Growing up, our family were rabbit hunters. Just about every weekend morning during the season, my dad, brother and I would load up our beagles and head out to meet up with extended family and friends for an all-day hunt.
Back then, before modern farming practices cleaned up the fencerows and field edges, rabbits were plentiful. We always had good dogs, beagles that would stick with a trail until the rabbit went to ground or was taken by a member of our hunting party, and full bag limits were common.
Fried rabbit was one of my favorite meals back then, and even though we don’t chase cottontails as often these days as we did back then, we still get out often enough to kick up a mess or two for the dinner table. Here’s a tried and true, old-fashioned fried rabbit recipe for the next time you want to cook up a few.
Serves 4 to 6
2 rabbits, dressed and quartered
2 cups buttermilk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon white pepper
2 teaspoons garlic salt
1 teaspoon dried mustard
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
2 cups of vegetable oil
1 cup of lard
Start the recipe with a buttermilk soak. The enzymes and acids in buttermilk help to both tenderize and add flavor and moisture to the lean rabbit meat. Place the dressed and quartered rabbit pieces into a large bowl or pan, then pour over the buttermilk. Toss the rabbit a few times to make certain the pieces are well coated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of two and up to eight hours.
When you’re ready to start frying, mix together the flour dredge ingredients (flour through oregano in the list above) in a large bowl. Remove the rabbit pieces from the buttermilk and drop directly into the flour mixture. Toss well to coat. Move each dredged piece of rabbit from the flour to a wire rack and allow the coating to set up for at least 10 minutes before frying. This rest period helps the crust stick to the rabbit instead of flaking off in your skillet.
In a cast iron skillet, heat the vegetable oil and lard combination to between 325 and 350 degrees. Note: If frying in lard gives you pause, straight vegetable oil will work, but doesn’t give as much old-fashioned flavor as straight lard or a lard/vegetable oil mix.
Gently drop the rabbit, a piece at a time, into the hot oil. Fry in batches so that you don’t overcrowd the pan. Fry on one side for four to five minutes or until the crust is set and golden brown, then flip and fry the other side. Add a lid to the pot and continue cooking for another 10 minutes.
Remove the lid and allow the crust to crisp up again, turning the pieces once or twice, before removing to a warm platter and repeating with the remaining rabbit.
Serve the fried rabbit just like you would fried chicken. Alongside mashed potatoes and green beans is perfect. Growing up, a breakfast of fried rabbit, scrambled eggs, pan gravy and homemade biscuits was always a favorite.
Kentucky native Michael Pendley has been hunting since he was old enough to say the word “rifle.” He’s been writing in the outdoor industry for the past 15 years, and his work has appeared in Field & Stream, Sporting Classics Daily, Modern Pioneer, Petersen’s Hunting and others, though he is perhaps best known for his “Timber 2 Table” column on Realtree.com. When he’s not in the kitchen whipping up something mouthwatering or sampling Kentucky’s fine bourbons, he, along with his wife and photographer, Cheryl, their daughter, Michaela, and their two sons, Hunter and Nathaniel (aka Potroast), along with their basset hound, Blanton, and bloodhound, Teddy, can be found traveling the country and enjoying everything the outdoors has to offer.