Rabbit. It’s a meat eaten all over the world, but not really in America.
Lan Bradeen, the owner and executive chef of Melange, wants that to change.
Bradeen has been cooking her braised rabbit tacos since she opened up on Main Street in 2007, and the dish’s staying power comes down to a subtle sleight of hand. Bradeen is cooking you a meat you may not have eaten. But you don’t need a fork and knife.
“It's important when you're serving something like rabbit that's a little bit unusual that you put it in a form where it can be approachable,” she says. “Everybody loves a crunchy taco.”
How It’s Made:
The rabbit at Melange are braised whole on the bone, and then the meat is cooled off and shredded so it’s primed and ready for tacos.
Then Bradeen, a graduate of Pine View School, adds a Japanese-style curry to the meat.
There’s blended turmeric, cumin, ginger and black pepper cutting the spice of the curry, so the mixture gives the rabbit more of a slight zest, and it’s served in a fried wonton taco shell.
“It's not super spicy,” Bradeen says of the curry mix. “It's more that turmeric, pepper and ginger flavor in the curry itself. So it's nice and mild, but still flavorful.”
Bradeen says that people who have eaten wild rabbit may be expecting a darker red meat, but farmed rabbit has more of the consistency of pork or chicken than it does steak.
Cute but delicious:
Sure, they’re cute. But these aren’t the rabbits you see around Sarasota at dawn and dusk.
Why is rabbit so rarely cooked in the USA? Bradeen says it’s pretty simple.
“It's a great food,” she says. “But they're fluffy.”
Bradeen says she had a line on local rabbit from a farm in Ocala at one point, but they couldn’t provide the meat at the volume she needed to serve her menu staple.
Now she sources the meat from rabbit farms out west and in Wyoming.
“Rabbit around the world is a very sustainable animal. It’s vegetarian and prolific,” she says. “It’s actually a great source of protein. I think we're just not so used to it here in America, which is a shame because it has a lot more flavor than other white meats.”
Not Like Chicken:
If you’re not going to cook the whole rabbit, the chef says you can get the best cut of meat out of the leg. And she recommends braising it for at least an hour to make it tender.
“It's not like chicken to where you cook it and it's comes out tender as soon as it's done,” she says. “It needs a little bit of braising for it to work properly.”
Wet Your Whistle:
So what goes good with rabbit tacos? Melange, situated right next door to Brad Coburn’s Pangea Alchemy Lab, would recommend you pair the rabbit with a martini.
“The Lychee Martini has a touch of sweetness,” says Bradeen. “So that can balance the curry a little bit and complement the mango with the tropical.”