Cooked low and slow, shredded rabbit meat makes an excellent filling for healthy lettuce wraps
It’s that time of year when some of us sing and tell stories about rabbits, and one rabbit in particular: Peter Cottontail. So I’m not entirely sure if it’s offensive or festive to serve rabbit on Easter—I suppose it depends on the audience. Regardless, this dish is an easy and tasty option any time of the year.
Time is the biggest ingredient here, as rabbits—like a lot of small game (squirrels, for example)—require hours to yield tender bites. Wild game is lean and packed with collagen, which is a protein that will toughen before turning to gelatin over several hours at low temps. I do recommend a slow cooker for these sort of recipes, but you can use a Dutch oven instead. I would set the oven temperature between 180 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit and check every hour to make sure that the liquids haven’t evaporated. I have found that liquids tend to evaporate more quickly in Dutch ovens (even the self-basting models) than in slow cookers.
With most recipes, I prefer to grill or brown the meat for the purpose of achieving the “Maillard reaction,” which is what happens when amino acids react with reducing sugars and provide a distinct—almost caramelized—flavor. “It’s science,” as they say, and a very good reason to brown or sear the exterior of your proteins instead of adding raw meat directly into the slow cooker. With this recipe, I try to grill the rabbit first over an open flame, preferably a wood fire with mesquite or hickory logs because those flavor profiles pair well with any pseudo-barbecue dish. However, you can certainly sear your rabbit quarters in a hot skillet. Again, the key is adding a thorough sear to the meat prior to tossing it into the slow cooker.
Rabbit is one of my favorite small game dishes to plate up and is incredibly healthy—perhaps less so with all the BBQ sauce, but nevertheless a good choice. Rabbits were my primary target during the upland hunting season prior to getting a bird dog. I haven’t chased after them as much since getting my Wirehaired Vizsla, but I’m curious to know: do you hunt rabbit with your bird dogs? Give me a shout on Instagram @WildGameJack and let me know.
Ingredients for two servings
1 rabbit, approximately 2-1/2 to 3 pounds, quartered
1 red onion, finely diced
1-1/2 teaspoon freshly minced garlic
1/2 cup Coca-Cola
1-1/2 cups BBQ sauce
1-1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 lime, juiced
1 head butter lettuce (Boston or green leaf lettuce also work)
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Freshly minced cilantro for garnish (optional)
1. Lightly dust the quartered rabbit with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Grill over an open flame or sear in a hot skillet. Be sure to sear all sides evenly.
2. Once seared, add to the slow cooker and set to low. Add freshly minced garlic, Coca-Cola, BBQ sauce, chicken stock, and freshly squeezed lime juice.
3. Make sure the rabbit quarters are at least half-covered by the liquid and secure the lid in place.
4. In a skillet heated on medium-low, add a little bit of olive oil and the finely diced red onion. Lightly season with salt and pepper and cook until caramelized, stirring often and being careful not to burn. This should take about a half hour to accomplish.
5. Add the caramelized red onion to the slow cooker and stir in with the rabbit.
6. Make sure that the liquids mostly cover the rabbit to prevent the meat from drying out. Braise for at least 8 hours on low, until the meat falls off the bone. If more liquid is required, add in equal parts of BBQ sauce and chicken stock.
7. Once the meat is tender, make certain to remove all of the bones.
8. To serve, separate and wash the lettuce. Shred the rabbit meat. Place the shredded rabbit on individual leaves, topping with shredded mozzarella and freshly minced cilantro.
Jack Hennessy grew up in the South Suburbs of Chicago and didn't start hunting until he attended graduate school in Spokane, Washington, at the age of 26. Hennessy began work in professional kitchens in high school but didn't start writing wild game recipes until he joined the Spokesman-Review in 2014. Since then, his recipes have appeared with Petersen's Hunting, Backcountry Journal, Gun Dog Magazine, among many others. He now lives with his wife, daughter, and Wirehaired Vizsla, Dudley, in Wichita, Kansas.