Don’t Tell the Kids
Jennifer May for The New York Times
A rabbit at John Fazio’s farm in Modena, N.Y. More Photos >
By KIM SEVERSON
Published: March 2, 2010
RABBITS are supposed to be easy to kill. The French dispatch them with a sharp knife to the throat. A farmer in upstate New York swears that a swift smack with the side of the hand works. Others prefer a quick twist of the neck.
It didn’t seem so easy at the rabbit-killing seminar held in a parking lot behind Roberta’s restaurant in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn in November.
The idea was to place the rabbit on its belly on straw-covered asphalt, press a broomstick across the back of its neck and swiftly yank up the rear legs. Done right, it’s a quiet and quick end. But it takes a little skill and a lot of fortitude, which some of the novices lacked.
Nine people had paid $100 each to learn how to raise, kill and butcher the animals. One was a woman hoping to start a farm in the Bronx. Another was considering a move to family land in Montana. A couple dressed in black had traveled from the Upper East Side with their knives and cutting boards in an Abercrombie & Fitch bag.
Sharleen Johnson, who rode a bus in from Boston, wanted to raise livestock in her backyard.
“This is my gateway animal,” she said.
In an age when diners scoop marrow from roasted beef shins and dissect the feet of pigs raised by people they’ve met, rabbit certainly seems like the right meat at the right time.
American rabbit is typically raised on smaller farms, not in some giant industrial rabbit complex. The meat is lean and healthy, and makes an interesting break from chicken. For people learning to butcher at home, a rabbit is less daunting to cut up than a pig or a goat. And those who are truly obsessed with knowing where their food comes from can raise it themselves.
Still, it’s a rabbit, the animal entire generations know as the star of children’s books and Saturday-morning cartoons, and as a classroom mascot.
Buttermilk Channel in Brooklyn had rabbit on some menus shortly after it opened in late 2008. But after a table of guests walked out, it came off. Now the only rabbit served at the restaurant is disguised in a country terrine.
“It seems to me that the more you can make rabbit not look like rabbit, the easier it is to sell people on it,” said the restaurant’s owner, Doug Crowell.
But not everybody is squeamish. Some restaurant chefs are lining up for well-raised rabbits from small farms, using the meat in coconut chili braises, liver pâtés and even upscale sliders inspired by White Castle.
“Every time I put it on the menu it flies out the door,” said Chris Kronner of Bar Tartine in San Francisco.