When I was 11 years old, my cousin and I used to go out hunting with our .22-caliber rifles. On this early summer morning, we were just leaving the house and not yet beyond the coral and barns when a large rabbit ran out and stood up on hind legs not 20 yards in front of us. I instinctively pulled up and shot it. This clean shot won instant praise from my companion.

We proudly carried our trophy back to the house and asked Dad about cleaning it and eating it for supper. He smiled and said, “Well, it’s not the right month to eat rabbits.” He went on to explain that any month with an “R” in it, September through April, were months to eat rabbit. During the other months, the animals would be “wormy.” I admit I felt a good deal of remorse at having taken the life from this innocent creature for what turned out to be sport.

Rabbit meat, to quote a common expression, “tastes like chicken” with a slightly stronger, meatier flavor. And it cooks like chicken. For example, you can sauté it in oil or butter and make a sauce by deglazing the pan. My mother would batter it, deep fry it and one would be hard pressed to know that it was not southern fried chicken, except that as young children, try as we might we could find no drum stick. Dad cleverly explained that he cut it differently this time leaving out what the “it” was.

While people from all over the world consider rabbit a delicacy, it has never been popular in the United States after our frontier days. Perhaps some people object to eating such cute furry creatures.

I was never around lambs but growing up on a dairy farm, there is nothing as cute as a young calf. Their fur is not coarse like you would expect from a cow, but rather silky soft. And they look up at you from big, round eyes beneath those beautiful, long eyelashes. Rabbits on the other hand seem indifferent and hardly acknowledge you at all unless you have something to feed them.

A classic dish in France is Lapin a la Moutarde or Rabbit in Mustard Sauce. This country French delicacy is baked or braised and covered with a sauce made with mustard, shallots and heavy cream. My recipe this time captures the flavor of braising and highlights a lemon wine sauce for a delicious savory treat. If you prefer, chicken makes an excellent substitute.

Most grocers can order rabbit for you if they do not stock it. It will come frozen and usually cut into pieces. If it is not cut up, ask the butcher to cut it for you.

Rabbit is one of the leanest and most environmentally friendly meats we can eat. Compared to beef, pork, lamb, veal, turkey and chicken, rabbit has the least fat and fewest calories per serving. Raising rabbits can produce six pounds of meat on the same amount of feed and water it takes to produce one pound of beef.

Needless to say, after shooting that poor rabbit my career as a hunter was over. But who would have guessed that my life in food was just beginning? Happy New Year!

Braised Rabbit in Lemon Wine Sauce

Serving Size: 1/8 of recipe

Serves: 8

Ingredients

3 pounds rabbit, cut into serving size pieces

¾ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon coarse black pepper to taste

½ teaspoon ground rosemary or diced fresh

3 tablespoons salted butter

3 shallots, sliced or 1 green onion, trimmed and sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

Juice of 1 lemon

½ cup dry white wine

1 cup low sodium vegetable broth with 1 tablespoon flour dissolved in it

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Directions

Wash the rabbit and pat it dry with a paper towel. Combine the salt, pepper and rosemary and season the rabbit.

In a Dutch oven or large fry pan with a lid, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the rabbit and sear it for 3-4 minutes until golden brown. Turn the pieces over and add the shallots, garlic and lemon and cook for 2-3 minutes browning the other side. Remove the rabbit to a plate.

Add the white wine to the pan. Bring it to a boil and reduce by 2/3, about 3 minutes. Scrape any browned pieces up from the bottom of the pan. Stir in the broth/flour mixture and the parsley. Return to a boil stirring constantly to thicken the sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Return the rabbit to the pan and cover the pieces with the sauce. Reduce heat, cover and simmer gently for about 25-45 minutes until cooked through and tender. The meat should be nearly falling off the bone.

This recipe works equally well with boneless chicken thighs. If using chicken, reduce the simmer time to 15-20 minutes.

Serve with brown rice or mashed potatoes and a dry white wine, a white Bordeaux or Sauvignon Blanc. Spoon the savory sauce over the rabbit and potatoes.

Exchanges per serving

4 Lean Meats, 1 Fat

Nutrients per serving: calories, 255; calories from fat, 72; total fat, 8g; cholesterol, 150mg; sodium, 319mg; total carbohydrate, 3g; dietary fiber, 0.3g; protein, 37g.

Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian nutritionist with many years’ experience practicing nutrition therapy in local hospitals and clinics, teaching nutrition and developing healthy recipes. He helped create the popular TV show Memorial Cooking Innovations celebrating the world of food and health. Memorial Cooking Innovations is produced by CHI St. Luke’s Health and the City of Lufkin. It currently runs in 62 cities and is locally available on Sudden Link cable TV channels and online at chistlukeshealthmemorial.org.

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