Photo by Holly A. Heyser
Rabbits, hares and squirrels are among my absolute favorite animals to eat. They also happen to be the building blocks of any true hunter’s repertoire: Can you stalk a squirrel in an acorn-laden oak forest? Get close enough to Mr. Bushytail in a walnut grove for a shot? Well, then you’ll also be able to stalk a deer or turkey. Can you tag a fleeing rabbit or hare with a shotgun? Then you can probably hit a winging duck or dove, too.
At the table, these critters are often maligned as “poor people’s food.” I get annoyed at this, because rabbits and especially squirrels can be far more interesting to eat than venison. But hey, let everyone else think they’re no good. More for us.
The eating of rabbits and hares has a venerable history in Europe. Greeks, Germans, Spaniards and Britons love rabbits and hares, as do Italians in certain regions. Most of the recipes I will post here come from these traditions. As for squirrels, these recipes are almost uniquely American. After all, squirrel-eating is as American as apple pie. In fact, the original chicken pot pie was actually a squirrel pie. Really. And it is wonderful.
Photo by Holly A. Heyser
Both rabbits and squirrels are typically tender and are the perfect eating size: One will serve a person nicely, although you can split one rabbit between two people if you need to stretch things.
Hares, on the other hand, are, well, a whole different animal. Hares are mostly known in America as jackrabbits, although those blessed with snowy weather get snowshoe hares as well. They are better eating than jacks, although I like both. Hares are large, up to 12 pounds in some cases, and one will serve four easily. Hares are also dark meat; they look more like beef than chicken. Go figure. And finally, hares live longer and so tend to be tougher. They are best served braised.
In fact, all three of these critters are best braised. Unless you are lucky enough to get a young one. You can tell this in a rabbit or hare by their ears: Tear them lengthwise, and if they tear easy, the animal was young. With a young rabbit or squirrel in hand, you really oughta make that pinnacle of rabbit cookery, Southern Fried Rabbit – preferably with greens and sweet potatoes. You’ll like it better than fried chicken.
How to Cut Up a Rabbit
Most rabbits come whole in the store, and all rabbits come whole when you hunt them, so you will need to know how to cut up a rabbit properly. Here’s how.
The White Rabbit
This is an Italian-inspired recipe that highlights the delicate flavor of the rabbit. Easy, yet sophisticated.
Hasenpfeffer with Semolina Dumplings
To make this right, you will need a hare — snowshoe or jackrabbit — but it does of course work fine with rabbits, too. Come to think of it, squirrel is even better here. And be sure to make the dumplings. They are awesome.
German Rabbit Stew
A light, brothy German rabbit stew made with lemon, bay leaves, capers and sour cream. A knockout dish when served with roasted potatoes.
Calabrian Rabbit with Red Peppers
Braised rabbit with lots of roasted red peppers. Serve with bread or polenta.
Yep, the name is a joke, but this is a great – and easy – Indian-style rabbit curry
Sardinian Hare Stew
A traditional way to serve an old hare or jackrabbit, with a little saffron and capers. Slow cooking brings out the flavor.
Classic Civet of Hare
An ancient recipe that’s a good Sunday dish, as it takes a while to come together.
Hmong Squirrel Stew
Few cultures love squirrel as much as the Hmong, a Southeast Asian group. This is a light, aromatic stew with lots of bright, fresh flavors.
Braised Squirrel Aurora
A Spanish dish originally done with rabbit that features olives, walnuts or almonds and white wine.
Winter into Spring
A comforting braise that brings all of what’s good about the change of seasons on one plate.
This is the classic Greek rabbit stew, one of the best ways to cook rabbit, hare or squirrel. Red wine and LOTS of onions are the key.
Greek Rabbit Stew with Artichokes
Another Greek recipe for rabbit, this time stewed with fennel and artichoke hearts. Freshly cleaned artichokes are best here, but preserved artochoke hearts work just fine, too.
Sichuan Rabbit with Peanuts
Yep, the Chinese eat lots of rabbit, too. This is a fantastic recipe that’s a little sweet, a little hot, and loaded with peanuts. Totally a winner.
Buttermilk Fried Rabbit
The classic. If you ever get a young cottontail or squirrel, make this recipe. And if you are cooking domestic rabbits, definitely make this recipe. You will eat more than you think you can…
Barbecued Hare with Mustard Sauce
Slow-cooked hare, rabbit or squirrel basted with a mustard BBQ sauce. It’s killer.
Tuscan Hare Sauce and Pappardelle
Another quintessential hare dish, this time from Tuscany. If there is one dish supremely meant for hares or jackrabbits, it is this one.
More Wild Game Recipes