● By Kayla Butts
By: Kayla & Justin Butts Photos by: Rachel Benavides
In those hilarious old Bugs Bunny cartoons, Yosemite Sam called his favorite stew “hasenpfeffer.” That’s because Sam didn’t want Bugs to know the main ingredient was rabbit!
The majority of Americans today would never even consider eating rabbit. In the culinary world, this is called the “Easter Bunny syndrome.” Bunnies are cute and cuddly, not tasty and delicious. Rabbits are for petting; not for eating.
On the other hand, Europeans – and the entire rest of the world, for that matter – have no qualms about eating them; rabbit is served frequently at homes and restaurants across Europe. Grocery stores and butcher shops feature rabbit right along with chicken. Rabbit is generally preferred over chicken, in fact, and for good reason.
Rabbit is superior to chicken in many ways. It tastes better, is healthier, is easier and cleaner for the hunter or farmer to process, and is simpler for the home chef to break down into parts. For most of American history, rabbit was eaten more often than chicken.
Unfortunately, these advantages in taste and health don’t count for much with the industrial food giants. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, the “Big Ag” companies discovered that rabbits could not successfully adjust to being crammed by the thousands into CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations). Chickens could withstand the unnatural rigors of industrial life, but rabbits could not.
That is why today we do not see Rabb-fil-A, Kentucky Fried Rabbit, or Rabbit McNuggets in the fast food lanes of America. It is a profound irony that chicken is a million times more popular than rabbit, when the only advantage chickens had was the ability to be mass produced.
Americans eventually lost their taste for a genuine delicacy and rabbits became synonymous with the Easter Bunny in consumers’ minds.
But this Braised Rabbit recipe may change your thinking about Sunday dinner, and this Rabbit Stew with Root Vegetables is the ultimate comfort food on a cold January day. All the ingredients, save the rabbit, can be found at the farmers’ market.
The only local source we know in South Texas for fresh rabbit is a small farm in Rockport called The Eggplant. You can find The Eggplant Farm on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org. This farm is owned by a pastor and his family, and they are the nicest people you will ever meet. Their high-quality product is as good as any rabbit you will find anywhere.
If you balk at the idea of dining on rabbit, try to forget about cute, cuddly bunnies – those are not for eating. Instead, think of the wholesome, hearty, delicious meal that is going to forever change your idea of rabbit.
And if that doesn’t work, follow the lead of Yosemite Sam and just call it hasenpfeffer!
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: about 3 hours
1 farm-raised rabbit or 2 wild hares, sectioned
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 medium sweet onion, roughly chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb parsnips, peeled and cut into
1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into
About 32 oz chicken or vegetable stock (enough to cover meat and vegetables)
1 tsp, plus 2 tsp poultry seasoning
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp rosemary
3 bay leaves, whole
Salt and pepper, to taste
In a large pot, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat. Season rabbit with salt, pepper, and 1 tsp poultry seasoning. Working in batches, brown the rabbit pieces until golden brown, about 7 minutes. Remove rabbit pieces and set aside.
Add vegetables to pot along with 2 tsp poultry seasoning, thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves. (If necessary, add 1 more tbsp olive oil and butter to prevent vegetables from sticking.) Cook the vegetables until the onion and celery begin to become translucent, stirring frequently to remove the bits from the bottom of the pot.
While vegetables cook, shred meat into bite-sized pieces. Add stock and meat back to the pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to allow stew to come to a simmer. Simmer for another hour and a half to allow flavors to develop, seasoning with salt and pepper.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
4 tbsp butter, plus 4 more tbsp
1 whole farm-raised rabbit, broken down
1 lb carrots, peeled and quartered
1 lb parsnips, peeled and quartered
2 heads garlic, cut in half along the widths
1 cup dry white wine
1 bunch thyme
Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Season rabbit with salt and pepper. Place a large cast-iron Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 4 tbsp butter and rabbit pieces. Brown on each side for about 7-9 minutes, until golden brown. Add in vegetables, thyme, salt, and pepper.
Transfer to preheated oven. Braise rabbit every 10 minutes by brushing with the cooking juices that have accumulated at the bottom of the Dutch oven. Cook an additional 30-40 minutes, until vegetables and rabbit are tender. Remove from oven and transfer rabbit and vegetables to a clean plate.
Place the Dutch oven back on the stove over medium-low heat, and add remaining butter, stirring to free up any cooked bits that have stuck to the bottom. Once the garlic has slightly cooled, release the cloves from the bulb by squeezing gently with your fingers. They should come away from the skin very easily. Transfer the garlic cloves back into the cooking juices of the Dutch oven and mash them with the back of a wooden spoon. Once fragrant, add wine, 4 sprigs of fresh thyme, salt, and freshly cracked pepper. Cook for 5-7 minutes, until sauce has reduced.
Serve rabbit with vegetables and wine butter sauce, garnished with fresh thyme leaves.