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.
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.