Lean and healthy, rabbit makes for a sustainable and versatile meat

By Rob Benes

Editor’s Note: This article was previously scheduled to appear in the March-April issue, but was moved to make room for a COVID-19 special issue. Some of the menu items may no longer be available, but the ideas and uses for rabbit remain valid.

Diner interest in healthy eating combined with chefs’ ongoing quests for new ingredients have led to a resurgence in the use of rabbit.
“More chefs are realizing that rabbit is actually a sustainable protein, and when done right, tastes delicious,” says Michael Beltran, executive chef of Ariete in Coconut Grove, Florida. “I also think diners are opening up to eating what could be considered to be more of an exotic meat.”

Compared with 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, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Rabbit also has appeal across a multitude of markets, as Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Jews have no religious prohibitions from consuming rabbit meat.

Rabbit is a relatively inexpensive protein to source, too, with dressed and processed rabbit meat selling for between $6 and $7 per pound. “Deboning and breaking down a raw rabbit can be a bit difficult, [because] it has tiny bones,” Chef Beltran says. “It’s also much easier to use a whole rabbit [because] they’re just a few pounds, compared [with] buying a 200-pound pig.”

Rabbit can be compared to chicken as being a blank canvas, but it offers so much more. “Rabbit has a clean and mild flavor on its own, but it picks up myriad flavors easily and very well, so it’s a versatile protein for all types of cuisines,” Chef Beltran says. He menus a rabbit pâté with a compote of mamey (a tropical fruit featured in the July-August issue of NCR), grain mustard and house-made white bread.

Here are a few more examples of rabbit on menus:

  • Rabbit Curry by Chef Nina Compton and Levi Raines, Bywater American Bistro, New Orleans. Trimmed leg portions are seasoned with warm spices, arranged in a hotel pan and marinated for two hours, then covered with rabbit oil and cooked in a combi oven at 300-degrees F for two hours. The legs are allowed to cool in the oil, then removed, vacuum-sealed and reserved in the cooler until needed. The meat is eventually added to a curry made with rabbit trimmings, chicken wings, chicken drumettes, warm spices, coconut milk, ginger, turmeric, onion, habanero and brown stock. When served, the curry mixture is ladled into a bowl, jasmine white rice is spooned on the side and a cooked rabbit leg is set in the curry. The dish is garnished with toasted pecans and cilantro.
  • Rabbit Pappardelle by Chef Nathan Duensing, Marsh House, Nashville. Rabbit legs and bellies are seared and then braised with aromatics for two hours in brown stock. The fall-off-the-bone meat is then added to a pan of sautéed garlic, parsley, rosemary, tomato sauce and reduced braising liquid, and cooked until a loose sauce is made. Finally, cooked pappardelle and herbs are added and tossed together. The dish is garnished with Parmesan and olive oil.
  • Fried Rabbit Livers by Chef Isaac Toups, Toups’ Meatery, New Orleans. Rabbit livers are marinated in sherry for 30 minutes, dipped in an egg wash, dredged in a mixture of popcorn salt, white pepper, flour and cornmeal, and then deep-fried in 350-degrees F peanut oil for two to three minutes. The livers are served warm on a bed of Romesco sauce and garnished with a chilled carrot-apple slaw.
  • Rabbit Loins by Chef Philip Whitmarsh, Jewel of the South, New Orleans. Confit meat of rabbit hind legs and rabbit offal are folded into a simple chicken mousse. The mousse mixture is spread over rabbit loins, wrapped in guanciale, seared and browned in a hot pan, wrapped in cling film, and poached in simmering water for 12 minutes. The loins are topped with hot butter at the pass before serving.

This article originally appeared in the September/October issue of National Culinary Review. Click here to download the full issue.