Monday, January 21, 2013

{Recipe ReDux} A trend in every pot: Rabbit stew with sweet potatoes

As people are learning about our food system and that many of our current systems aren't sustainable, we are seeking alternatives. The majority of animals raised for meat in the US are done so without respect for the animals and without care for the environment. The good news is that consumers are looking for food that doesn't wreak havoc on the earth and farmers are meeting the need.

One growing trend in meat consumption is rabbit. If the idea of eating something so fluffy and cute makes you take pause, consider this: chickens are pretty cute too. Anytime you eat meat, an animal had died. It is easy to be oblivious of the animal's life when all we see at the grocery store are packages of pieces that don't look anything like the living animal. It is difficult to know what the animal was fed, if they were given hormones or antibiotics and the living conditions. By getting to know your farmers, you know what food you're eating and how those choices are impacting the environment.

I had the opportunity to interview Nick Carter of Meat the Rabbit, a rabbit meat supplier based in Indiana. Nick is an entrepreneur and farm kid and saw a niche to be filled- chefs wanted to have rabbits on their menus but didn't have a reliable supply. Eating rabbit is a greener option for eating meat. Large scale for raising rabbits might be twenty working does - rabbit lingo for a breeding mother - versus 1,000's of beef cattle on an industrial feedlot. The rabbit manure stays on the farm and increases soil fertility vs. cow manure being treated as a hazard and being carted off and polluting our waterways. Rabbits also have a very high feed:meat ratio - this means that it takes significantly less food to produce a pound of meat in a rabbit than it does in a cow. Rabbits are clean and quiet - excellent neighbors indeed - and are raised without hormones or antibiotics for Meat the Rabbit. Finally, because rabbits are sold whole, waste is much lower than when buying only part of an animal, such as chicken breasts or pork loin.

Nick's favorite way to cook rabbit is beer braised. I'll have to try that next! The inspiration for this recipe came from here, and I modified it to my personal tastes and the ingredients I had on hand. Don't know how to cut up a rabbit? I didn't either - but with the guidance of google and youtube, I managed. Unfortunately, I had Elmer Fudd's little tune "kill the rabbit" stuck in my head. Gulp.

Rabbit and Sweet Potato Stew
  • 1 rabbit, about 3 pounds, cut up
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons butter or olive oil.
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • dash pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 cups water
  • 3 cups dry red wine
  • 2 cups diced carrots
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 8 ounces sliced mushrooms, sauteed
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup water
  • Dijon mustard, for garnish 
  1. Preheat a large soup pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 3 tablespoon butter or olive oil.
  2. Dredge rabbit pieces in flour and add to pot. Brown meat on all sides. 
  3. Add celery, onions, salt, pepper, bay leaves, water and wine. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for two hours, stirring occasionally. 
  4. Meanwhile, saute mushrooms in remaining tablespoon butter or olive oil until nicely browned. 
  5. After stew has simmered for two hours, add sweet potatoes, carrots and mushrooms. Simmer 20-25 minutes or until all vegetables are tender. 
  6. Mix flour and remaining 1/3-cup water until no lumps remain. Stir this mixture into stew to thicken. 
  7. Ladle stew into serving bowls and garnish with Dijon mustard. 

Make sure your knife is sharp
Brown rabbit meat on all sides
This stew is loaded with vegetables!

Thicken stew with flour mixture

Reader poll: Have you ever eaten rabbit? What is your favorite recipe?

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  1. I totally agree with your above statement about eating animal regardless of cute rabbit or a cow is same thing because we are taking life of an animal but since I had them as pet while growing- it is just hard for me but its pretty interesting to read about new market for rabbit. Thanks for sharing :)

    1. Hi Dixya - it is a complete change of perspective to have animals as pets vs. food. It is a tough one! Thank you for visiting and commenting!

  2. Hi Holly,

    Great post about food sustainability. It is important to take a breath sometimes and think about where our food comes from and what the impacts are beyond just satisfying our tummies! I recently read an article on the ethics of eating quinoa that you might be interested in

    Anyway, enough of the serious stuff- your rabbit stew looks delicious!!


    1. Oh man, I didn't know that about quinoa - thanks for sharing! It just gives weight to the importance of local - it is hard to monitor or understand the impact of food choices 1,000's of miles away. Thanks for visiting! Try the stew, it was great :)

  3. So interesting to read the background on raising rabbits for meat. I'm curious, what does it taste like?

    1. Deanna- It was tasty! The meat is all white meat and mild flavored. I guess you could say "it tastes like chicken", and it was probably close. I haven't eaten wild rabbit, but that is supposed to taste more "gamey" than these domesticated rabbits. I'd like to try it next without as much seasoning to get a better sense of the taste. Thanks for visiting!

  4. Wow. I'm amazed that you tackled butchering a rabbit yourself. How cool!

    My family still talks about eating squirrel. In fact, they swear squirrel & dumplings is the best ever. I'm not ready to go there quite yet, but your point is so valid... it's all what you get used to. Chickens, if they were pets, wouldn't be near so appetizing :(

    1. Hi Regan - it is amazing the information you can find on the internet. Some of the rabbit recipes started with "step one: kill yerself a rabbit". Goodness.

      I was actually a vegetarian for over 15 years and am slowly starting to eat meat as my perspective evolves. I have never eaten squirrel!

      Thanks for visiting!

  5. I love this insightful post! I have so many comments:
    Super interesting about the rabbit producer in IN...I checked to see if his rabbits get to Illinois and it doesn't look like they do...yet! HOpefully soon!
    Ha ha about the recipe beginning "Kill yerself a rabbit..." Actually, a lot of the meat we eat these days is self-harvested as my husband gets a deer every year and it lasts us a good half year. I love being able to feed my kids this meat high in CLA's. Plus they see where it comes from. My husband has tried to hunt rabbits, but they're hard to catch!
    But when he gets one, I'll try your recipe for sure! I have great memories of a meal in Paris (pre-kids) of stewed rabbit that was divine!

    1. Hi Serena! Thank you for visiting :) I do think that it is important to be connected to where your food comes from to ensure that what we eat was raised responsibly, whether it is a bell pepper or a chicken.

      I haven't been to paris yet and can't wait to someday go!

      From what I understand, the domestic rabbit tastes different than wild. I have only eaten the one rabbit, so I can't compare for you. I did visit the meat counter of a local permanent market and was able to find rabbit there, so keep looking! You could also check with some local farm-to-fork style restaurants to see if they are a) serving rabbit or b) know where to source some. My local whole foods did not carry rabbit.


  6. Thank you for the recipe! My kids (13, 11, 9 and 7) and I just butchered a rabbit and I am checking out recipes on the Net. We plan to tan the hide and hope to make a nice warm hat out of the pelt. Teaching kids (and adults!) about where food and fiber really comes from is important.

    I grew up on a cattle ranch in Oklahoma and now live in Texas. Growing up, my family butchered our own cattle for meat, and we kids loved to watch and help with the entire process. People being disconnected from food production is a shame, and I love teaching my children how to respect life and understand that life has purpose. In most cases, that purpose is brought to fruition through a respectful and painless death.

    My husband's and my livelihood is the cattle feeding industry, and I just wanted to clarify a couple of points. You say, "The rabbit manure stays on the farm and increases soil fertility vs. cow manure being treated as a hazard and being carted off and polluting our waterways."

    Cattle manure from feedyards is not treated as a hazard! In fact, there is an entire composting industry that has built up around feedyards, and the manure (not waste!) is windrowed and composted by custom composters, and sold to local farms and/or into the urban/suburban garden/lawn soil market. So all those nutrients go back into the soil. Very awesome. We do not pollute our waterways at all.

    Also, you say, "The majority of animals raised for meat in the US are done so without respect for the animals and without care for the environment."

    This, too, is patently false. Our animals are well cared for. Were this not the case, productivity would not have increased. If we do not feel well, we do not thrive. Animals are the same. The better we care for our animals, the better they do and the more money we make.

    As for care for the environment, we now produce more beef using fewer resources than at any time in history! What could possibly be better for the environment!? Feedyard operators are not evil, uncaring people. In fact, they are family men like my husband and real women like me who care about our communities, our animals, our land and our future. "Sustainability" only exists through efficiency and improvements and making money over time.

    Contrary to what poplular culture seems to be telling us, profitability and care for animals and the environment are NOT mutually exclusive, but directly proportional.

    Thanks again for the awesome-looking recipe! Can't wait to try it (yes, the kids and I have decided upon this one!).


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