It’s hard to imagine that these adorable bundles of snow white fur, like your fluffiest stuffed animals come to life, can ever be considered as rabbit stew. But it’s during pandemic-fueled crises such as these, that sometimes the unthinkable can become acceptable. Can rabbit meat be the new alternative protein of choice for Filipinos?
For those who may be cringing at the thought of biting into a rabbit’s leg, realize that rabbit meat is consumed as an everyday source of protein in many parts of the world, most notably in Europe. You’ll find them sold everywhere, from local butchers to chain supermarkets. In Spain, paella Valenciana is traditionally cooked with rabbit meat. In France, rabbit is stewed in red wine. In Italy, it is cooked cacciatore style with tomatoes and wine, or else braised with olives. And during hunting season in the fall, it’s not hard to find wild hare on restaurant menus throughout Europe.
First of all, let me disclose that I’m not at all squeamish about rabbit meat. In fact, whenever I travel to Europe, and I see rabbit stew on the menu, chances are I’ll order it since it’s something I won’t likely find back home. The meat has a mild flavor akin to chicken or veal, like a more tender, less dry version of white meat, and versatile enough to work with different kinds of seasonings. While I find it to be a bit bony, it lends itself to all sorts of stews, braises, and roasts, and can also be made into pâtés and terrines.
If you can get over the idea of eating the Easter bunny, there are many advantages to consuming rabbit meat. It is considered a “healthier” meat as it’s lower in fat and cholesterol than chicken, and higher in protein than beef or pork. It’s ideal for those looking for a leaner diet, but who don’t want to go altogether meat-free. Another plus is that rabbits are relatively easy to grow—they propagate quickly, and aren’t expensive to feed. They eat a “clean” vegetarian diet and don’t require the growth hormones or antibiotics prevalent in the poultry industry.
While the Philippines isn’t about to adopt rabbit meat as an everyday protein just yet, there have been tiny movements in that direction. Earlier this year, the Department of Agriculture acknowledged rabbit meat as a potential alternative to pork, in case of a shortage of pork due to African swine fever. But the DA official also acknowledges, “One drawback in introducing rabbit meat to the public is that the animal is widely seen as a pet.”
Nonetheless, there are a handful of rabbit farms in the country that breed rabbits for meat, servicing a small, discriminating market of European expats, as well as those looking for healthier and “cleaner” sources of protein. According to an ABS-CBN news report, a rabbit farmer in Pampanga, Michelle Muller, is enticing the locals to adopt the meat with such recipes as “rabbeatchon” along with burger steak, katsu, and Shanghai rolls. In Agriculture Monthly, farmer Bucky Trabajales has also encountered some success by directly marketing to his gym and Bible study groups, educating them on the nutritional benefits of rabbit meat.
If you’re curious to try rabbit meat, you can contact the following rabbit farm sources: KC Rabbitry, Tierra del Menor, Aven Nature’s Farm, Association of Rabbit Meat Producers Inc. Then simply cook it like an adobo. Filipino-Belgian chef Glen Ramaekers created the following adobo recipe specially for rabbit meat. It’s braised in vinegar instead of wine, as a distinctly Filipino rendition of one of Europe’s favorite meats of choice.
By Glen Ramaekers
(Recipe originally published in FOOD Magazine, May 2012 issue)
Serves 4 to 6
1 whole rabbit, dressed and chopped
salt, to taste
cooking oil, for frying
3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon sinamak (spiced vinegar)
3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon vinegar
3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon sugarcane vinegar
3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon apple cider
2 tablespoons cooking oil
3 big onions
10 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
4 bay leaves
soy sauce, to taste
salt and pepper (preferably Szechuan peppercorns), to taste
1. Season the rabbit with salt. In a pan, heat the cooking oil and fry the rabbit pieces until nicely colored on all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine the sinamak, vinegar, sugarcane vinegar, and apple cider. Set aside.
3. Sauté the onions, garlic, and ginger in oil. When the onions are glazed, add the rabbit and bay leaves.
4. Add the soy sauce, about 2 tablespoons soy sauce or more, depending on how strong you want the flavor to be. When the soy sauce hits the bottom, it caramelizes a bit for a sweet touch. (If you want it sweeter, use sweet soy sauce.)
5. Add the vinegar mixture. Put the adobo on high heat until it boils, then bring it down to a simmer until the rabbit is completely cooked. Season with salt and pepper.
6. If you want to make the adobo even tastier, you can use the rabbit’s liver and innards. Let simmer in the adobo stew. When cooked, remove from the stew and blend in a blender with some of the liquid from the stew. When the adobo is boiling, add in the blended liver into the adobo to thicken it.