As most Record readers know, we have a rabbit problem on the South End, thanks to the one-time popular Barnyard Scramble held yearly during the Island County Fair. Rabbits were always among the animals the kids “scrambled” for and, inevitably, a few rabbits always escaped and ran off. Rabbits being what they are, it became apparent each year when I attended the fair that there were increasing numbers of rabbits, adult and baby, hopping about in the fairgrounds.
The Barnyard Scramble was stopped several years ago, but the rabbits have not, and now they can be seen in fields, yards, playgrounds, parks, in the streets, grazing on curbs and all over the grassy areas surrounding the old middle school in Langley, where I attend tap classes. Black, tan, grey, mixed, large and small; these “harmless little bunnies” are currently causing problems and even considered potentially dangerous, thanks to their propensity for digging burrow holes in playing fields where someone may trip on one of those burrows. They are also causing problems among residents who are deeply divided about how to get rid of the bunny pests.
Well, I have a suggestion for consideration, one I’ve not yet heard mentioned, and yes, I know this will cause outrage in some quarters, but as I said, it’s only a suggestion.
Among many memorable meals I’ve had while traveling in parts of Europe, some of the best were built around rabbit dishes. Rabbit is almost always on the menu in many French restaurants, and the same is true in areas of Italy. A traditional German stew is hasenpfeffer.
Rabbit is one of the leanest, low-fat meats you can eat, and is flavorful but mild. It also lends itself to a variety of methods of preparation — roasting, stewing, baking, etc. Rabbit used to be available in many of our supermarkets, but apparently fell out of favor in this country because I rarely see it for sale anywhere now. I cooked it often back in another life when I was living in the suburbs of Chicago, because it was readily available and we all liked it.
Yes, I admit it might take a bit of courage to do in your first two or three rabbits, but providing lean, healthy meat for your family dinners may be incentive enough. And if you think it’s just not possible for you to handle the skinning and cleaning after you’ve caught your bunny, I know a few people who could take care of that part for you. You could think of it as contributing to an economical solution of a substantial local problem, perhaps even providing food for some who don’t have enough. Yes, it costs the rabbits their lives, but where do you think your barbecued pork, hamburgers, or chicken comes from? And what do you suppose would ultimately become of all the bunnies if they were trapped and carted off “somewhere?”
My file of rabbit recipes is lying on my desk as I write this, and in the event you, too, consider this a possible solution to our rabbit dilemma, I’m hereby sharing some of my recipes, just in case you have none of your own.
If you’ve never tried, I can tell you from experience that trapping rabbits is not difficult and you can even find information about trapping as well as instructions for skinning and preparation for cooking on the Internet. As for cooking and eating rabbit? Here are a few of my favorites, and yes, you may substitute chicken in any of these; it will be equally as tasty, but won’t help solve the rabbit problem. If rabbit is too “gamy” tasting for your palate, soak the cut-up rabbit pieces overnight in a bowl, covered with water and the juice of one lemon and refrigerate.
Oven barbecued rabbit
For the sauce: 2 med. onions, finely chopped
2 green peppers, finely chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup water
1 cup cider vinegar
½ cup catsup
½ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup butter, cut up
2 T. Worcestershire sauce.
1 t. salt, or to taste
½ t. cayenne pepper
2 rabbits, cut into pieces.
In a saucepan, combine all barbecue ingredients; cook over med.-high heat until bubbly, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat, simmer for 10 mins.
Arrange rabbit pieces in a single layer in a 13×9 baking pan or dish. Pour sauce evenly over the rabbit and bake in a preheated 300 degree oven about 2 hrs. (more if the rabbit was large), or until the rabbit is very tender. Turn the pieces a couple of times during cooking. Serve with wild rice or baked sweet potatoes. Serves 4-6.
rabbit with gravy
½ cup flour
1 t. salt
¼ t. ground pepper
¼ t. garlic powder
2 rabbits, cut into pieces
1 T. butter
3 T. vegetable oil
8 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 cup sliced carrot
1 cup sliced celery
1 med. onion, sliced
2 T. snipped fresh parsley (or 2 t. dried parsley flakes)
¼ t. dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup white wine (I use dry sherry)
3 T. milk
In a large plastic food storage bag, combine the flour, salt, pepper and garlic powder, shaking to mix. Add rabbit pieces; shake to coat. In a Dutch oven, melt the butter in the oil over med.-high heat. Add coated rabbit pieces (reserve the excess coating mixture), brown rabbit on all sides. Remove from heat. Add remaining ingredients except milk and reserved coating mixture. Cover and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven about 1-1/2 hrs., or until rabbit is very tender.
With a slotted spoon, transfer rabbit pieces and vegetables to a heated serving platter; set aside and keep warm. Discard the bay leaf. In a small bowl, blend 2-3 T. of the reserved flour mixture into the milk to make a thin paste. Blend a small amount of this mixture into the cooking liquid in the Dutch oven. Cook over med. heat, stirring constantly until thickened and bubbly. Add additional milk mixture if you want thicker gravy. Cook and stir to desired consistency. Serve over the rabbit and vegetables, or serve on the side. Serves 4-6. Is excellent served with rice pilaf and some cranberry relish.
And another baked rabbit recipe, very popular in southern Italy:
Coniglio contadino (country-style rabbit)
2 lbs. rabbit pieces
Juice of one lemon
½ cup flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 T. olive oil
¼ lb. pancetta, diced
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped onion
1 T. fresh rosemary or 1 t. dried
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup shelled fresh peas
Place rabbit pieces in a bowl; cover with cold water and add the lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Remove rabbit pieces from the water and dry well. Combine the flour, 1 t. salt and 1 t. pepper and lightly coat the rabbit pieces with the flour mixture.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over med.-high heat. Add rabbit pieces and brown them on all sides. Add the pancetta and sauteé for 2 min. Sprinkle with the rosemary and remove from heat.
Spread the onions in the bottom of a baking dish. Arrange rabbit pieces and pancetta on top, add the wine, peas and salt and pepper to taste. Cover the dish with foil and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 35 min., or until rabbit is tender. Serve in the baking dish, or transfer rabbit to a platter and spoon the vegetables and pan juices over. Excellent with wild rice. Serves 6.