” if you will. Rabbit will definitely become a major part of our meat diet in the short-term, and very likely part of our homesteading plan in the long-term.
For now, many thanks to James for a lovely Christmas dinner! And if you happen to find rabbit at a market or direct from a farmer, buy some. Then season to taste, cook it ’til it’s done, and enjoy.