The rabbit carcass has different sections or portions similar to any other animal carcass suitable for human consumption. This means they also require different cooking methods, just like other cuts and portions of meat and depending on the application suitable for any type of dish imaginable.
There are three main portions, the fronts, the middle and the hinds with their respective cuts. These also define the different sections related to various cooking methods that will bring out the real culinary experience in cooking with rabbit meat.
The whole rabbit can be portioned and cooked in a pot, but using the various portions and cuts appropriately is so much more rewarding.
A hearty stew can just be what is required, but knowing that rabbit can be easily prepared and cooked in many ways more than one, and not just in a pot, will substitute your chicken recipes perfectly every time with a full of flavour result.
THE FRONT PORTIONS
The front section consists of the neck, shoulder and front legs. There are two different portions that can be cut from this section. The hoppers or front legs or the whole front as one cut that includes the legs, shoulder and neck.
The fronts are the toughest but boast the most flavour and probably the closest in taste to explain the flavour of rabbit meat.
These cuts are suitable for dishes or recipes that require slow or pre-cooking and will fall off the bone while retaining that juiciness with a little help from the cooking liquid in your recipes. Curries, casseroles and potjies or stews are recommended for these cuts, and the hopper wings makes for an awesome chicken wing substitute.
The shoulder and neck after portioning can be used to make awesome rabbit stock, which is not available in South Africa. It can be stored or frozen for use in your next rabbit dish.
THE MIDDLE PORTIONS
The middle cuts consist of the saddle (loin, hip and rump), the rib cage and belly. Generally, the saddle is used either whole and bone-in or whole de-boned also known as the fillet.
The saddle is an extremely tender portion of the rabbit. It does not need marinating before cooking other than to infuse one’s flavours.
The rib-cage includes belly flaps that are solid meat that can be cut off and used in stews or to wrap the fillets in. The rib-cage after portioning can be used to make rabbit stock.
These cuts are suitable for dishes or recipes that require delicate, succulent and the finest meat cuts. De-bone parts can cook in as little as two minutes per side and be poached in only eight minutes to produce the ultimate tender and juicy results. The loin or fillet is used in exquisite dishes to impress with tenderness and succulent flavour.
THE HIND PORTIONS
The hind section consists of the hind legs which are definitely the mightiest and meatiest part of the rabbit. The two hinds are portions on its own, but each hind can also be cut up into two smaller portions.
The hinds from a young fryer rabbit are quite tender, and the cooking methods are similar to cooking chicken with the same cooking times and temperatures. Whether in the oven or on the grill the choice of marinade, basting, time on cooker and temperature depends greatly on the skills and experience of the cook.
This is the most versatile and meaty part for grilling, baking, stews and casseroles exactly like chicken but with a little skill from the cook to produce a succulent tender dish.