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It didn’t seem so easy at the rabbit-killing seminar held in a parking lot behind Roberta’s restaurant in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn in November. The idea was to place the rabbit on its belly on straw-covered asphalt, press a broomstick across the back of its neck and swiftly yank up the rear legs. Done right, it’s a quiet and quick end. But it takes a little skill and a lot of fortitude, which some of the novices lacked.
Nine people had paid $100 each to learn how to raise, kill and butcher the animals. One was a woman hoping to start a farm in the Bronx. Another was considering a move to family land in Montana. A couple dressed in black had traveled from the Upper East Side with their knives and cutting boards in an Abercrombie & Fitch bag. Sharleen Johnson, who rode a bus in from Boston, wanted to raise livestock in her backyard. “This is my gateway animal,” she said.
American rabbit is typically raised on smaller farms, not in some giant industrial rabbit complex. The meat is lean and healthy, and makes an interesting break from chicken. For people learning to butcher at home, a rabbit is less daunting to cut up than a pig or a goat. And those who are truly obsessed with knowing where their food comes from can raise it themselves.
Still, it’s a rabbit, the animal entire generations know as the star of children’s books and Saturday-morning cartoons, and as a classroom mascot. Buttermilk Channel in Brooklyn had rabbit on some menus shortly after it opened in late 2008. But after a table of guests walked out, it came off. Now the only rabbit served at the restaurant is disguised in a country terrine.
But not everybody is squeamish. Some restaurant chefs are lining up for well-raised rabbits from small farms, using the meat in coconut chili braises, liver pâtés and even upscale sliders inspired by White Castle. “Every time I put it on the menu it flies out the door,” said Chris Kronner of Bar Tartine in San Francisco.
As the pre-slaughter lecture in Brooklyn began, Ms. Carpenter prepared students for the moment. “Today is a somber day because we are going to be killing rabbits,” she said. “But I am always psyched after slaughter because I’m like, now I’m going to eat.” The rabbit events appealed to the kind of adventurous cook who signs up for weekend sausage-making classes, in part because rabbits are an especially good way to learn basic home butchery.