Friday, May 11, 2012

What Makes a Stew?

3-lb Young Rabbit

What Makes a Stew? or My Relationship to Meat

Today I was walking down Pico back to my car, amidst the flurry of the Fashion District, and I remembered the first occasion I cooked rabbit. My birthday always falls around Easter, so I made the morbidly-fascinated decision to serve rabbit at my party.  (See previous post for pics.)

At the time I was working at the now closed Fleur de Lys in Monterey Park, which is predominantly Chinese.  I asked around, and the most common response was, "I don't know, a pet store?"  I told one of my regulars Vivian about my conquest for rabbit for dinner.  Three days a week Vivian would come in, order a Double Cappuccino, (extra hot) and try a scone.  She often had comments like, "Not hot enough" or "The scone didn't crumble like it should."  Her daughter was a Pastry Chef in New York.   She was the only one who had an answer to my rabbit question.  "I think I know a place."

She ended up calling me on Saturday afternoon, and told me "there is a market in South LA that sells live ducks.  They might have rabbit."  I wrote down the address, thanked her, and hung up the phone dumbfounded.  "Oh my God," I thought, "She thinks I want a pet?  Does she think I was going to buy the rabbit and kill it?"  Loads of questions ran through my mind.  I wondered what the tradition was at her house, or maybe what was inherited from her family's past.

Binta at the CFCA in Niamey avec poulet
When I was in Niger in 2007 I helped pluck and butcher two freshly-slaughtered chickens.  It was curious, to stare at a chicken (or rabbit) carcass and empathize, feeling like I myself am just bones and meat.  (The year before that I had seen Bodies: The Exhibition in Boston.)  It was humbling and disturbing, to be able to see humans as animals.  Along the same lines, even though the act of turning the "animal" to "meat" is quite shocking, it is also quite human.  It seems to be a challenge in our food culture for people to recognize that fact. 

Perhaps that's what you get living the product-oriented way of life.  "Don't show me the dirty work.  I only want to see the prize." 

And do you know what my family ate for Easter in 2011? Roasted Rabbit.  The tradition lives on. 


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