|Rabbit for Valentine’s Dinner|
Just when I think my days of being a "hunting widow" are almost over, along comes rabbit season! Lucky for Jason, I like rabbit and think it would make a great Valentine’s dinner for us and the kids.
When deer and duck seasons wind down at the end of January, it’s time to get the dogs ready. Although well-trained rabbit dogs will track rabbits without being distracted by deer or other animals, most hunters don’t want rabbit dogs on the property to scare off the deer. As with squirrel hunting, one of the most exciting and fun parts of a rabbit hunt is watching the dogs. Another aspect of rabbit hunting, making it fun for all ages and types of hunters, is the camaraderie. All the hunters call out to each other and work together as a group to locate rabbits and follow dogs. Young hunters get a chance to see teamwork in action.
Once deer season ends, Jason dedicates his hunting time to rabbits until fishing season starts. He hunts in his usual spots around Macon County, but he also goes to a few annual rabbit hunts, as well. He goes with family friends Tumpsie Trione and Wade Davis in February to their friend’s land in Georgia. The same group goes down to Steve Penry’s farm in Daphne to hunt and, then later, Jason’s grandfather has a hunt at the Kirk farm.
Rabbits are very easy to clean and can provide a lot of meat. Also, whether wild or farm-raised, rabbit is an extremely healthy choice. Wild rabbit meat will be a little less tender than farm-raised because of their more active lifestyle. Although rabbit meat is as easy to cook as chicken, its preparation isn’t as widespread in the United States as it is in other countries. While rabbit meat is more prevalent in Asia and Europe, many people in the U.S. are already predisposed to not eating it, much less liking it, because they associate it with the Easter Bunny or the floppy-eared, domesticated pets.
The first time I ate rabbit, I was traveling in Berlin back in 2004. In a restaurant next door to the hostel I stayed in, I looked over the menu until I came to a word that wasn’t in my translation book: "hasenpfeffer." I pointed to the word on the menu in an effort to ask the restaurant owner, who only spoke German, what it was. He immediately pointed to the colorful Easter decorations on the wall, made bunny ears with two fingers and made his "bunny" hop-hop-hop through the air. I ordered the hasenpfeffer with the confidence of a gourmand and it was delicious. My jumping at the opportunity to eat rabbit may seem ironic to anyone who might know I was a vegetarian for two years when I was much younger; however, I have developed an adventurous spirit when it comes to food, especially when traveling.
Later that same year, after I started working at the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, I found the marketing team was promoting farm-raised rabbit. J.C. Holt and the Tri-States Rabbit Growers Association worked tirelessly to sell their meat to cruise lines and upscale restaurants. Rather than being viewed as backwoods hillbilly fare, rabbit meat was promoted as a healthy, delectable, fine-dining alternative.
Because of my work at the department, it wasn’t long before I had the opportunity to try rabbit again. The way the dish was prepared, bones-in with gravy, was very different from the German version, but still good. And, of course, after meeting Jason, I would be introduced to more methods of cooking rabbit — all of which he loves.
One of Jason’s favorite rabbit recipes is barbecued rabbit. He pressure cooks the meat and then puts it on the grill with some sauce. Another way to prepare it is pan-frying. The first recipe is a favorite of one of Alabama’s historic figures, Tuskegee attorney Fred Gray. Every year, Jason’s grandfather Willie brings Mr. Gray rabbits for his wife to fix at Christmastime. She freezes them until the day before Christmas and makes a special meal.
Rabbit is an inexpensive game to hunt and prepare. You don’t have to have expensive weapons or ammunition. You and your kids can even kill rabbits with pellet around the edges of fields or old homesteads. If you find yourself looking for a delicious and down-home taste a little different from the norm for your next meal, try rabbit this February.
Mrs. Carol Gray’s Christmas Rabbit
2 rabbits, quartered as you would a chicken
Parboil the meat in salty water with a little vinegar for about 20 minutes until tender. Drain the meat and pat it dry. Season the meat with salt, pepper and garlic. Coat with flour. Pan fry as you would chicken until golden brown. After it browns, remove from pan and drain on paper towels. Drain any remaining oil from the pan. Add onion and some water (to desired consistency) to the pan to make gravy. Add the rabbit back to the pan and let simmer for 30 minutes. Serve with field peas and biscuits.
Jason’s Barbecued Rabbit
2 rabbits, quartered as you would a chicken
Pressure cook rabbits for ten minutes after the jiggler (aka the regulator) starts jiggling. Pull the meat out. Let it rest and drain on a plate with paper towels. Place the meat over a 325° grill. Coat with barbecue sauce. Brown the meat on the grill and let sauce thicken.
Christy Kirk is a freelance writer who lives in Little Texas.