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March 07, 2007

Ear-resistible: el Bulli's deep fried rabbit ears with aromatic herbs

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It's hard to keep your eyes off two bloody ears joined by a strip of fur, trust me.  I suppose the instinct that compels us to stare at a bag of bunny scalps is the same force that makes us slow down for a glimpse of a traffic accident or any potentially grisly scene: morbid curiosity.

I'd be lying if I didn't say I felt troubled the first time I saw them. There's something about rabbit ears.  Most of us have managed to distance ourselves from the brutality behind our meals. We're so inured to the sight of a steak or a chicken breast, that we've become disconnected from the fact that an animal had to be killed and butchered to produce them.  But rabbit ears go beyond even that.

The problem is cuteness.  A cow is not always cute.  A crimson slab of meat certainly isn't.  But a pair of bunny ears is an altogether different story. Not only are rabbits cute, their ears are an essential part of their cuteness, perhaps even its essence.  Looking at steak calls to mind images of summer barbecues; looking at big, floppy rabbit ears conjures up happy childhood memories of Bugs Bunny or the Easter Bunny.

By turning adorable into dinner -- or at least a surprisingly delicious snack -- el Bulli's deep fried rabbit ears with aromatic herbs (click here to see the el Bulli catalogue photo), from the el Bulli 2003-2004 cookbook, challenge our assumptions about food.  Eating game, and doing so respectfully by being frugal and eating as much of an animal as possible, is a deeply rooted tradition in most parts of the world.  Spain is no exception, and Rachel and I vividly remember the arresting sights of the butcher stalls specializing in offal and game meats in Barcelona's La Boqueria market.

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North American butchers are not nearly as open.  "You're kidding, right?" is not the answer I was hoping for when I asked my local butcher about rabbit ears.  His expression clearly communicated his doubts about my sanity and taste.  Few butchers sell rabbit, and those that do buy pre-butchered rabbits from outside sources.  That makes rabbit ears the specialest of special orders.  Nonetheless, he promised to see what he could do.  Sure enough, I got a call to pick up my ears about two weeks later. They were free, too, though the butcher requested I not ask for rabbit ears a second time.  Apparently getting them requires calling in some favours.  Why this should be is a mystery to me.  The rabbits at St. Lawrence Market always come with the head attached and the fur and ears removed, so unless there's a clandestine market in bunny scalps, this is the only known use for them.

I was leery about the prep for this dish.  Parts of it are simple: I used kitchen shears to remove the ears from the scalps, and I then soaked the ears in two changes of cold water for a total of twenty-four hours to leech out any remaining blood.  So far, so good.

With the easy part done, it was time to put aside any remaining inhibitions and channel Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction by blanching, then boiling the ears for thirty minutes.  This filled my kitchen with a slightly offputting scent -- think meat meets gym sock -- that I can only compare to that of boiling pigs' trotters (a scent you're no doubt all familiar with).  At this point, the ears can be skinned and cleaned.  This is surprisingly easy as long as the ears are hot.  The fur slips off effortlessly, and the only hard parts are not burning your fingers, cleaning out the inner ear, and removing the extensive network of veins, some of which are pitch black and no wider than a hair.  I found this last task quite difficult until a little experimentation revealed that gently scraping a serrated knife along the ear completes the task efficiently.  What's left is a pearlescent exclamation mark of cartilage.

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After drying the ears in a warm oven, it was time to skewer and fry.  I heated up my olive oil and dropped in a few ears. "Splat! Thwack! Ptooey!"  I was being attacked by a hot olive oil insurgency, so I promptly sought refuge in a corner of my kitchen.  In a moment of kitchen bravery, the likes of which may never be seen again, I scurried through a hail of olive oil to retrieve the splatter guard I had stupidly forgotten in the opposite cupboard -- the one less than a metre from the pot of oil in which I was frying the ears, unfortunately.

The ears are rubbed with garlic and sprinkled with Maldon salt and homemade, dried, powdered thyme and rosemary after coming out of the oil.  The result is stupendous, something between a potato chip and pork crackling, though definitely closer to the latter.  The ears themselves are largely tasteless, a blank canvas for the garlic, salt, and herbs. The texture is what steals the show.  Fried foods disappoint without a little crunch to them.  I'd even go so far as to say that a crispiness is their primary allure.  Rabbit ears deliver this snap in spades.

Before preparing it, I must admit to wondering whether deep fried rabbit ears represented a victory for gimmickry over taste.   The very concept of eating bunny ears panders to the notion that molecular gastronomy is more about jumping the shark than preparing delicious food.  Even Rachel, a woman who has put up with more than her fair share of gastronomic stuntwork, had her doubts about this dish.  She ended up a convert.

Tasting puts any such fears to bed.  Deep fried rabbit ears are delicious.

This post has generated an intense reaction, both for and against.  Rather than add an incredibly long comment, I've posted my response here.  If you're intrigued by the issues surrounding this dish, please take the time to read it after digesting the comments below.

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This time its not me going all offal crazy, either.  Rabbit Ears for lunch, honey - do you fancy it? ... [Read More]

Comments

Bron

Hehe and just in time for Easter!
Reminds me of our local event called "The Great Easter Bunny Shoot Out" prizes are given for the most pairs of ears.

However, I beg to differ that "cows are not always cute" they've gorgeously long eye lashes and beautiful big soft wet noses.
Indeed I'm bias as I've just had an extremely cute hereford blinking and winking at me as I put the washing on the line, hehe.

Did you know bunnies eat their poo, now that really isn't cute is it?! hehe

sam

well - if anyone is going to get me to eat a rabbit ear it is going to be you.
That looks strangely delicious. It might be fun to serve at a cocktail party without telling the guests what it is.
It looks very parctical as finger food - a bunny ear in one hand, a glass in the other...

Renee

I say Rob, should you ever find yourself with loads of fried rabbit ears, egg yolk like mango purees, edible "soil" and the like that you're tired of, let us know. I'm sure many fellow Torontonians would be more than happy to swing by and help out. ;) I'll bring my splatter guard, take-out from Salad King and will even do the dishes! Now that you've got that nutella crumble going on, maybe it's time to re-examine the chili-cheese nachos from Moto, revamped-Rob & Rachel style.

Susan from Food "Blogga"

As a happy vegetarian with an affinity for the Easter Bunny, I approached this post with trepidation. However, you completely engaged me! Though I could never prepare or eat rabbit ears, I really enjoyed your post and learned a lot. Thanks!

Rabbit

With any luck at all you'll eat some ears from infected rabbits and die of rabbit syphilis, EC, or some other dread infection. Choking to death wouldn't be bad either.

Brilynn

I never know what I'm going to find here, but I always enjoy your posts. I'm also thoroughly impressed with the length you'll go to try new things.

Amy

What next? Dog tails and cat tongue? Youre not difficult to please obviously. Perhaps you'll fry up your wifes toenails at the next yummy suggestion (if you have one).
May you be attacked, boiled, fried and seasoned by a herd of rabbits in your own backyard someday. Along with every other morbid person who has made these morbid posts about what we see as a dear sweet pet deserving of more then being looked at as a tasty snack of ears.

Gary Loewenthal

Please view this video of how rabbit ears get to your plate: http://youtube.com/watch?v=Gcx2V-2nvTs

Rabbits are America's third most popular pet. They are endlessly curious, intelligent, highly emotional, social creatures. They jump in your lap, play with toys, and form deep lasting bonds - with other rabbits, with humans, sometimes with cats and dogs.

Rabbits grown for meat are stuffed several at a time in tiny wire cages where they can do nothing other than basically exist in place until slaughtered. To be a young rabbit with boundless energy and desire to play and explore, and be forced to stand on a wire grate all day long, every day of your life, must be like a slow psychological torture. At first the rabbits try to break out of their ridiculously small cages; after a while they lose hope and give up.

Rabbits aren't protected by any humane slaughter laws. Slaughterhouse employees report that due to fast slaughter line speeds, some rabbits are alive, struggling, and actually screaming as they're cut up.

All for a profoundly inessential indulgence.

Have we no shame, or self-control? Must animals suffer and die because we simply have to dine on as many different types of flesh as possible?

Please have some sympathy for creatures whose fate depends on our goodwill, kindness, and restraint. "Blessed are the merciful."

Paulette Lincoln-Baker

Well, I have seen it all. This is the most tasteless, disgusting display I have ever seen. As a companion to 6 house rabbits, I don't even know where to begin to complain about your grotesque display of fried rabbits. Rabbits are the third most popular pet in this country. There are literally tens of thousands of people who share their lives with these beloved creatures and who resent seeing them being killed for a cuisine NOBODY needs to live on. I will pass this website on the many friends I have and Yahoo groups to ask them to join me in protesting this appalling display. Why don't you actually visit some websites and learn about the sweet animals you brag about eating? If you have a heart, you would never eat or advertise eating rabbit again.

Rebecca Smith

Wow, how thoroughly disgusting. You guys should audition for the next Geico commercial.

Michele Carrion

This is totally disgusting. Rabbits are gentle social creatures who are now the third most popular companion animal, after dogs and cats. Yet, they are also the most exploited and abused. Do you people even investigate or care about the conditions these poor animals are subjected to? Probably not! I don't know how you can sleep at night. Hopefully, someday humans will become enlightened.

Charles Hornstein

Rabbits are the third most popular companion animal in america. They are far more than cute and adorable, they are also intelligent, loving and sensitive. They are friends to millions of people. Overwhelmingly, rabbit breeders raise their animals in an inhumane manner. Furthermore, rabbits are allowed to be skinned while still alive. This is what you foster with your post. Your post was thoughtless, insensitive, and disgusting.

J

dear rob, i applaud your courage (in every sense of the word) in putting this post up. i'll try anything once, deep fried bunny ears included. although your description of the scent as akin to that of boiling pig trotters - something i am extremely partial to, the trotters i mean, not the smell! - gives me some inkling as to exactly what lengths the cook must go through to coax a thing of deliciousness from what appears to be an overlooked fifth quarter delicacy

jules

wow..I would never have though to eat rabbit's ears...but now I'm going to have to try them...greaat work

John

Just when you think it can't possibly get worse, it does. This is absolutely, nauseatingly disgusting.

Bron

Oooh you're a 'popular' guy today Rob. If you ever find you need a safe haven, you and Rachel are most welcome at mine, be sure to bring some of your special bunny seasoning mix ! ;-)

Pille

This is proper nose to tail eating:) If you eat rabbits, then why not rabbit ears? I like rabbit meat, though I'm not sure I'd try rabbit ears myself, but then I'm also not too keen on pig's tail (my mum loves them). I love both veal and pork tongue, thou!!
Those of you complaining here: if you've ever go to a supermarket in France, for example, you'd see skinned rabbits and non-skinned ones next to turkeys and chicken. If they're born and bread in nasty conditions in the US, then that's another matter.

cookiecrumb

Looks like you've been freeped. They're all using identical astroturf comments.
Nonetheless: How damn cool. Spoken as someone who just tonight ate a meal of cockscomb and duck tongue risotto.
My butcher would never bother to find me rabbit ears. I know. I already asked him for pig ears.

Lori

Jiminy criminey, you MUST be hungry! I hope that I am never so starved as to have to resort to eating fried rabbit's ears to stay alive. Best wishes for better days ahead for you in hopes that you can soon afford to make something tasty and nutritious like a salad and a baked potato, or maybe some vegetable soup and bread. Dang, I'd take a plain old peanut butter sandwich any day before I'd resort to something that awful. That is food for desperate times indeed!

Deb

How disgusting! I have to wonder if you would be paying the morgue a visit for human ears-I am sure you would find them tasty dipped in batter and fried. As far as I am concerned, you have the same mentality as a Nazi during WWII.

sam

I can understand people who live without exploiting animals or the environment in any way whatsoever being upset about this post. (ie - virtuous vegans living in the woods without a computer).

But any naysayer commenter who is merely spouting steam here because bunnies are "cute little pets" need their fluffy little heads seeing to. Anyone who chooses to eat meat has a responsibilty and that responsibility is to respect the slaughtered animal by utilising every part of it, ears included.

If we accept we eat meat (Vegans excepted, of course, lets not get into the argument of whether we should eat meat or not, it's not precisely the issue here), then we should accept eating ALL meat and offal too, including head, tails and ears, however cute.

I too, ate cockscombe, duck tongue and pig tongue/blood/jowels and more last night - its challenging but if you think about it, the proper thing to do.

If our meat comes from sustainable sources where the animals have been well cared for and pastured, then better still.

Scott

I have tried Rabbits ears and they were absolutely delicious. Now I now Rob and Rachel and equating them to Nazis is just moronic and inflammatory for no good reason. Having read the post and the comments I have to say I have never seen a larger number of morons in one place in my life. You people are attaching a moral values to people you do not know except from a food blog. This blog it exactly what it was supposed to do which was try new dishes and show them to the world in hops that the readers would learn something. I applaud Rob and Rachael for having the courage to try such different food and share their experience with the world. For them to be attacked in such a personal manner is infantile and ignorant. The comments here should be used for the quality of the post and subject matter not to respond to an imaginary threat your skewed value system.

Meso

I hope all these bunny loving hipocrits googled all the rabbit stew posts and went equally overboard (3rd most popular pet, cute + smart, blah blah blah).

What is the difference between the guy who cooks the ears and the guy who cooks the flank of an animal? Oh, I understand now - Rob cooked and ate the defining characteristic of this cute animal! Well Rob, let me know when you're serving up baby seal eyeballs and I'll bring over my baby tiger spleen soup!

Craig

I don't know why people get so upset about "rabbit ears". Talk about nuts. There is probably a good reason why rabbit ears are not sold generally -- they think that no one will buy them -- so they add those leftovers to the grinder -- and grind it into sausage for little or no cost. Which means that most of the non-vegetarians here that are complaining about it -- have already eatten rabbit ears -- just not gourmet rabbit ears....

Rob, you are my hero now. Anyone that can get this type of reaction from people -- deserves to be admired.

dave

Just the picture alone made me somewhat hungry. Do the pet shops sell the rest of the rabbits at half price?

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