Rabbit is healthier and more sustainable than most other meats we cook with. So why don’t we eat more of it?
While rabbit is consumed everywhere from Haiti to China to France, it’s never taken off here in the United States the way it has in some other parts of the world. In fact, even the topic of whether or not stores should stock rabbit meat has been contentious in recent years. In 2014, Whole Foods briefly carried rabbit, but sales were discontinued after a series of protests and petitions accused the supermarket chain of being “bunny butchers.” So perhaps I’m treading on thin ice by proposing that we should eat more rabbit. But hear me out on this.
As someone who had a pet rabbit growing up, I can understand that some may find the prospect of feasting on the meat offensive, and I respect that decision. Yes, they’re cute and fluffy and perhaps conjure up fond childhood memories.
So why eat rabbit? Well, rabbit is one of the healthiest, leanest, and most environmentally friendly meats you can eat. Compared to 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. The alfalfa-loving herbivores are foragers (which means they don’t rely on energy-intensive soy or corn for food) that grow and reproduce quickly. According to Slow Food USA, “rabbit can produce six pounds of meat on the same amount of feed and water it takes a cow to produce just one pound.”
The meat tastes a bit like chicken (though with a slightly stronger, meatier, earthier flavor), and it can be prepared similarly to chicken. For example, you can sauté it in oil or butter with a sauce made by deglazing the pan or in the style of a fricassee—partially in fat and then simmered in a braising liquid. One of my favorite rabbit recipes, which I first tasted in a tiny Parisian wine bar many years ago, is a French bistro classic: rabbit in mustard sauce (or lapin à la moutarde).
But where does one buy rabbit in a country that has a complicated relationship with the meat? The meat can admittedly be challenging to source and pricier than most run-of-the-mill grocery-store meats. When I lived in D.C., I used to buy fresh rabbit at A&H Quality Foods in Bethesda, Maryland. On a recent day trip to New York, I picked up a rabbit at Marlow & Daughters for about $10 per pound and carted it all the way back to my home in Philly in a cooler. In other parts of the country, the best bet is often to order rabbits through a local butcher, at a farmers’ market, or even online.
Rabbit is often sold whole, but you can ask your butcher to break it down for you or take a DIY approach with a cleaver and a few YouTube videos, like I did. If you’ve broken down a chicken, then you’ll find butchering a rabbit comparable. Once you find the ball-and-socket joints, removing the forelegs and hind legs is pretty easy. Separating the saddle from the ribcage is the trickiest part, but once you get the hang of it, it’s doable. My beginner’s effort wasn’t perfect, but it still looked and tasted delicious.