If you like fried chicken — and who doesn’t? — you’ll like fried rabbit, which looks a lot like chicken, but definitely tastes like rabbit. You’ll likely make this recipe with store-bought rabbits or cottontails, but if you happen to be blessed with a young snowshoe hare or squirrel, use them.
You need a lot of oil for this, but you can reuse it. When you’re done, let the oil cool, and then pour it through a fine-mesh strainer with a paper towel inside set over a bowl. The paper towel will filter the brown bits, and you can just pour the strained oil back into the container. I generally get three uses from my oil by straining it like this.
Serve your fried rabbit with grits or alone, with some coleslaw and potato salad on the side. This is picnic food or food to munch on while watching the game — comforting, not challenging.
If you’re using cottontails, I highly recommend that you brine your rabbits before frying (domestic rabbits don’t need to be brined). A simple brine of 1⁄4 cup kosher salt to 1 quart of water will do — the rabbit will get plenty of seasoning later. Submerge your rabbits in this brine for up to 12 hours. This process keeps the meat moist.
Oh, and should you have any leftovers, they’re fantastic cold for lunch the next day.
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons cayenne, or to taste
- 2 to 4 cottontails, cut into serving pieces
- About 2 cups vegetable oil, for frying
- 1-1⁄2 cups flour
- 1 heaping teaspoon salt
Mix the buttermilk with the Italian seasoning, paprika, garlic powder, and cayenne. Place rabbit pieces in mixture, and turn to coat thoroughly. Cover the container and refrigerate overnight, or for at least 8 hours.
When you’re ready to fry the rabbit, pour the oil into a large pan — a big cast-iron frying pan is ideal — to a depth of about 1 inch. The general idea is for the oil to come halfway up the side of the rabbit pieces. Set the heat to medium-high.
While the oil heats, remove the rabbit pieces from the buttermilk, and place them in a colander to drain. Don’t shake off the buttermilk.
Let the oil heat to about 325 F; this is the point where a sprinkle of flour will immediately sizzle. When the oil is hot, pour the flour and salt into a plastic bag, and shake to combine. Put a few pieces of rabbit into the bag, and shake to coat them.
Place the coated rabbit pieces in a single layer in the hot oil so they don’t touch, and fry for about 8 to 12 minutes. Fry gently — you want a steady sizzle, not a raging fry, and you definitely don’t want the rabbit to just sit in oil. You might need to adjust the heat. When the pieces are golden, turn them and continue frying for another 10 minutes, or until they’re golden brown. The forelegs will come out first, followed by the loin, and the hind legs will come out last. You’ll probably need to fry in batches, so just leave the uncooked rabbit pieces in the colander until you’re ready to coat them in flour and fry them. Don’t let the floured pieces sit.
Remove the rabbit pieces and let them rest on a rack set over a paper towel to drain any excess oil. If you’re cooking in batches, set this in a warm oven.
Note: If you don’t have Italian seasoning, you can make your own by mixing together 1-1⁄2 teaspoons dried oregano, 1-1⁄2 teaspoons dried thyme, and 1 tablespoon dried parsley.
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Excerpted with permission from Pheasant, Quail, Cottontail by Hank Shaw, photography by Holly A. Heyser, and published by H&H Books.