People have mixed emotions when it comes to game, especially when hunting your own is involved. While I can empathize with a person who gets emotional when he or she sees a fluffy bunny get shot, I also get frustrated when that same individual will happily eat meat that he or she never saw dispatched for food. There is a growing disconnect between the meat we eat and the source animal—so much so that we don’t even call them the same thing. For instance, we don’t talk of eating cows or pigs but of eating beef and bacon. It’s as if by not mentioning the source animal, there was no sacrifice made. I think if people were more honest about the source of their protein, they would think a little bit differently about game meat, and maybe even hunting in general. We worry about whether our food is free range, organic, and whether it meets some government animal welfare scheme, all the while turning our noses up at the wildest, most free range and natural protein source of them all: game.

Hunting can be an explosive topic, and not one I dare go into in great detail in this article. But I will say that an animal dispatched for food by a hunter that has feelings for the animal, and for the outdoors in general, will not even know that it has been shot. A competent hunter will take the kill shot only when there is a 100% chance of getting a clean kill. (Just watch a Steve Rinella documentary to see this in action). Anything else is as irresponsible as keeping hens in cages around the clock. I know what you’re saying, “but what if the person that shot the rabbit I’m about to eat was a poor marksman? A hunter that wasn’t competent enough to get a clean kill?” There is a simple answer to this: shoot it yourself.

This article is the first in a two-part series that, while not covering hunting any further, will give guidance on what to do with small game once you have it. I will go into detail on how to prepare, butcher, and cook the meat in order to get the most out of it. True to form, the recipes will be simple and tasty, with the fewest possible ingredients.

Roast Rabbit and Fennel

Wild and completely free range, rabbit is often considered a pest due to the amount of crops it will eat. Therefore, you shouldn’t have any problems getting your local farmer to agree to let you shoot on his land. Rabbit with fennel is a classic recipe and takes many forms, but none as simple as this roasted version. To make it, you will need a rabbit (duh!) and a bulb of fennel—it’s that simple. The first thing you will need to do is skin your rabbit. This is probably easier that you think. Do a quick search on YouTube, and a nice man will explain it step by step. What you’re left with is a creature that looks like an extra from the Alien movie series.

The next step is to butcher the rabbit into portions. You could roast it whole, but you’ll only have to chop it up once you’ve finished. This way, it will fit into any casserole pot you happen to have.

The first stage is to remove the back legs.

Taking your knife, run it along the joint between the spine and the leg—right down to the joint itself. Once you hit the bone, do the same thing on the other side. You should be able to see the ball and socket joint of the leg at this stage. Simply push the tip of your knife into the socket and tease out the ball.

Next, move on to the front legs. The bones are smaller and a bit more brittle, as they don’t need to transfer the power that the back legs do. Position your knife tight into the “arm pit” of the rabbit and push down sharply. You will cut right through the bone, separating the leg.

The next thing to do is to remove the rib cage. There isn’t enough meat here to worry about, so you can either discard it or use it for a stock or soup. To remove the rib cage, lay the dismembered rabbit on its back and feel for the bottom two ribs. (They are the two ribs closest to the tail end). Make a cut between the second and third ribs—right down to the spine on either side. Then position your knife against the vertebra and push down sharply to separate the rib cage.

You’re now left with the rest of the spine and the two loin sections on either side. The loin is the best bit, so you want to get as much meat as possible. Turn the carcass over and feel for the edge of the spinal column. Keeping your knife as close to the spine as possible, run it down the length of the rabbit to separate the loin. Repeat on the other side. Again, you can put the spine with the ribs and save it for soup or stock.

You’re now left with a perfectly butchered rabbit, ready for the pot.


The Recipe

Preheat the oven the 350F. Put a thick-bottomed casserole pot on high heat. While the pot is heating up, slice the fennel bulb into 1/4” slices and add them to the hot pan with a bit of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Brown them in the pan for five minutes, and then add the rabbit.

Rabbit can be a bit dry, so you need to add something to the pan to keep it moist. I use about a half of a cup of chicken stock, but you could use wine or even water. Put the lid on the pot and pop it into the oven for about 40 minutes. After 40 minutes, remove the lid and cook for another 10 minutes.

That’s it—simple as that. Plate it up and enjoy.

I hope this has shown you how simple it is to butcher and cook this quality source of meat. If you have a local game butcher, then he will do the skinning and portioning for you. However, I like the connection the process gives—to literally take your dinner right from the field to your fork.

Keep an eye out for part two in a couple of weeks, when we’ll go through a super tasty game bird recipe using pheasant.