Raving About Rabbits For Food

Kenneth’s Shoyu Rabbit with steamed brown rice and sautéed kale. Daniel Lane photos

Kenneth’s Shoyu Rabbit with steamed brown rice and sautéed kale. Daniel Lane photos

Father-and-son team Kenneth and Ben Vallance of Lapaki Farm in Lawai raise up to 100 rabbits and sell them as food as well as pets. Rabbits for food are harvested at three months, weigh between three and four pounds, are sold dressed and cost $5 a pound. Rabbits for pets are at least 5 weeks old and cost $15.

Ben grew up on a farm in Arkansas and remembers hunting rabbit as a child. Today, he is a pastor at Breath of Life Christian Ministries in Lihue. Most of us are comfortable with buying meat in neat packages at the grocery store, but I respect people who can grow and harvest their own, especially where they’re as cute as these bunnies.

What’s growing: Lapaki Farm raises rabbits that are a hybrid of California Giants and New Zealand Giants.

RABBIT

Rabbits are considered game animals and are a source of food in Europe, South America, North America and some parts of the Middle East. It is commonly used in Moroccan cuisine, where it is cooked in a tajine (earthenware pot) with raisins and served with toasted almonds. Rabbit often is compared to chicken because of its all-white meat and mild flavor. Farm-raised rabbit meat is tender and fine grained.

Season: The gestation period for rabbit is about one month. Baby rabbits live with their mothers in a nursery and are transferred to grow-out cages at five weeks. At three months of age, they are ready to harvest. Farm-raised rabbit is available throughout the year.

What to look for: Select rabbit with light, creamed colored flesh that may be slightly pink.

Storage: Store Lapaki Farm rabbit for up to two days in the coldest part of the refrigerator. They can be frozen and are best if cooked before one month.

Tip: Rabbits can weigh up to 12 pounds, but once they’re more than four pounds, they are tough and should be marinated and braised or stewed. Chefs frequently use Lapaki Farm rabbits and say a one-day rest tenderizes the meat.

Preparation: Rabbit loin is delicate in flavor and color, has a tendency to dry out if not handled correctly and is excellent when pan-fried in a little oil or clarified butter. Traditional preparations include roasting, braising and “jugging,” which preserves the meat by cooking it and storing it in fat. Confit is an ancient French technique in which meat is cured to extract its perishable juices and cooked in a bath of fat. Rabbit confit can be made by using either duck or chicken fat.

The loin and legs often are prepared by separate techniques – the loin is roasted or sautéed, and the legs, which are more exercised, are stewed or braised. Dry white wine and Sercial Madeira are the best marinades for rabbit.

Ben Vallance at his farm with Storm, a 2-year-old buck

Ben Vallance at his farm with Storm, a 2-year-old buck

Rabbit can be used as an alternative to chicken, especially in stews. Dredge pieces in seasoned flour and brown quickly in a small amount of oil. Add shallots, garlic, celery, carrots and dry white wine or chicken stock. Cook over low heat for one to two hours until rabbit is tender, and finish with a sprinkle of fresh parsley. For a variation, after the rabbit is browned, add canned tomatoes, tomato paste, chicken broth and carrots. Simmer until nearly done, add green beans and serve over egg noodles.

Health benefits: A 3-ounce serving of rabbit has 130 calories and 5.4 grams of fat (2 grams saturated), which is the same as dark, skinless chicken. At 41 milligrams of cholesterol, rabbit contains less than beef, lamb, veal, pork, chicken or turkey. Rabbit meat is a source of high quality protein.

Lopaki Farm rabbits can be found at: Rabbits are harvested the day the order is placed. They are sold fresh and whole, with the head, skin, feet and innards removed. For more information, call 346-3454. Lapaki Farm rabbits are served at La Spezia Restaurant and Wine Bar in Koloa.

KENNETH’S SHOYU RABBIT

Kenneth Vallance shares his island-style rabbit dish. The enticing aroma will fill your home, and since the dish is made in a crock-pot, it’s a simple and wholesome meal. He says to use a rabbit that’s been cut into pieces, but I used one whole rabbit. I also replaced the powdered spices with 2 inches of grated ginger and 3 cloves of thinly sliced garlic.

Makes four servings.

* 1 cup water
* 1 cup soy sauce (I use a little less of sodium-free Kikkoman)
* 1 cup lightly packed brown sugar (give or take; I’m a giver)
* 1 teaspoon ginger (the granulated stuff works just fine)
* 1 teaspoon garlic (powdered, again, cheap and easy; don’t substitute with garlic salt!)
* splash vinegar (maybe a tablespoon? Leave it out if you don’t have any)
* 1 or 2 rabbits, cut into pieces

Put it all in a crock pot, give it a quick stir, set on high for four hours (low for six hours) and walk away. Serve with rice.

Marta Lane is a Kauai-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.

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