Take Two for June 3, 2013

California farmers struggle to keep up with demand for rabbit meat

First European Rabbit Hopping Championships

Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

A rabbit looks on during the first European rabbit hopping championships, which Lada Sipova-Krecova of Czech Republic won, on October 30, 2011 in Wollerau, Switzerland.

If you're tired of eating fish, chicken and beef, you're in good company. Restauranteurs and farmers market shoppers in Northern California are increasingly turning to a different meat to satisfy their protein needs: Rabbit.

Demand for rabbit meat is so high right now that farmers like Mark Pasternak of Devil's Gulch Ranch in Marin County are having trouble keeping up. Pasternak's farm supplies the meat to farmers markets and high-end restaurants like The French Laundry and Chez Panisse. 

Rabbit has been popular in Europe, China and other parts of the world for years, but for some reason it hasn't yet found mainstream appeal in the United States. Pasternak says his theory for this sudden popularity is that European chefs, or at least those who have trained in Europe, are including rabbit dishes on their menus. 

"A European chef gets over here and the first thing he says is, 'Where's the rabbit?'" said Pasternak on Take Two. "It's their staple over there; that's one of their go-to meats. It's very versatile and a really good meat."

Rabbit meat is lean, high in omega-3 oils, easy to harvest and relatively free of disease. The alfalfa-eating animals are kept in cages with grated bottoms, preventing them from coming into direct contact with their droppings. Rabbits also have a lower impact on the environment than chickens or cows, and less prone to waste. 

"In a country like Haiti, it's helping to reduce deforestation," said Pasternak. "They're also a one-size meal, so you don't need refrigeration. If you were to kill a cow or a pig, you've got the issue of what to do with all the extra meat."

Rabbits can be processed within just months and breeding does, or female rabbits, can produce litters of up to eight pups for four to five years. Pasternak describes the taste of rabbit to be reminiscent of dark meat chicken, lacking the gamey flavor that some people don't like. He says, like chickens, rabbits are a good option for people wanting to raise and harvest their own animals.  

"The big advantage of rabbits is they're fairly quiet, easy to handle and you can give them some scraps, although you'll generally be feeing them alfalfa meal or pellets," said Pasternak. "They're fairly easy to raise on a small scale. They're also probably one of the easiest animals to harvest, so there are a lot of advantages."

Pasternak demonstrates how to de-bone a rabbit and make a remoulade: 


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