When I was eleven years old, my cousin and I used to go out hunting with our .22 caliber rifles. On this early summer morning, we were just leaving the house and not yet beyond the coral and barns when a large rabbit ran out and stood up on hind legs not 20 yards in front of us.
I instinctively pulled up and shot it. This clean shot won instant praise from my companion.
We proudly carried our trophy back to the house and asked Dad about cleaning it and eating it for supper.
He smiled and said, “Well, it’s not the right month to eat rabbits.” He went on to explain that any month with an R in it, September through April were months to eat rabbit. During the other months, the animals would be “wormy.” I admit I felt a good deal of remorse at having taken the life from this innocent creature for what turned out to be sport.
Rabbit meat,to quote a common expression, “tastes like chicken,” with a slightly stronger, meatier flavor. And it cooks like chicken. For example, you can sauté it in oil or butter and make a sauce by deglazing the pan.
My mother would batter it, deep fry it and one would be hard pressed to know that it was not southern fried chicken, except that as young children, try as we might we could find no drum stick. Dad cleverly explained that he cut it differently this time leaving out what the “it” was.
While people from all over the world consider rabbit a delicacy, it has never been popular in the States after our frontier days.
Perhaps some people object to eating such cute furry creatures. I was never around lambs but growing up on a dairy farm, there is nothing as cute as a young calf. Their fur is not course like you would expect from a cow but rather silky soft. And they look up at you from big, round eyes beneath those beautiful, long eyelashes. Rabbits on the other hand seem indifferent and hardly acknowledge you at all unless you have something to feed them.
A classic dish in France is Lapin a la Moutarde or Rabbit in Mustard Sauce. This country French delicacy is baked or braised and covered with a sauce made with mustard, shallots and heavy cream.
My recipe this time captures the flavor of braising and highlights a lemon wine sauce for a delicious savory treat. If you prefer, chicken makes an excellent substitute.Most grocers can order rabbit for you if they do not stock it. It will come frozen and usually cut into pieces. If it is not cut up, ask the butcher to cut it for you.
Rabbit is one of the leanest and most environmentally friendly meats we can eat. Compared to beef, pork, lamb, veal, turkey and chicken, rabbit has the least fat and fewest calories per serving. Raising rabbits can produce six pounds of meat on the same amount of feed and water it takes to produce one pound of beef.
Needless to say, after shooting that poor rabbit my career as a hunter was over. But who would have guessed that my life in food was just beginning? Happy New Year!
Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian nutritionist with years of experience practicing nutrition therapy in local hospitals and clinics,teaching nutrition and developing healthy recipes.
He is a Nacogdoches resident and he helped create the popular TV show, Memorial Cooking Innovations, celebrating the world of food and health.
Memorial Cooking Innovations currently runs in 62 cities and is locally available on Sudden Link cable channel 2 in Nacogdoches.