Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Wascally Wabbit!

“Kill the Wabbit, Kill the Wabbit!”
-Elmer Fudd

My daughter loves rabbit.  I don’t mean she loves rabbits merely as pets; she loves eating them. But I don’t think she has quite made the link between rabbit, the cute fuzzy things, and rabbit, the delicious meal.  My husband, in a desperate attempt to connect the dots for her, pointed to some floppy-eared fluffy and said, “Those things are for eating.”  My daughter just stared back at her dad, unfazed.  So much for giving your 4-year old a reality check.
In the interest of sustainable eating, we should eat more rabbit. Using the same amount of feed and water, a domesticated rabbit can produce 6 pounds of meat versus 1 pound of beef.  Wild rabbits forage for feed, thus they do not compete for our food resources.  One 1 kilo of beef has the same emissions as a car driving 160 miles, and the same energy consumption as leaving a 100W light bulb on continuously for 20 days.[1]  (Mainly in the form of producing and transporting cattle feed.  Cow farting and belching, in the form of methane, also add significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.) Eating grass-fed organic beef will do you better – 40% less gas emissions and 85% less energy consumption, but still, that’s a lot stink. Examining the 2001 USDA meat consumption charts, Americans eat 69.5 pounds of beef per capita.  Compare that to .02 pounds of rabbit.  Even if we were to eat 69.5 pounds of rabbit per year, the carbon footprint would still be considerably less than that of beef.
  If the environmental impact of bunnies doesn’t convince you to eat more rabbit, then clearly, you have not eaten enough rabbit. Other cultures have done it for centuries. Italians, French and of course, the Chinese.  The High – Colicchio & Sons, Bar Boulud, Chez Panisse – and the Low, Fuzhow Restaurant (in New York’s Chinatown), all have rabbits on their menus. From an environmental, economic and gustatory standpoint, you should try to buy local. Try using Agriseek or Local Harvest to find your local rabbit source. In major urban areas and in Europe, rabbit is relatively easy to find at good butchers or specialty grocers.  You can also mail order through specialty food sites, such as D’Artagnan or igourmet.  Then there is the Do-It-Yourself version, via World War II.   Written in 1941, Keeping Poultry and Rabbits on Scraps has all the steps you need to raise and slaughter your own yummy bunnies (the book has been reissued by Penguin and can be found on Amazon).  Wherever you get your wascally wabbit, follow the Fudd.  It’s time to kill the wabbit.

Rabbit Ragu 
            This recipe takes time.  It is not a quick weekday dinner, but after prep, most of the cooking is unattended.  Unwind. Have a glass of the red wine (take a glass from the bottle you used for the recipe).  And then eat.  The wait is worth it.

            1-2 rabbits, about 5 pounds of meat, cut into pieces with the bone-in
            salt and pepper
            1/4 c. olive oil
            1 anchovy
            2 medium onions, diced
            2 large carrots, diced
            2 stalks celery, diced
            Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
            3 cloves garlic, minced
            2 tbs. tomato paste
            11/4 c. of dry wine (if you can drink it, it will be fine)
            11/2 c. chopped tomatoes, drained and seeded (canned are OK, especially this time of year)
            1 c. chicken broth
            2 bay leaves
            2 sprigs of thyme
            2 tbs. butter, cold and cut into pieces
            16 oz. any wide, ribbon pasta (e.g. fettuccine, pappardelle, tagliatelle, etc.)
            Pecorino Romano cheese for serving (see note)

1.     Rinse and pat dry the rabbit pieces.  Season with salt and pepper.  In a Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat.  Brown rabbit, working in batches to avoid crowding.  Set aside on a plate.
2.     Reduce the heat to medium.  Add anchovy and smash it with a wooden spoon.  Add the onions, carrots, celery and sauté until soft, about 5-7 minutes, scraping any browned bits from the rabbit.  Add the pepper flakes, garlic and tomato paste, and sauté until fragrant.  Turn the heat to high, add the wine and deglaze.  Boil for about 4 minutes. 
3.     Add tomatoes, broth, bay leaves and thyme.  Place rabbit pieces and any accumulated liquid into the pot, making sure that all the rabbit pieces are partially submerged in the liquid.  Boil then turn heat down to a simmer for 2 hours, with the cover on. (The rabbit should be falling off the bone.)
4.     Turn off heat and discard bay leaves and thyme twigs.  Remove the rabbit from sauce, and when cool enough to handle, roughly chop meat from the bones.  Return meat to sauce, and simmer sauce until thickened, about 15 minutes.  Add cold butter pieces one by one, and re-season with salt and pepper.
5.     In the meanwhile, boil a pot of water for the pasta.  Cook until al dente and save 1 c. of pasta water.  Toss pasta with sauce, adding pasta water as needed.  Serve with grated Pecorino Romano cheese.
Note:  Do not substitute Parmesan for the Pecorino Romano.  Parmesan has much too delicate a flavor for this robust sauce. 

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