Monday, January 06, 2014

The Joy of Rabbit

Perhaps it is a sign that I am getting older or experiencing a refinement in my pallet, but I have developed a taste for rabbit over the last few years. What started out as an attempt to try more exotic food became a true love for the animal upon traveling to countries that cook it regularly. This winter, I traveled to Europe to spend some time with family in Flanders. While in Bruges, I sat down at an up-and-coming restaurant to try their specialty: locally caught rabbit.

 
I had never had the animal prepared and cooked so well, and it was a culinary highlight of my trip.
 
Every culture has its own standards for food, and rabbit is still outside of the mainstream here in the US. While not as insurmountable as raising dogs for consumption, getting rabbit on the American dinner table has significant challenges. I am unsure if the animal's "cute" factor has made it difficult to integrate into the American menu, but it is unfortunate that it remains so elusive. My family in Belgium raised the animals for decades, and my grandparents brought the tradition to the US with them in the early 1950s. Sometime during my father's youth they stopped doing so (along with many European immigrants from that time period). Thus, the meat is harder to come by, and only a few boutique groceries offer if.
 
Karen Pinchin at Modern Farmer argues that rabbit is the potential new "super meat" if only Americans could get over the stigma surrounding devouring the cute little guy. She writes:
 
"By all appearances, rabbit could be the food of the future. Touted for years by food activists including Michael Pollan, these fluffy herbivores eat alfalfa instead of energy-intensive soy or fish meal, grow quickly and thrive in clean, disease-free conditions. Plus, while their reproductive prowess may be clichéd, California farmer Mark Pasternak and his wife Myriam can’t build rabbit barns fast enough to keep up with demand. 
Three years ago the couple’s Marin-area Devil’s Gulch Ranch had 250 breeding females, or does, a number that has since quadrupled to 1,000 and makes them one of the largest meat rabbit producers in the United States. At any one time, they have 9,000 rabbits, with 300 to 500 slaughtered every week for regional grocery stores and restaurants, including French Laundry, Chez Panisse, and Zuni Café. A single doe will have multiple litters every year, and those litters will reach breeding age within months; that means a rabbit can produce six pounds of meat on the same amount of feed and water it takes a cow to produce just one pound."
Until then, I will be on the hunt for a meal as wonderful as the one I had in Bruges. 

1 comment:

TNC said...

I think raising rabbits--including to eat--is more common in rural parts of the country and especially the South. There is probably a meat market not too far from you that has it. Definitely Sonoma County (Bud's Custom Meats). Today they are getting more popular with the "farm to table" crowd so you can find rabbit in fancy/yuppie grocery stores. I have seen this brand in NYC and looks like you can order online:

https://www.dartagnan.com/Rabbit%3A-The-Basics/Rabbit,default,pg.html