rabbit, rabbit, rabbit

wheat emerging in Great Forest

wheat emerging in Great Forest

As the green shoots of wheat push through the ground, word seems to have spread around the local rabbit population that there’s a free banquet to be eaten every night over on the Wheaton farm. If you drive along our chase any night, they are everywhere – some sit quietly nibbling away, others zig zag suicidally in the car headlights and others just hop away to a find another spot to eat.

Before they get the chance to eat all the crops (estimates vary but six rabbits can graze as much as one sheep) numbers need to be controlled, which is done by using cage traps that are baited with carrots (cut lengthwise, not sliced across). The rabbit follows the trail of carrots into the cage where its weight triggers the mechanism that swings the door down behind it, thus trapping it.

rabbit for supper

So, what do we do with all these rabbits? Well, wild rabbit is very tasty so we eat some and we give some away. Unfortunately, many people are reluctant to eat rabbit despite the fact that it’s completely free range and lean, which means we end up eating rather a lot of it.

Rabbit Three Ways
I dealt with the last batch of rabbits three different ways. There’s not much meat on the front legs so I used them to make Potted Rabbit (or rillettes) which you can read about here, complete with a photo that explains why there is no good picture of rillettes anywhere, not even on pinterest. We eat the Potted Rabbit like a pate.

The saddles were hot smoked and either eaten cold (they make a good sandwich) or will be used in stews to add another dimension.

I used the back legs to make Preserved Rabbit or rabbit confit. The preserved legs will sit under their layer of fat in the fridge for a couple of weeks, but I put them in the freezer if I’m keeping longer (though old recipe books imply they’ll keep for months). When I want to use them, I put them somewhere warm (the back of the aga usually) until the fat softens enough to lift the legs out.  The meat is soft and falls easily from the bone – sometimes too easily, in which case I just pull the bone out. I like to fry the legs in a little of the fat and eat them with green salad. The fat left in the container is very good for toasted sandwiches.

crushing herbs for rabbit confit

Preserved Rabbit Recipe
50g sea salt
2 bay leaves
Sprig rosemary chopped
4 sprigs of thyme – leaves stripped
1 teaspoon Sichuan pepper
4 rabbit legs
Lard – about 500g

Crush the sea salt, bay, rosemary, thyme and pepper. Take a plastic box that’s big enough to pack the rabbit legs in one layer and put two thirds of the salty mixture in the bottom. Place the rabbit legs on top and then sprinkle over the rest of the salt mixture. Cover and leave in the fridge for 24 hours.

Next day, remove the legs and wipe with a bit of kitchen paper and discard the liquid in the box.

Melt the lard in the saucepan and add the rabbit legs – the legs need to be just covered with fat – and heat until the lard is almost at simmering point. Cover and cook in the oven at 130C for 3 – 4 hours until the legs are meltingly soft.

Lift the legs from the liquid and drain on a wire rack while you strain the herbs and stray bits of meat from the liquid. Leave the liquid to stand a while so that the juices and fat separate; the juices can be used in gravies and stews as you only need the fat to preserve the legs.

I like to pack my rabbit legs in pairs as that’s the amount we use in one go, so hunt out some suitable sized plastic boxes (or wide mouthed jars) and spoon enough fat into the bottom to make a 1cm layer. When that’s set, lay your rabbit legs carefully on top and then completely cover with fat. Each leg needs to be completely encased in fat and not touching the sides or the other leg.

Put the lids on the boxes and store in the fridge.

Some other ways to eat rabbit …

Rabbit Curry, using rabbit instead of chicken. There’s no skin on rabbit so it has a tendency to dry out if not kept well lubricated and curry seems to work particularly well.

Pot-roasted rabbit with rosemary, thyme, sage and lemon – Glenda at Passion Fruit Garden has some recipes for cooking rabbits including this pot roast.

If you only try rabbit one way, I urge you to make a rabbit pie. I use the recipe from my very battered and food spattered copy of  Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course (also online here)  though I take the meat off the bone before putting it into the pie dish.

I wonder, do you eat rabbit?

36 thoughts on “rabbit, rabbit, rabbit

  1. Pat Machin says:

    We used to keep rabbits for the pot when I was little (meat rationing era) so I grew up with them. The also used to be common when we had lots of fish and game shops but are rarer now. When we went to the Port of Lancaster Smokehouse, http://www.lancastersmokehouse.co.uk/ they had a sign up “Wild rabbits wanted, will collect”. A real sign of the times. Oops! pun not intended.

    I don’t suppose they would collect from Essex but it might be an outlet for you if you are knee deep in the little blighters and could work out the logistics?.

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  2. Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial says:

    Pete grew up eating rabbit and won’t go near the meat, and as a result the boys and I rarely have it either. A rabbit is expensive to buy here from the butchers – wild rabbit would be a wonderful resource! The one dish we have made with rabbit was Blanquette de Lapin, and it was divine – Big Boy and I made ourselves ill on it when I made it a few years back. 🙂

    http://figjamandlimecordial.com/2010/02/10/blanquette-de-lapin/

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  3. Fiona says:

    They just don’t seem to be a popular eating choice in Australia, perhaps as we’ve diseased them with myxomatosis and calicivirus. Though we do still see hundreds of them, many show signs of these diseases (introduced to control them). We’re having similar issues with kangaroos on our Lucerne patch, some of them so big I’m sure they eat as much as a young cow. Your wheat paddock looks very wet.

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    • Anne @ Life in Mud Spattered Boots says:

      We have myxomatosis but I think the rabbits with that tend to get hit by cars whereas the ones brave enough to venture into the traps are usually (but not always) disease free. I think I’d rather have problems with rabbits than kangaroos! Yes that corner of the field is wet, but it looks worse because the track holds water and we’d just had some rain.

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  4. andreamynard says:

    We used to have rabbits all over our garden in the Spring but our cats seem to be keeping them away/eating a few at the moment. Have to admit I’ve never cooked it and seems I’m missing a treat! Great rabbit ideas and good for you not wasting any of it.

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  5. Sarah says:

    I’m going to forward your recipes to my friend who keeps meat rabbits for eating (she lives in an urban environment so no freebies hopping around!) Great post!

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  6. Jane @ Shady Baker says:

    Hello Anne. Your preserved rabbit sounds delicious. I love the way you describe putting the dish at the back of your aga to warm it up, reminds me of my childhood days with an aga.

    Years ago there were a lot of rabbits in our part of the world but thankfully not as many these days. If they were plentiful we would definitely eat them! The rabbit pie would be tasty. Just last week I had lunch with a friend at a local cafe. My friend ordered rabbit pie but it was full of bones…rather off-putting unfortunately.

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      • Mrs Thomasina Tittlemouse says:

        My first comment seems to have got eaten, like the rabbit! So am trying again! For me you have it right with what it looks like – skinned rabbit so like, well , skinned rabbit! And then there’s the bones… although I have to say your rabbit rillettes look good on that score.
        I know it’s illogical (and rather feeble) but the idea of eating rabbit makes me feel slightly queasy. I know, I know, once a townie, always a townie! Must try harder to adopt your down to earth approach but I may be some time!! E x

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  7. Jayne says:

    Wow, this post has peaked my curiosity! They introduced a disease to control rabbits in Australia??? No natural predators?? Are they all walking around sick and dying, does it spread to other animals? I have to research that… I’ve never eaten rabbits but love to watch them around our land. I did see a beautiful red fox hunt and catch one as I worked outside one day, it’s like Wild Kingdom here! They’ve never been a problem where I am in Connecticut, we do still have a few natural predators though, fishers, fox, cayotes etc. When I was in Italy I saw it on a menu but just couldn’t order it, lol…

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  8. sally says:

    When I was a kid growing up in the uk in the sixties the rabbits had terrible myxie, looked terrible, poor loves, after that in my teens it was quite rare to see a rabbit. But now I when I go back to the UK I am amazed how many rabbits are out grazing in paddocks on warm summer evenings. They look so healthy (well in comparison to the horrors that I remember from when I was a kid!) so I am surprized to hear that the dreaded myxomytosis is still around. I cannot bear the thought of eating rabbit, I still remember the smell of my dad boiling bunny for rabbit stew, in my mind I think of it as war food. I have to say that Celia’s Blanquette de Lapin could be the thing to make me change my mind

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  9. knitsofacto says:

    I grew up eating rabbit but my husband’s really not keen, so any that come our way get fed to the whippets, who really don’t care if they’re cooked or not. Sometimes, if they can be bothered, they even catch their own!

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  10. James Waller-Davies says:

    Great to see so many rabbit enthusiasts! I gather from our game dealer that rabbit numbers are very high this year. We have more hares than rabbits in the fields around us and we’ve never seen so many as this year. Now that all the fields have been harvested, especially the maize which provided the last of the cover, the hares are more visible.
    Love the recipes – will try and get through them all through the winter.

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