Wascally Wabbit

Don't get hoppin' mad if a rabbit chews through your phone cord; get even with this delicious solution to all your bunny woes.

By Leslie Bilderback 01/01/2011

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Lately I have been accused of being anti-animal because of my propensity for, and appreciation of, all things meaty. But let me just state for the record that I am a fan of animals. I have been a pet owner all my life and am currently the slave of two huge and happy dogs. Just because I like the taste of meat does not mean I hate animals. I love animals. Sure, I can’t help imagining how they might taste and how they could best be prepared, but doesn't everyone do that? An animal's cuteness does not prevent me from also enjoying it on my fork. There is no Disney artist alive who can render an animal so cute that I would not like to see it braised in white wine.
Case in point: bunnies.  
Yes, bunnies are very cute, but they can also be mean. They’re wild animals, for heaven’s sake. People started keeping them as pets during the Industrial Revolution because they wanted a reminder of their rural roots when they moved into the cities. A little furry piece of nature in a cage filled the bill. I can only assume the rabbits still resent us for this. 
I admit that I am guilty of rabbit husbandry. As a kid I had a rabbit named Shoey. (Because it was the same color as a pair of my shoes. Don’t judge me.) That damn beast bit hard and liked to dig. It tried to escape several times and, thankfully, finally got away with it. Shoey was replaced by Sandy. (Yes, he was the color of sand. I was 6, so cut me some slack.) Sandy got ill and apparently was placed in an oxygen tent by the vet. This treatment was a success and, full of new vim and vigor, Sandy staged his escape from the vet in the middle of the night and ran off into the hills to be with his rabbit relatives. I was always proud of that rabbit, until a couple years ago, when I learned the horrible truth. (Moms are liars.)   
In college, my roommate had a pet rabbit she trained to use the toilet. This was great at parties, but sadly the creature liked to chew on phone cords (yes, kids, in the olden days phones had cords), which made it hard to call home to ask for more money.  
Nowadays I live near a lot of open space, and I frequently see little cottontails hopping away from me on my morning run. I think of them not as rabbits, but as coyote chow. There are hundreds of them, and I am confident that if coyotes ever disappeared, we would be deluged. Once in a while, in the middle of the night, the neighborhood coyotes join together in a chorus of high-pitched howling. I imagine them coming down the street in a pack, like the Jets, facing off with the bunny Sharks in a woodsy rumble for turf.  
Rabbit overpopulation is a serious problem in Australia, where there are no coyotes or other natural predators. Severe erosion and the loss of plant species are a direct result of the bunnies eating everything. (Crikey!) The University of Victoria in British Columbia has a rabbit problem too. They have so many rabbits that the school started to trap and euthanize them because they were a tripping danger. Activists successfully stopped the practice, and now the school is trapping, neutering and relocating them to wildlife sanctuaries. (Your tuition dollars at work.) Some ingenious students (the ones that I would be hanging out with) have apparently taken to trapping and eating the bunnies, for which I give kudos. It sure beats my college diet of top ramen, soft-serve FroYo and generic light beer.   
If you are inclined to hunt and eat wild rabbits (which you can legally do all year in California), you'll be happy to learn that The Joy of Cooking has handy diagrams and detailed instructions for gutting, skinning and cooking rabbits and hares, with delightful  passages such as “don gloves to avoid possible tularemia infection.” Thanks for the tip, Rombauers! 
Rabbit is considered game meat, as is everything that was once wild and traditionally hunted. In classic rabbit dishes you will find much marinating and slow, moist cooking. This tenderizes the tough wild meat and leaches out some of the gaminess. But today’s rabbits are farmed for consumption and are much milder in flavor. (Wild rabbits are constantly hopping around, so their muscles are more developed and therefore a bit tougher. Farmed rabbits just sit around all day watching TV and updating their Facebook status: “Don't worry, be hoppy.”) Rabbits are available from better butchers as fryers (young bunnies, under 12 weeks old and about 1 to 3 pounds) and roasters (any rabbit older and larger). The young fryers are tender and can be cooked just as you would a chicken (grilled, fried, sautéed or baked). The older roasters will benefit from the more traditional rabbit-cooking methods of marinating and braising or stewing. When purchasing a rabbit, you’ll have to buy a whole one. Butchers don’t split hares.
Mr. McGregor, Peter Rabbit's foil, had the right idea. It’s time to stop thinking of rabbits as cute and furry and start thinking of them as dinner. They are far from snuggly. They are menacing. Okay, Thumper was cute, but he was the only one. Bugs was overly aggressive, Roger Rabbit was annoying and Winnie the Pooh’s Rabbit was intolerant and rude. Harvey sent poor Jimmy Stewart to the loony bin, and there was that rabbit that attacked President Carter. If you read books in the 1970s you know that Watership Down is documented proof of the cruel and devious nature of bunnies. And let’s not forget the Playboy bunny. What does that tell you about rabbits? Cute, indeed!  
You know, carrots are pretty cute too, but there are not many people who would refuse crudités on the basis of looks. Fire up the oven, boys. The bunnies are going down!  

Leslie Bilderback is a certified master baker and chef, a cookbook author and lead pastry instructor at École de Cuisine in Pasadena. A South Pasadena resident, Bilderback teaches her techniques online at culinarymasterclass.com. 

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