In France, rabbit is often served for dinner at least once a week. So why isn’t this lean, protein-rich meat more popular in North America?
Take a walk down the meat aisle of your local supermarket and you’ll find poultry, beef, pork and lamb ready to be braised, poached or barbecued. Want a fatty or lean cut? A whole chicken or just the thighs? Care for something healthy or indulgent?
Enter the rabbit. It’s not a meat typically seen at the grocery store; it’s a specialty item that usually has to be preordered or can be found frozen at the butcher shop, and there are several reasons for this. First, rabbit isn’t mass produced in confined animal feeding operations, so it’s unlikely to find its way into big grocery stores. Secondly, the demand for rabbit meat in North America is quite low, especially compared to France, where rabbits can be found right beside the chickens at the grocery store. In France, rabbit is often served for dinner at least once a week. Yet, for people who don’t cook rabbit often, it can seem like an intimidating animal to butcher and cook at home.
It’s time to get over the fear because there are many advantages to eating rabbit. First off, it’s healthy: 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. Unlike other meats, it contains high levels of vitamins and minerals, such as potassium, magnesium and phosphorus.
The environmental impact from raising rabbits is low. Rabbits produce six pounds of meat on the same feed and water as cattle consume to produce only one pound, resulting in a smaller overall carbon footprint. Also, rabbits don’t require much space, especially compared to livestock, which means using less energy resources. They feed on a grain-free diet of alfalfa, compost scraps and foraged grass, which is cheaper and more naturally available.
Beyond the health benefits of eating rabbit, it’s quite delicious and versatile. You can roast, braise, bread and fry rabbit meat. It also pairs well with both intense spices and delicate flavors. If you feel intimidated, ask your butcher to break it down for you. Rabbit meat is lean and subtle and tastes similar to chicken. If you’re wondering what to make for dinner tonight, may I suggest a beautiful rabbit stew?
Rabbit Stew with Mustard, Mushrooms, and Olives
This recipe is gorgeous to make in early spring, when leeks and mushrooms are in season. It’s hearty enough to enjoy on a cool night yet light and delicate enough to enjoy for a festive lunch.
- 3 tbsp butter
- 1 (3 or 4 lb) rabbit, separated into parts
- 2 stalks celery, chopped, reserving celery leaves for garnish
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 leeks, dark greens removed, thinly sliced
- 1 small fennel bulb, sliced
- 3 sprigs thyme
- ½ cup white wine
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 tbsp grainy Dijon mustard
- 2 cups sliced cremini mushrooms
- 1 cup pitted green olives
- ¼ cup Italian parsley leaves
- Heat butter over medium high in a large Dutch oven. Sear rabbit parts on all sides in stages to avoid crowding the pan. Remove seared pieces and set aside.
- Lower heat to medium. Add celery, onion, leeks, fennel and thyme; cook until translucent and fragrant, about 5 minutes.
- Return rabbit to pan. Increase heat to high and add white wine. Stir with a wooden spoon, scraping bottom of pan until liquid is reduced by half.
- Add stock and mustard and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and let cook until meat is tender, about 2 hours.
- Add mushrooms and olives and continue to cook until tender, about 30 more minutes.
- Garnish with parsley and celery leaves when ready to serve. Serve with crusty bread, butter and extra mustard.