Is hasenpfeffer on your winter menu?

Care needs to be taken when harvesting small wild game.

If there is a small wild game hunter in the family, there might be hasenpfeffer on the menu during the winter. Special care needs to be taken when harvesting small wild game.

Rabbit season is usually Sept. 15 through March 31. For licensing and hunting regulations in Michigan check the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website.

It is easier to skin small wild game while the body is still warm. With this in mind, skinning a rabbit should take place as soon as possible following the kill. Rabbits are easier to skin than squirrels because rabbits have tissue-paper thin skin.

If there are any hand cuts, it is best to wear plastic gloves when dressing the game to prevent contamination of the cut.

Try to be thorough when removing the hair from the meat surfaces and locate all of the shot pellets. This may take some time to do, but nothing can spoil a person’s appetite faster than fur on the meat.

Cut away any shot-damaged areas and remove the glands, fat and non-muscle tissue. Michigan State University Extension advises to wash and refrigerate the meat as quickly as possible so the meat does not stay in the temperature danger zone too long. The meat should be used within three days or frozen.

For the shot areas that appear to be quite bloody, soak the piece in cold, salted water for 30 minutes, then drain and refrigerate or freeze. If the plan is to freeze the rabbit meat for later, the meat needs to be completely dressed and ready-to-cook before it is frozen. Wrap the meat in freezer paper, freezer bags or heavy-duty foil, label and date the package and freeze it quickly.

All wild game meats should be thawed in the refrigerator, just as you would any other type of meat. An added benefit to thawing meat slowly in the refrigerator is the thawing process will help tenderize the meat. A two-to-three pound package of meat will take 18 to 24 hours to thaw in the refrigerator.

The flavor of the wild game meat is affected by how the dead animal is handled and dressed. If the meat was handled poorly, the spices and cooking techniques will not improve the flavor. With most wild game the strong flavors are stored in the fat tissues; therefore trim the meat before cooking.

If the meat is to be marinated, add one cup of marinade to the meat in a food grade heavy duty plastic bag and seal it tightly. The bag can be turned repeatedly while it marinates in the refrigerator. When preparing to cook the meat, throw away the marinade.

The nutrition content of a three ounce piece of stewed wild rabbit is 147 calories, 28 grams of protein, 4.1 milligrams of iron, three grams of fat, of which 0.9 grams is saturated fat, and 105 milligrams of cholesterol.

Just like other high protein foods, rabbit meat needs to be handled with care so bacteria and microorganisms cannot cross-contaminate and cause a foodborne illness. Some pointers to handle the wild game safely are:

  • Wash hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before beginning to prepare and after changing tasks.
  • Wash, rinse and sanitize all work surfaces, utensils and cutting boards before starting to prepare the food.
  • Use a separate cutting board for the raw meat to prevent cross-contamination of ready to eat foods, like vegetables for salads.
  • Always marinate in the refrigerator. Use the marinated meat within 48 hours.
  • Use a food thermometer to measure if the food has cooked to the proper temperature – an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Promptly refrigerate the leftover cooked meat in shallow pans. It should be used within two to three days.

If the hunter in the family brings home a rabbit for dinner, taking the appropriate precautions when preparing the meat can result in a delicious meal. Enjoy a hot rabbit stew!

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