Look anywhere in the world besides Antarctica, and you’ll find a constant presence: Rabbits! Whether wild or domesticated, the Oryctolagus cuniculus has become an integral part of human culture, as clothing, pet, artistic inspiration, and yes — food.
Rabbits have been such an important source of meat for humans, in fact, that there’s a whole named branch of agriculture for breeding & raising rabbits: Cuniculture.
Today, we’ll be taking a closer look at rabbits in the context of food, going over what rabbit meat tastes like, what breeds of rabbit are most commonly used for meat, how to cook rabbit meat to get the best flavor out of it, and where to buy rabbit meat to try in your home kitchen.
What Does Rabbit Meat Taste Like?
To really get a taste for rabbit, you’ll have to make an important distinction: Is the meat from a wild rabbit, or a farm raised one?
Farm-raised rabbit meat will have a nice balance of fat and lean muscle, giving it a juicier texture and a clean, light flavor. In many ways, it tastes similar to organic chicken, but with a richer and sweeter flavor. This comes from the rabbit’s constantly-active lifestyle, and their muscular thighs.
Wild rabbit meat, like that from any wild-caught animal, will be leaner and “gamier” in flavor. This also means that it will be drier, and require more careful cooking methods to avoid making it unappetizing (more on that in a moment).
Rabbit Meat Nutrition
Rabbit meat is a good source of protein, as well as Vitamin A, B6, and niacin. Each rabbit meat preparation has a different nutritional profile. For example, roast rabbit meat can contain anywhere from 34-43% fat; whereas the same roast would only have 10% fat with a slow cooking method.
Different Types of Rabbit Breeds for Meat
Not just any of the 305 registered breeds of domestic rabbits is fit for eating, though. According to Mother Earth News, the following breeds of rabbit are recognized as great meat producers in a farm or homestead / domestic rabbit setting:
The Chinchilla rabbit is a very large and heavy breed of rabbit, and they were originally bred in France for their meat. Historically, these rabbits were not imported to the United States because they were considered to be too hardy for this climate. The females can weight up to 13 pounds and males about 10 pounds when fully mature. They’re often used domestically in meat production (along with other breeds like New Zealand Whites) when people want rabbits for both breeding and meat production.
The Flemish Giant is another great choice for farmers looking to produce rabbit meat. Known for the heavy, dense bone structure found throughout its body, this breed of rabbit is perfect for heavier cuts of meat.
New Zealand White
The New Zealand White rabbit is one of the most popular breeds of rabbit used domestically for meat production. The New Zealand White, or “NZW”, is the largest breed of rabbit with mature bucks weighting up to 12 pounds and does weighing 8-10 pounds. They are noted for their large size, easy temperament, and outstanding mothering abilities.
Each rabbit breed has one thing in common with the others: They’re among the largest breeds of rabbits. A rabbit producer can get a lot of quality cuts at butchering. Other smaller breeds, like the Netherland Dwarf or Angora, are meant as pets or sources of wool, respectively, rather than rabbit meat production.
Risks and Considerations For Eating Rabbit Meat
Rabbit meat is a good source of protein. It’s also low in fat, high in iron, and contains no cholesterol. For that reason it makes an excellent replacement for beef- which is higher in fat, lower in protein, higher in cholesterol, and harder to find locally.
Cooking with rabbit meat yields dishes with a distinctive and different flavor than beef and pork. Rabbit meat has a mild (which is why it’s not as strong as many other meats) and delicate flavor. It pairs well with vegetables for those who do not like the taste of the flesh on its own. Some people may need to take into account that some cuts of rabbit meat are tougher than others which means they may need to cook them longer to break down some of the texture. This is something that the same might happen if a person were cooking with pork or beef.
It’s always important to remember that when people are looking into buying rabbit meat they need to check for its origin and how it was processed, because there have been cases where people have been sickened by rabbit meat from an unknown source.
When cooking with rabbit meat it’s important to remember that the meat is leaner and cooks faster than beef or pork – be careful not to overcook it! Rabbit can become dry very easily so make sure you cook it slowly over a lower heat. It’s also important to marinate, brine or tenderize rabbit meat ahead of time before you cook it to make sure that the meat is as tender as possible.
How to Cook Rabbit Meat
Even though it’s widely consumed across much of the world, most American diners aren’t familiar with eating rabbit meat. But look to Italy or France, and you’ll find rabbit meat consumption on restaurant plates in almost the exact same place chicken holds on American plates.
Why is this? Well, the similarities between rabbit meat and chicken are threefold. Both animals are:
- Easy to raise on small homesteads
- A good source of lean protein
- Similarly sized
Which is to say: The best way to cook rabbit meat is to treat it the same way you would treat chicken.
If you’re planning on roasting or baking it, bone-in meat is best. This will help keep more moisture in the meat, preventing it from drying out to an unpalatable consistency.
That lean meat is why you’ll more often find rabbit meat being used in slow-cooked preparations, like rich sauces and stews (similar to squirrel). You can easily replace the beef in your classic Italian ragu with shredded rabbit meat, where its mild flavors are given a boost by hearty spices, garlic, and onions.
French rabbit preparations favor creamy and pungent flavors, all the better to showcase the clean taste of rabbit meat. Sauces of heavy cream, white wine, and whole grain mustard are used to slowly braise whole rabbits, sealing in their natural juices at the same time the sauce is reduced and made savory.
But perhaps one of the most delicious rabbit recipes is one of unclear origins: Brunswick Stew. Variously claimed by Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and even Northern Germany, it is a tomato-based stew that uses a bevy of local vegetables and chunks of rabbit meat, slow-simmered for hours to develop its signature intense flavor. Southern Living has a fantastic article on the origins of Brunswick stew, and a recipe for an easier-to-make version that uses chicken and beef in place of rabbit. Check out their one pot dinner Brunswick stew here:
Types of Meals to Make With Rabbit Meat
There are many different ways to cook with rabbit meat. A popular way to cook with rabbit is to stew the meat and vegetables together in a slow cooker for at least 8 hours. This will allow the flavors of the vegetables to infuse into the meat and break down some of its tougher textures. Another popular savory dish that can be made using rabbit meat is pate’. A chef might make a pate’ by putting rabbit in a blender with any combination of savory ingredients like red wine, onions, herbs, and spices. A chef could then add in some chunks of bread, pork fat (or butter), and double cream.
A sweet way to use rabbit food is by roasting it slowly over low heat in an oven. Rabbit meat can be roasted in much the same way as chicken, however it will cook faster than a whole chicken or turkey usually does – between 45-60 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for roasting rabbit foods.
In some regions of the world rabbit meat is used to make salami and sausages. In Italy, where rabbit meat has been used for generations, rabbit salami and sausage is known as “stracchino” and was once made with a combination of beef and pork fat. Nowadays it can be found in specialty markets that sell only locally sourced meats without any additives or fillers added to them.
A chef might also use rabbit meat to make pate’ by putting it in a blender with red wine, onions, herbs and spices.
Where to Buy Rabbit Meat
For most people who eat rabbit meat, it comes either from their own home-raised / family farm stock or from a wild hare caught during hunting season. If you’re not keen on killing your own rabbits for meat, though, thankfully there are other domesticated rabbit meat options.
If you live in a major metro area, chances are an upscale butcher will be able to source rabbit for you. Big name grocery stores in the U.S. rarely if ever have rabbit in stock, so check with smaller businesses first for your best chance at scoring fresh rabbit meat.
But if you’re not lucky enough to live near an excellent butcher, ordering your rabbit online is the way to go. Our partners over at Farmfoods Market have got you covered, with free-range heritage rabbits that are sustainably raised and hormone free. Their whole heritage rabbit is a great deal for the price, and will allow you to try cooking rabbit in any of the meals listed above.
FAQs about Rabbit Meat
Here are some common questions about rabbit meat.
What is rabbit meat called?
Rabbit meat does not have a “name” like deer meat is called venison and cow meat is called beef. This has more to do with how English borrows heavily from Latin languages for many nouns than with culinary jargon. Rabbit meat is rabbit meat.
What part of a rabbit is the meat?
Rabbit meat comes from all parts of a rabbit. It can be found in the muscle tissue, organs, and bones of a whole animal when its been butchered properly. Rabbit meat can also be sold by specific cuts such as tenderloin or leg.
What to look for when buying rabbit meat?
When buying rabbit meat, it is important to know the age of the animal that was harvested for the meat. Typically, the older an animal is when it dies, the less tender its meat will be. Rabbit can also come from young animals or you can opt to buy rabbit products grounded up. Grounded products are often leaner than individual cuts because fat gets mixed into all of them making them taste better by amplifying flavors instead of just one type. Despite being leaner, grinding means that there are more nutrients released in each bite which promotes protein synthesis and muscle development inside your body! Most people prefer not to cook with any white remaining on their cut of choice but some people have preferences about how much surface area they want left untouched. Boneless cuts such as tenderloin can leave little to no meat on the bone and will not add flavor to your recipe like a cut with bones in it would.
How healthy is rabbit meat?
Rabbit meat is very healthy. In fact, it’s considered a “complete protein” because rabbit meat has all of the amino acids that your body needs to function. In addition, it contains omega-3 fatty acids and has been found to be easier for people who are allergic to cow milk or soy milk – especially children – to digest.
Why is rabbit meat not popular?
Rabbit meat is still not as popular as other sources of protein like beef and pork. Rabbits are also often used as a pet which means that some people may prefer to buy them live rather than eat them. Additionally, they are hard to raise & harvest at scale since no single rabbit has a lot of meat on them – especially compared to a cow, pig, or factory-raised chicken.
Why is rabbit meat so expensive?
The main reason is because of the humane treatment of rabbits. It’s very hard to please someone who has an emotional relationship with their food. It also takes a fair amount of time, effort and expertise to raise rabbits for food, which makes it more expensive than other meats. They are not bred & raised in factory farming conditions, so there is higher marginal cost per pound.