Americans are eating more rabbit than at any time since World War II. Seems trendy chefs have discovered what many hunters already know: Rabbit’s delicious white meat is high in protein, low in fat, and rich in omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, rabbit meat has a higher protein-to-fat ratio than beef, pork, lamb, chicken, or turkey, and even a farm-raised rabbit is an environmentally responsible protein choice—the amount of food and water needed by a cow to produce 1 pound of meat will yield 6 pounds of rabbit meat. And they breed like … well, rabbits.
Rabbits are as plentiful as they are tasty. Eastern cottontail rabbits range from the East Coast to the Rocky Mountains, desert cottontails inhabit the Southwest, and mountain cottontails range across the Northwest. Go with a tightly choked 20- or 28-gauge shotgun—or even a .410—stoked with No. 6 to No. 7 1/2 shot for best results afield, or buy organic farm-raised rabbit at your local butcher’s shop or farmers’ market.
For the Rabbit:
1 field-dressed cottontail or farmed rabbit
For the Brine:
1/2 cup sea salt
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns, crushed
4 allspice berries, crushed
1/2 cup organic dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder
1 teaspoon whole cloves
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
Freshly ground black pepper
Cherry wood chips
Blueberry–Chipotle Barbecue Sauce (recipe follows)
Make the brine the day before, to allow the rabbit to soak overnight: Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a 5-quart stockpot, add the remaining brine ingredients, and stir to dissolve the salt and sugar. Return the pot to a boil, then remove from the heat and cover the pot. Let the brine cool completely for several hours.
Pour the cooled brine into a nonreactive container large enough to hold the rabbit, and add 4 to 6 cups ice water. Submerge the rabbit in the brine, weighing it down with a heavy plate if necessary. Brine the rabbit until about 1 hour prior to cooking, then remove and pat dry with paper towels. Place the rabbit on a wire rack over a baking sheet to dry and come to room temperature.
Before grilling, brush the rabbit with some of the melted butter inside and out, and season with salt and pepper, both inside and out.
Build a fire on one side of your grill (or if using gas, light only one burner) and bring the grill temperature to at least 400° F. Using long tongs over the hot fire, sear both sides of the rabbit to a golden brown. Move the rabbit to the cooler side of the grill, and roast over low indirect heat, with the grill covered, for 2 to 4 hours, basting occasionally with melted butter, until a meat thermometer placed in the thickest part of the thigh reaches 170° F. (Add cherry wood chips that have been soaked in water for at least 30 minutes to flavor the smoke.)
Baste with barbecue sauce, then loosely tent under foil for 10 minutes prior to carving. Serve with more barbecue sauce on the side.
Blueberry–Chipotle Barbecue Sauce:
While it’s exquisite with roasted rabbit, the sauce also pairs nicely with game birds, poultry, or pork.
Yields 1 quart
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
4 cups tomato puree (4 to 5 medium tomatoes, peeled, cored, and pureed)
2 dried chiles de árbol (rat tail chiles), stemmed and seeded
4 ounces chipotles in adobo sauce
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup unfiltered organic apple cider vinegar (I like Bragg’s)
1/2 cup dark agave nectar
Juice of 1 lemon
Melt the butter in a medium-sized over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté for about 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for 1 minute more. Add the tomato puree, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Place the chiles de árbol in a blender with 1/4 cup boiling water, cover, and let them steep for 10 minutes to soften, then puree on high speed. Add the puréed chiles, the chipotles in adobo, blueberries, salt, dry mustard, cayenne, celery seeds, cinnamon, mace, and nutmeg to the stockpot, and increase the heat to medium to achieve a lively simmer. Once the pot is bubbling, add the vinegar, agave nectar, and lemon juice and reduce the heat to low. Let simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced by about half. Remove from the heat and let the pot sit for 15 minutes, then ladle the sauce into a blender (fill the blender no more than half-full to avoid splatters) and batch-process until smooth. Freezes well.
Find this and more than 175 other organic wild game, seafood, foraged foods, and garden fare recipes in The Field to Table Cookbook by Susan L. Ebert (Welcome Books, 2016), available in the Cowgirl magazine store at store.cowgirlmagazine.com.