This is how the rabbit looks out of its packaging, before starting the de-boning process. The rabbit’s head and feet have been removed, it is skinned and gutted. If you just killed a rabbit and you need help doing those things, this post is not for you. Check Tom Browns Field Guide to Wilderness Survival or something.
This is the inside of a rabbit. This picture is a little difficult to see, but try. This is the inside of a rabbit before you start working on it. You can see the rib cage (which I am holding open) in between the front (smaller) legs. Down the center you can see the loin on both side of the backbone. There is a flap of meat below the loin is the belly. Sometimes the kidneys are left on. They are usable in a forcemeat or stuffing. The hind legs are joined and dealt with similarly to that on a chicken. The tricky bits with rabbits tend to be the very easily broken and delicate ribs as well as the oddly shaped backbone. Generally chefs try to remove the ribs and the backbone without piercing or puncturing the flesh in order to stuff the saddle of the rabbit. It is a great way to practice and hone your knife skills and meat cutting skills. This is not a job for the faint of heart, and it is not a thing to hurry through. Take your time, work carefully, and once you have de-boned several rabbits you will be telling all your mates there’s nothing to it. The ribs are very easily broken so take care.
Start cutting. Remove all four legs. It is up to you whether to take out the bones from the legs or not. If you are using the rabbit for a braised dish you might want to leave them on. If you are using the rabbit for a baked dish you may want to take the bones right out. If that is the case think “chicken thighs” and get ‘er done. You can tie the meat with twine if you are planning on braising the legs. I left the bones in and tied the front legs to keep the meat together.
Carefully score the meat on either side of the first rib bone closest to the head end of the rabbit. Use light, feathery stokes with the tip of your (sharp) boning knife and work the knife underneath the bone near the backbone. Slide it up and free the rib. Continue on until all the ribs are loose from the meat, as shown above. Free the loin on the side you are working on from the backbone closest to the rib cage, where it sits above the rib cage. You are trying to keep everything in one piece remember. Work the loin free of the backbone all the way down keeping it attached to the belly. That means cutting below it where it is above the rib cage (from your perspective) and then to one side where it rests on the backbone. Do your best to keep it attached to the belly of the rabbit.
Ok, a note on the backbone of a rabbit. It is almost an asterisk shape (*). The criss-crossing X being more pronounced than the middle dash. If that makes any sense. This looks a little gory but hopefully it is also useful.
I am by no means an expert on this topic, but I do find that when I know what to expect when deboning meat I have a much better time of it.
You can see the ribs branching off to either side of it down at the bottom. The white ridges along the center in this picture are where the individual vertebrae are closest to the skin of the rabbit. Once you have the ribs free and the loin free you can start working on the backbone. You must cut in towards the bone, then out a little, then in and then leave it! When you are doing this work one side at a time. Use your knife to feel where the bone it. Use short feathering strokes to avoid missing where you ought to cut. Start at the head end and work the whole thing down one side then turn your knife and work out down the whole side, then in, etc. Once you get the backbone almost free and are dealing with the back (underside) of the rabbit, stop. Work the other side of the bone free. Then GENTLY pull the whole backbone with one hand and use your knife to hold the meat down. It should pop pop pop off the back of the rabbit. If it gets stuck, use a tiny stroke of your knife to help it along.
If none of this is making sense I am sorry by the way. It is rather difficult to describe this process from memory. Next time I should do a video.
This is the saddle of a rabbit, de-boned. See how it is all one piece. Lovely.
If you plan on stuffing the rabbit, do so now, then roll and tie it up. You can make a nice little mushroom duxelle and smear the inside of the rabbit with garlic butter, season it up, add the mushrooms then roll it and tie it with twine. If you want to do the saddle on its own it is best to sear the outside very well, then slow roast it at 300*F for about an hour (you should cook it through, ie. 370*F). Serve it with a little white wine mustard sauce.
Or just roll it and tie it up for a braise like I did.
What a beauty. There my bunny is – all ready for searing. Yum!