Rabbit meat is usually overlooked as a protein source. It shouldn’t be. Here’s why rabbit should be on your menu.
by Leon Pantenburg
My brother, Mike Pantenburg, and I were looking for unique main dish for a Dutch oven cookoff. But this wasn’t just any cookoff – we had qualified for the International Dutch Oven World Championships in Sandy, Utah.
After a lot of consideration and discussion, we decided to go with rabbit. Mike tweaked the rabbit recipe in a couple other cookoffs, and we did well enough to qualify for the world championships.
To my surprise, rabbit was considered unique at the contest. The other teams used the standard beef, pork or chicken. We got a lot of attention from the spectators and TV crews, but we didn’t win. We did place in the top ten, after two days of intense competition.
(We realized we were out of our league as soon as we saw several Dutch oven catering companies in the competition. First prize was $5,000, but the bragging rights were more important to the pros. They had fancy food service quality equipment, and we had the coolers we took to elk camp!)
But back in the 1940s and 1950s rabbit meat was as common for dinner as chicken is today. My aunt Mildred raised a lot of rabbits, and my dad hunted rabbits and squirrels for the table during the Great Depression. It was the meat that got many people through the tough times.
You can generally substitute rabbit for chicken in just about any recipe. An older rabbit, like an older chicken, will probably be tougher than the younger ones.
Rabbits are the most harvested game animal in the United States and the most widely distributed prey animal in the world. Unregulated, rabbit populations can quickly overpopulate a habitat area and cause extensive damage. In Australia, rabbits were introduced, and quickly became overpopulated. Today, they are considered a vermin, and periodic eradication efforts have to be made.
Rabbit hunting is a good way to start out the youngsters. Bag limits are generous, and success is pretty much guaranteed.
As with any game meat, how it will taste depends on how the meat is handled after the animal is killed. I like to gut a rabbit or squirrel as soon as possible. I generally carry a pair of latex gloves, a culinary plastic bag, such as rice comes in, and a good small game knife.
Cleaning a rabbit is easy. You don’t need to “skin” it, since the hide generally just pulls off. You’ll use the knife to slit the belly and pull out the guts. I can skin and gut a rabbit in a couple minutes, and it is an easily-learned skill.
Ideally, I’ll be near a spring or creek so I can wash my hands afterward. Typically, I’m not, so I’ll take along several single pack hand wipes.
The faster the meat is cooled and washed, the better it will taste
So why eat rabbit meat now? Here are ten good reasons from Rise and Shine Rabbitry