Texas Hot Rabbit
Oddly enough, I'm probably one of the few people who has never visited Nashville. So, now I suppose I should get there one of these days. This iconic city known for its country music, famous artists and of course Nashville hot chicken. And, I doubt that you could get very far walking through Nashville without coming across a restaurant that has their rendition of this classic item on their menu. So, since travel is pretty limited right now, I decided to make my own version of this recipe and add a little twist. I give you, Texas Hot Rabbit.
If you've never had the opportunity to hunt rabbit, then that should be first up on your list. Here in Texas, there is no closed season for rabbit, which make it an enjoyable hunt in-between more popular seasons like deer and turkey. Here in South Texas, we have a couple of different varieties of rabbit hopping through the brush. The first being the extremely popular, Cottontail and then the much larger distant cousin, the Jack rabbit. For this recipe, I've used a fresh cottontail, which I field dressed and washed not long after the hunt.
Rabbit is easy to work with and consists of a few simple parts in which you should break down for this recipe. Much like a chicken, different pieces of this game will cook at different rates than others, so it's important to separate these pieces prior to cooking and this is where having a cleaver will come in handy. First, separate the back legs at the rear joint. This is easily done with a little bit of pressure using that trusty cleaver. Next, move forward and remove the front legs in a similar fashion. For this recipe, I like to trim off the underside of the rib cage, which would also be the flank. No, it's not bad, but for this method of preparation, it's important that each piece is relatively balanced in size. If you were to leave this very thin piece of meat on, it will overcook quickly, while the rest of the meat is still raw. At this point, you're left with the saddle, which is a favorite part to many. This can be either left whole or cut into smaller cross sections depending on the size of the rabbit.
Once you've split the rabbit into pieces, it's time to soak in beer for a few hours. Like most game meat, rabbit is also quite lean, so whenever I have the opportunity to have it sit for a few hours before cooking, I prefer to have it soak in some kind of liquid, in this case a local IPA. Add the can of beer to whatever you're marinating the rabbit in, in addition to cayenne pepper, smoked paprika and garlic powder. Let soak a minimum of 2 hours.
Once the rabbit has marinated for a couple of hours, take it out from the liquid and prepare everything for the coating. Helpful tip... if you have some plastic bowl-like food containers, they make life much easier when coating the rabbit. Start with dredging each piece in the flour mixture and then dip into the buttermilk. Lift from the buttermilk, letting any excess drip off and then dredge once more into the flour. Once each piece is coated, let everything sit on a baking sheet or plate while your frying oil is preheating. This is a critical step because it allows the breading to bond with the rabbit meat.
Once your oil comes to 350 degrees(f), it's time to slowly place the rabbit in for frying. I like to use about a 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch of oil for this in a skillet with taller sides. This will allow for the rabbit to cook evenly, with it being flipped once throughout the cooking process. Always remember, work in small batches when frying or you run the risk of crowding the pan and cooling the oil temperature down too much, which can result in greasy food.
Once fried, let stand on a paper towel while you make the spicy drizzle. Honestly, this is where most of the spice comes from, so if you need to tweak the intensity of the heat, this is the time. In a small sauce pan, add the cayenne, smoked paprika, cooking oil, butter, honey and brown sugar. Using medium heat, whisk the mixture until the sugar dissolves. Pour on top of your rabbit while the drizzle is still hot. As it all cools, it will form a delicious spicy layer on the outside of the rabbit.
Texas Hot Rabbit Recipe
1 Rabbit, dressed, washed and split into parts
2 cups, All Purpose Flour
1 cup, Buttermilk
5 dashes, Hot Sauce
1 can, IPA or your favorite beer
2 Tbsp, Kosher Salt
4 Tbsp(divided), Cayenne Pepper
2 Tbsp, Brown Sugar
3 Tbsp(divided), Smoked Paprika
1 Tbsp, Garlic Powder
1 Tbsp, Honey
1 Tbsp, Butter
1/4 cup, Cooking oil, reserved after cooking
Rinse and dry the entire rabbit. Split into sections; rear legs, front legs and saddle.
Marinate the rabbit in a food safe container in the refrigerator for a minimum of 2 hours using, 3 Tbsp of Cayenne pepper, the can of beer, garlic powder and 2 Tbsp of Smoked Paprika.
Once the rabbit has sat in the marinade for at least 2 hours, remove from the liquid and dry using paper towels. For the coating, use two bowls or containers, one for the buttermilk and the other for the flour. Add the buttermilk, egg and hot sauce, whisk until ingredients become one. In the other vessel, mix the flour and Kosher salt. Dredge each piece of rabbit in the flour first and then dip into the buttermilk mixture. Once dunked into the buttermilk, hold each piece above to let any excess drip off before dredging once more in the flour. Once each piece has been coated, let stand on a plate or baking sheet while your oil preheats.
In a skillet suitable for frying, add 1/2 to 3/4 of oil(I prefer canola). Once the oil reaches 350 degrees(f), add a couple of pieces of rabbit to the skillet at a time(work in small batches to not overcrowd the pan). For the larger pieces, cook for roughly 4 minutes per side(flipping once). Depending on the size of the rabbit, some pieces will require more/less time. Internal temperature of the meat should reach 160 degrees(f). Once cooked, remove and let stand on a paper towel.
Spicy Honey Drizzle
To make the drizzle, add 1/4 cup of the cooking oil to a small saucepan, in addition to the remaining cayenne, smoked paprika, butter and honey. Whisk until the sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. While this mixture is still hot, drizzle over the rabbit on a serving platter.
Serve alongside hot cornbread and pickles.