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Rabbit, the 'healthiest white meat'

By Leiselle Maraj Wednesday, April 13 2011

click on pic to zoom in
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There was nothing I could do about it. My editor said she had no choice but to send me to a rabbit cooking and tasting exercise.

As my eyes welled up with tears and my voice wavered in distress, I could not help but notice the laughter bubbling close to the surface of her face.

I explained my predicament: I have always wanted a rabbit as a pet because I believe they are the most adorable creatures on the planet. When I first heard people were rearing rabbits for consumption, I was appalled. I saw first hand an exhibition on the Brian Lara Promenade, Port- of-Spain some time ago where there were the fluffy, quiet creatures in cages right next to a bowl of cooked rabbit. All I remembered was the ache in my heart as I compared the living, breathing animal to the cooked version and I vowed then and there to never taste it and never subject myself to that sight again.

But here I was, having to head into the Food Production Laboratory at the Sir Frank Stockdale building of the University of the West Indies, St Augustine with my editor laughing at me all the while. I turned to my Blackberry messenger friends for comfort, lamenting my predicament. I was met with comments like “Why are you upset about it?” or worse, “Make sure and bring some back for me”. Apparently, I am suffering from a severe case of what Cicero Lallo, a UWI Food Production lecturer, called Bunny Rabbit Syndrome. “People see the rabbit as a household pet and do not want to think of it as food but I am told by older generations that during World War II, many people in this country survived on rabbit meat. It was a consistent part of their diet,” he explained at the event.

Last Thursday the students of the non-ruminant production class were divided into five groups and each were charged with the task of preparing a rabbit dish for display and consumption, according to a news release from the university. Prizes were to be awarded to winning presentations. Each group went beyond the call of duty, getting creative with the way they prepared rabbit and in their presentations.

Lallo said the University and in fact, Caricom countries, are on a drive to increase consumption of rabbit within the region. He said at present, 80 percent of the meat consumed in the Caribbean is poultry which is mostly imported. Chickens produced in the region are fed with imported feed. Over the past few years, prices of imported poultry and imported feed have escalated as supplies become scarcer around the world. This has led to consumers paying more and more for their major protein source.

Rabbits are a sustainable source of protein, he explained, since they can be fed forage and kitchen scraps. This too can be said of small ruminants like sheep and goats. While these animals, like the rabbit, are good sources of protein and can be reared with local resources, the rabbit has the advantage because of its ability to procreate in large numbers.

The furry creatures also reach sexual maturity between three and six months of age. A female rabbit ovulates after being mounted by a male which is called induced ovulation. Lallo explained this meant a female rabbit can get pregnant in about three hours after giving birth.

After my talk with him, it was time to face the inevitable. I went to each team and spoke to them about their dishes laid out for the judges and for staff members, students and media who were invited to the event. I was impressed with the variety of dishes the teams thought of as they sought to incorporate rabbit meat in some everyday meals and commonplace situations for Trinidadians.

One team did a possible menu for an after-work or weekend lime, dishing out geera rabbit on kebab sticks, barbecued rabbit and an oil down with rabbit meat. Another used barbecued rabbit as part of a complete, nutritionally balanced meal. Team three decided to use the entire rabbit in their menu along with local ingredients to create a three course meal with rabbit pastelles, rabbit in a red wine sauce and a stew made with rabbit bones and other remnants. An oriental theme was used by yet another team whose menu included deep fried rabbit wantons, rabbit low mein, Chinese styled rabbit and rabbit liver canapé. The winning team served up rabbit in mini gyros, lasagna and honey barbecued to demonstrate the versatility of the meat.

At each station, after I finished my brief interviews, I was offered a taste with one student even assuring, “This was not someone’s pet”. Luckily, aside from my issue with eating rabbit, I am abstaining from meat for the Lenten season which made it easier to turn down these offers with a genuine smile of regret.

I did ask one taste testing student about her view after tasting the meat since it was her first time. She said it was quite delicious and even better than chicken because it had less of a “fresh” taste. The canapé, which I found to be one of the more interesting menu choices, she said, was well seasoned.

Sadly, this one afternoon was not enough for me to conquer my Bunny Rabbit Syndrome but I go with less kicking and screaming the next time my editor decides she wants to torture me like this again.

Here are the recipes of a few dishes created on the day by the teams of students.



Honey Barbecue Rabbit

Ingredients

1 rabbit

Seasoning:

½ cup green seasoning

1 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

4-6 cloves of garlic

1 onion cubed

1 tsp ginger

1 tsp mustard

1 tbsp rum

2 tbsp all purpose seasoning

Sauce:

1 cup tomato ketchup

½ cup barbecue sauce

1 tsp mustard

3 tbsp honey

2 tsp grated ginger

Method

Season rabbit with seasoning and leave to marinate for 2-4 hours. Combine all ingredients for honey barbecue sauce in a pan and allow cooking for ten minutes.

Place seasoned rabbit into pot and leave to steam for 20 minutes or until meat is partially tender.

Place in greased baking dish and glaze rabbit with sauce and place in preheated oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes.

Garnish with cubed tomatoes and chives.



Chinese-style Rabbit

Ingredients

1 rabbit

1 tbsp all purpose seasoning

1tsp black pepper

1 tbsp grated ginger

1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

2 tbsp green seasoning

1 tsp mustard

1 tsp soy sauce

1 ½ tbsp ketchup

1 tbsp oyster sauce

1 onion

3 cloves of garlic

1 tsp sugar

1 tbsp sesame oil



Method

Fresh chive for garnishing, ½ sweet pepper cubed

Start by seasoning rabbit with all purpose, black pepper, green seasoning and half of amount of ginger.

Deep fry to golden brown until cooked (about five minutes). Take out and drain on paper towel.

Put pot to hot; add 2 tsp oil. Add ginger, onion and garlic and sauté for one minute.

Throw in ketchup in oil and fry for one minute. Put about 1 ½ cup water then add mustard, Worcestershire, oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil and let it come to a boil.

Add fried rabbit to mixture, leave for a minute before turning off, add chive and cubed sweet pepper. Note: make sure sauce is not too thick.



RABBIT WANTONS

½ lb deboned, minced rabbit

2 tsp seasoning (shadow beni, carapillae (curry leaves), basil, chive, hot pepper, garlic)

1 ½ tsp worcestershire sauce

½ tsp soy sauce

½ tsp salt

½ tsp Cajun seasoning

Vegetable oil for frying Wanton skins

Method

Season rabbit. Marinate for one hour. Spread on wanton skins, fold skins. Deep fry in oil.



LIVER CANAPÉS

Ingredients

1 rabbit liver

1 tbs butter

1/2 tsp minced onion

3 drops lemon juice salt and pepper to taste Chive, celery and garlic Seasonings Worchestershire sauce Soy sauce



Method

Season liver with seasonings and place into water. Boil liver until tender. Mash with a fork combine ingredients over on stove. Use on crackers or party snacks.

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