The Importance of Rabbits

Many years ago I bought Joseph Keller’s The French Laundry cookbook, a massive, five pound coffee table book with gorgeous photos of fabulous food I would never make. Mr. Keller’s methods are seldom very simple or easy, and I have to imagine that ‘very good’ doesn’t do his cuisine justice. But I learned a lot from reading the book, in particular the chapter, The Importance of Rabbits.

In this chapter Mr. Keller talks about his belief that it was important for him, as a chef, to have the ability to kill an animal if he was going to serve them. He tells of his struggle to learn swift and humane methods, of his failure and final success.

I clutched at the first rabbit. I had a hard time killing it, it screamed. Rabbits scream and this one screamed loudly. Then it broke its leg trying to get away. It was terrible.

The next ten rabbits didn’t scream, and I was quick with the kill, but the first screaming rabbit not only gave me a lesson in butchering, it also taught me about waste. Because killing those rabbits had been such an awful experience, I would not squander them. I would use all my powers as a chef to ensure those rabbits were beautiful. It is very easy to go a grocery store and buy meat, then accidentally overlook it and throw it away. A cook sauteing a rabbit loin, working on the line on a Saturday night, a million pans going, plates going out the door, who took that loin a little too far, doesn’t hesitate, just dumps it in the garbage and fires another. Would that cook, I wonder, let his attention stray from that loin had he killed the rabbit himself? No. Should a cook squander anything, ever?

It was a simple lesson.

Likely at home, we don’t throw out a piece of meat because we slighty overcooked it, but blithely discarding the skin of a chicken is common practice. After I read Mr. Keller’s book I  started keeping all my scraps to make a broth for myself or my pets, but it was many years before I had an opportunituy to honor my conviction, that if I was going to eat meat I should experience what it meant to kill an animal. Continue reading