Hasenpfeffer, Inc.: The Business of Raising Rabbits in Alaska
Every year it feels like rabbits are about to have their turn in the limelight. People start to notice them on farm-to-table restaurant menus in Asheville or in upscale grocery stores in Portland. Your friend who is always ahead of the curve on all things culinary serves one at a dinner party. But then as quickly as they hopped on the scene, they are gone again, and something else has grabbed the spotlight (Halo Top ice cream, for instance).
Despite how easy they are to raise and process, in addition to how delicious and versatile the meat is, rabbit never seems to fully break into the mainstream meat marketplace.
Maybe the problems are obvious; it’s hard to get around the idea of eating a cute lil’ bunny and rabbit meat doesn’t show up on special at your local grocer. Farmers in Alaska are working to change that, making it easier than ever to find locally raised rabbit around the state.
Aryn Young, co-owner of Blood Sweat & Food Farms in Homer, thinks rabbit is one of the most undervalued meats available.
“I think most people have this image of a very tough, gamey meat that is difficult to cook and rather stringy. But nothing could be further from the truth,” she said.
Farm-raised rabbit meat is tender, delicious, and lends itself to even the simplest of recipes. According to Young, rabbit is also good for you.
“They are low in saturated fat and have a much higher protein content than their comparable white-meat chicken,” she said. “Once people try a well-prepared rabbit, it quickly becomes a favorite.”
Anyone who has owned rabbits knows how easy they are to raise. Young explained rabbits’ efficiency further saying they grow quickly, require less feed than many other meats, and most of their food is free.
“We grow our rabbits on pasture, where they have daily access to fresh grass supplemented with alfalfa pellets. This makes growing them cost-effective, creates a happy environment for the rabbit, and produces meat that is much healthier for our customers,” Young said.
If you’re thinking about raising rabbits, it’s easy to get started. They don’t need a lot of space or resources and they have a very short gestation period — a little less than 30 days, which means one doe (female rabbit) can produce almost 300 pounds of meat each year, according to Young.
“With the growing popularity of rabbits, a healthy source of protein is more and more accessible for both rural and urban farmers alike,” Young said. “I’m excited to see how rabbits can expand the types of meat available to local consumers and add to Alaska’s food security when it comes to meat production."
If you’re looking to put some rabbit on the dinner table, keep an eye out for it at your local farmers’ market. If you’re near Homer, you can connect with Blood Sweat & Food Farms directly. The state Division of Agriculture also maintains a list of Alaska farmers and what they grow, including those raising rabbit in the Interior, Southcentral, and Southeast Alaska.
Braised Rabbit, Ligurian Style
As easy to work with as a whole chicken, rabbit is an all-star in the kitchen. I cooked up a rabbit from Blood Sweat & Food Farms and it came out wonderfully tender and flavorful. I simply cut it up, seasoned it, seared it, then let the meat simmer in the flavors of Italy’s northwestern coast. Served with its flavorful broth in shallow bowls over polenta with roasted vegetables on the side, braised rabbit is the perfect weekday supper.
1 rabbit, about 3 pounds, cut into pieces
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chicken stock (or rabbit stock, if you happen to have any)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped fresh tomato
1/2 cup roughly chopped green olives (pitted)
2 tablespoons capers
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1. Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat.
2. Season rabbit with salt and pepper and sear in oil until browned, about 5 minutes per side.
3. Add chicken stock, garlic, onion, carrots, tomatoes, olives, capers, and rosemary to pot. Cover and let simmer for about an hour or until rabbit is tender.