The average American has never eaten rabbit, yet the U.S. Department of Agriculture proclaims it the most nutritious meat available.
Rabbit is an all white meat that’s lower in cholesterol than chicken or turkey (164 mg of cholesterol in rabbit vs. 220 mg in chicken), has just 795 calories per pound (chicken has 810 calories per pound), and has the highest percentage of protein and the lowest percentage of fat of any meat. In short, meat doesn’t get any healthier.
But no one wants to eat any meat that’s not delicious. Fortunately, rabbit is that, too. In fact, rabbit has been an important part of the European diet for centuries, and is also enjoyed in parts of the world such as Australia and Asia.
Wild vs. tame rabbit
Wild rabbit is leaner than tame rabbit, and as long as it’s properly dressed, is only slightly gamey. The gaminess may be minimized by soaking the meat in salty water overnight in the refrigerator. As with tame rabbit, the younger the animal, the more tender the meat. Tame rabbit is more likely to be tender and have a more subtle flavor.
How to buy rabbit
The USDA includes rabbit meat in its volunteer grading system. Rabbit that’s graded has passed inspection and comes in grades A (highest quality), B (medium quality), and C (lowest quality recommended).
Generally, you’ll find rabbit listed as either “fryer” (or “young rabbit) and “roaster” (or “mature rabbit”). A fryer is a rabbit between 1 and 3 pounds that’s less than 12 weeks old. Fryers are fine grained and a bright pink color; they may be cooked similarly to poultry.
A roaster can be any size and must be over 8 months old. Roasters are coarse grained and the meat is a little darker than a fryer. Roasters can be tough, so they are usually stewed or braised.
General cooking tips
For safety, cook rabbit until it reaches 160 degrees F.
Excellent rabbit seasonings include parsley, rosemary, sage, bay leaf, lemon-grass, coriander, and basil.
Rabbit may be soaked in a marinade of sugar or honey, red wine, or olive oil seasoned with herbs.
Fryer rabbit can replace chicken in almost any recipe, but if you’ve never cooked rabbit before, it’s a great idea to start with a trusted recipe. I particularly like the rabbit recipes on videos found at Gourmandia.
To roast a rabbit, rub it down with olive oil and chopped herbs and place it in a roasting pan. It may then be baked just like a chicken, at about 350 degrees F. (A 2 pound rabbit takes about 1 – 1 1/2 hours to cook at this temperature.)
Begin by browning the rabbit in a little olive oil. Then place the meat in a pot and cover it about a quarter of the way with water. Cover the pot and allow the meat to simmer for about an hour.
Chop the rabbit meat into small pieces (about one inch square). If desired, roll in flour or seasonings. In a preheated pan with a little olive oil added, brown the meat on every side. Place the meat in a large pot and cover with boiling water. Cover the pan with a well-fitted lid and simmer for at least two hours, or until meat is tender. Add vegetables to the last hour of cooking.
Thin cuts of rabbit (no more than one inch thick) are suitable for sautéing. First, preheat a pan and add a small amount of olive oil. Place the rabbit in the pan and brown both sides, cooking until it reaches 160 degrees F.
If you add a bit more oil to the pan, you can also pan fry rabbit, giving it a crispy outer layer.
Kristina Seleshanko is a former research librarian for "Gourmet" magazine and the author of 16 books. For more information, visit www.KristinaSeleshanko.com.
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