“Try it, you’ll like it!” is an old advertising slogan from the '70s — one that Sheldon Bubier of Greene might consider resurrecting for his rabbit meat and pot pie business.
When I called him last week to give him my “two thumbs up” report on the ground rabbit meat I’d recently purchased from him, he was not one bit surprised. “I knew you’d like it!” he said. I was not the first to say this to him, it turns out — from his experience, a lot of people say the same thing.
Along with two recipes to tempt you into the world of rabbit meat, Bubier shared a few statistics about rabbit meat:
Rabbit meat is healthy. It is very low in cholesterol, fat and calories — less than chicken, beef or pork.
It contains more protein than other meats.
Domestic rabbit meat is all white, as opposed to wild rabbit, which is all dark.
Rabbit production is considered sustainable farming. They eat grass, hay and alfalfa.
Rabbit meat can replace poultry, veal, pork or beef in any recipe with the right cut and cooking time variation. It is recommended the internal temperature reach 160 degrees.
Buber realizes he is in a business that sometimes faces a little controversy or a less-than-positive reaction because some people have a hard time overcoming their view of rabbits as pets. But when it comes to considering farm-raised rabbits as meat, he said it is really no different than raising chickens, cows, lambs or pigs for consumption — animals that happen to be more commonly accepted as food sources. In order to keep the two separate, he said, “We will not sell any rabbits for pets.”
To most people, farm-raised rabbit meat is quite mild in flavor, and is not as "gamy" as they might expect. It is considered “fine-grained.” Bubier said wild rabbit runs to a more gamy flavor, but since it is against the law to sell wild game, “you’ll never buy wild rabbit meat in a market.”
Many people will ask him if the rabbit tastes like chicken. His answer is an emphatic "No," he said, “it tastes like rabbit, and it’s good!”
All of his products are frozen before selling. Along with the pot pies, he sells whole rabbits for roasting, legs, loins, boneless strips, ground rabbit and rabbit sausage. “The boneless is fantastic for stew or stir-fry,” he said. Because he is a meat- potatoes-and-gravy kind of farmer, he said, his preferred way to cook and eat the rabbit is roasted. Prices usually run between $5 and $7 per pound.
At first glance, ground rabbit most closely resembles ground turkey meat, but in Bubier’s opinion “tastes much less like cardboard” — which I can now back up wholeheartedly. If you like turkey burgers, I expect you will LOVE rabbit burgers. I seasoned mine with a few herbs, bread crumbs and an egg for good measure, basically making a meatloaf. Shaped into four small burgers, they were cooked in a frying pan with a little bit of lard bought at Nezinscot Farm in Turner; since the rabbit meat contains so little fat, I didn’t want to risk drying it out. They were surprisingly delicate in flavor and very tender. On my menu this week is the package of boneless strips.
The Bubiers have been raising meat rabbits for their own consumption since the 1970s, but commercially for about two years. He now has 150 meat rabbits on his farm on Merrill Hill Road in Greene, and is often in the thick of producing rabbit pot pies — he estimates he sells at least 30 pies a week. Since his business is constantly growing, he now buys rabbits from other growers; otherwise he figures he would need at least 1,000 rabbits to keep up with demand. His farm and commercial kitchen are both inspected and licensed as a processing facility. He has begun to both wholesale to other farm market vendors and supply restaurants.
Bubier — along with his frozen rabbit meat, pot pies, jams, pickles and dilly beans — can be found at the following farmers’ markets:
The Lewiston Farmer’s Market at Bates Mill No. 5 on Sundays
Thomas Knight Park in South Portland on Thursday afternoons
Crystal Springs in Brunswick on Saturdays
For more information, contact the Bubier Family Farm, Sheldon and Judy Bubier, 104 Merrill Hill Road, Greene; 946-7236.
1 whole rabbit (frozen)
1/2 teaspoon sage
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
3 cups water
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 teaspoon soy sauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix the dry spices together and sprinkle over the rabbit. Spices can be adjusted to taste. Dissolve the bouillon cubes in the water, add soy sauce. Put the rabbit in a roaster pan and add the water mixture. Cover twice, once with tin foil and then the roaster cover. (Judy Bubier said a roasting bag would work well, too. The main purpose is to keep in as much liquid and moisture as possible). Bake for 2-1/2 hours or until the meat starts to fall off the bone. For gravy, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of cornstarch to 1/4 cup of water, mix into the pan drippings and season to taste.
(A very easy recipe from Bubiers’ Texas-born friend, Mabel)
1 rabbit, cut into 4 pieces (thawed)
1-1/2 cups flour
Pinch each of salt and pepper
Brown paper bag
Combine flour, salt and pepper in the brown paper bag. Add rabbit pieces and shake until rabbit is well-coated. In a skillet, fry the rabbit pieces in oil until brown on both sides. Place browned rabbit pieces in a covered casserole dish and bake in the oven for 45 minutes at 350 degrees.