Be Vewy Vewy Quiet, I’m Hunting Wabbit!

by Donald Wilson on January 26, 2011

Rabbit in a Mustard Sauce

Rabbit in a Mustard Sauce

It could be the Easter Bunny. Perhaps it’s Peter Rabbit’s fault. I, personally, blame Warner Brothers. Whatever the reason, Americans do not eat rabbit and whenever I mention it in polite society, I feel like Elmer Fudd trying to feed Bugs Bunny to my son for dinner.

I know the vast majority of people will have decided that this is a recipe they won’t ever try even before they finish reading this sentence. Please know that you can make this dish using chicken with equally excellent results and it’s okay to read on.

Why even try it with rabbit? Why not just leave cute little Peter alone to deforest Mr. McGregor’s garden? First, it’s delicious – really, really delicious. Contrary to belief, it’s very mild and, yes, it does taste similar to chicken. Second, it’s incredibly lean and healthy meat. If you were to live on a diet of rabbit alone, you would soon die from lack of fat. Third, it’s sustainable and can be produced as fast as bunnies can reproduce! No more needed to be said on that point. Still, I have one more reason to cheerlead the choice of rabbit consumption.

Americans (for the most part) have no problem consuming over 250 pounds of meat each year with barely a thought of those farmyard friends who gave their life for our meal. Rabbits are different. They force us to confront our carnivorous selves. You don’t think about cuddling with a chicken, cow, or pig, but with rabbits you do. Perhaps if we ate rabbit as much as we do chicken, we would be desensitized to it as well. However, with a rabbit laid our in your kitchen your grand soliloquy will be:  “Carnivore or Vegetarian: that is the question.”

I continue to be a carnivore, but rabbit has given me opportunities to talk to Andrew about honoring the life given for our meal. We don’t’ waste any part and  make stock from leftover bones (we freeze them until we have enough). We have even used the skull (yes, it’s often still attached) to explore rabbit anatomy. Ultimately, It was rabbit that led us to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) group to ensure that all of our meat and poultry is ethically and sustainably raised.  I hope that some of you will give rabbit a try.  I promise you won’t be sorry.

Even though I may not have convinced you to try rabbit, I think the recipe that follows is so good and easy that you should make it this week with chicken. To be honest,  I was actually on my way to the Farmers’ Market to get a chicken to make this for dinner last night, when I found a stand that had one free range, naturally fed, and humanely raised rabbit left.  The Elmer Fudd in me came out and I nabbed that waskerly wabbit.

This recipe is my take on the famous French Rabbit in a Mustard Sauce. There are a few common ingredients you will find in most recipes: bacon of some sort, Dijon, cream, garlic, bay, and herbs. For years I have browned the rabbit pieces first and fried the bacon separately and then thrown it all together to slowly cook on top of the stove. Thanks to a recipe in a fantastic cookbook “A platter of Figs” by David Tannis (a must have book), I now throw it all together in one pot and bake it.  It’s so easy that it’s now a weeknight possibility.


Rabbit (or Chicken) in a Mustard Sauce

1 rabbit or small chicken (about 2 ½ to 3 lbs) cut up in 6 pieces (see note on cutting up a rabbit)

8 ounces bacon or pancetta

8 cloves garlic

8 tablespoons Dijon

1 cup cream or 1 cup crème fraiche

1/3 cup white wine

2 tablespoons fresh herbs chopped. Thyme is a must, but I interchange rosemary or sage and sometimes use all three

2 bay leaves

Freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon salt

Cutting up a rabbit or chicken in to pieces:

Note: Use a sharp pair of poultry shears and cut along both sides of the back bone and remove it.  You will now have two rabbit halves.  Carefully cut the skin around the front and rear legs and using a boning knife clear the meat that attaches the legs to the body and cut off at joint.  This will make sense once you are actually doing it.  You will be left with the loin (meat that runs along the back) and the ribs.  The ribs have very little meat and Andrew hates bones, so I debone the ribs and fold this thin flap of meat back onto the loin.  Again, this will make sense once you are into the butchering.  Don’t worry if you make a few mistakes the first time.  It’s likes everything else: practice makes perfect.  Of course, if you have a good butcher, have him/her do it for you  and save yourself some time.

Whole Rabbit

Whole Rabbit

Cut Up Rabbit

Rabbit in 6 pieces

Cut the bacon/pancetta into smallish pieces and place in a large bowl. Add the cream, mustard, herbs, bay leaves and pepper.

Put the garlic and salt in a mortar and pestle (or Cuisinart), grind it to a paste and add to the bowl. Mix everything together and add the rabbit/chicken pieces and coat well.

You can cook it at this point, but letting it stand for a few hours helps develop the flavor. I like to make it to this point the night before and stick it in a large Ziplock bag and let it sit until I’m ready to use it the following night.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put all the ingredients in a baking dish and bake for about an hour, checking to turn the pieces half way through. Serve with Braised peas with pancetta or Brussel sprouts with Walnuts and a salad with a lemon vinaigrette.  (Recipes to follow in the next few days.)


Lynne Culp February 2, 2011 at 6:37 pm

(I know you because my partner Jenee has worked with you…and sent me a link to your great cooking blog. Hmmm, a bit of self-interest there.)

I agree 100% about rabbit. In the early 80’s, my daughter’s riding teacher raised and butchered rabbits. She gave me one and I was amazed at how delicious they were. Julia Child had a rabbit recipe in Julia Child and Company or the 2nd volume. I think it was leek and rabbit pie. My family thought it was delicious.

Donald Wilson February 3, 2011 at 6:55 am

Leek and rabbit pie sound great. I’ll be posting my rabbit ravioli one of these days. I always think I want to raise rabbits to have a fresh supply, but I’m nut sure I could do the final act. Until then, it’s a job I happily leave to professionals. Thanks for checking out the blog.

Marcie jimenez February 22, 2011 at 12:15 am

What a great recipie and a great story. You bought the rabbit from me at the farmer’s market and shared your website address a few weeks ago. You are a fantastic writer and really touch on some very real issues when it comes to eating meat. As a farmer and small scale meat producer I thank you for your support and the wonderfully written articles on your website.

Donald Wilson February 22, 2011 at 10:20 pm

Thank you Marcie and thank you for your efforts to bring health and sustainable food to our tables. The rabbit was delicious… both of them. I made a Spanish Braise with the second one and had a friend over who loved it. People are always so surprised at how good it taste. I look forward to trying your other products. Please feel free to send me the link to the farm. I would be happy to publish it for people looking for good source of sustainable meat in Los Angeles. June 20, 2015 at 1:59 pm

Youu need your mwrketing strategy to tell yoou how your organization compares too others in the trade.

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