Sunday, January 27, 2008

Wild What

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I have a confession to make. When I deviate from my mostly vegetarian palette... when I indulge in what I try to be sure is humane, ecologically raised food... when I find myself wanting some meat... I want... well, meat. I mean real meat, powerful, chewy, flavorful meat. Don't give me any of that chicken breast white crap: I want bacon, chicken thighs, or wild boar.

Wild Boar? What?

No, seriously, it's pretty much my new best friend. Let me list the reasons:

(1) My primary concern in choosing what I eat is sustainability. Wild Boar are sometimes Feral Pigs, which exist in annoying, pest-like abundance - reducing the local population of feral animals does the environment, relatively speaking, a favor. Even when "farm-raised", Boar primarily forage for food and are generally raised with less grain than pigs or cattle. This species can be farmed on a much smaller ecological footprint and with fewer antibiotics than grain-fed animals. So, whether the Wild Boar is obtained from a local feral pig population or is raised on a large acerage farm, I feel good making a choice to minimize any ecological impact.

(2) My second concern in choosing what I eat is to ensure fair animal husbandry. Not all Wild Boar is "Wild", but truly free-roaming meat can be located quite easily. I eat it happily: these animals have a good life nosing around in the forest for mushrooms and other edibles.

(3) My third concern in choosing what I eat is based on health. The health benefits of eating wild game meat are well documented (akin to eating grass fed versus grain fed beef)

(4) Although chicken, pork or fish are occasionally on our menu, Greg and I will probably never eat beef. When your husband knows some who died from CJD, it kind of turns you off of the whole species, at least until America starts testing its animals. Wild boar fills my otherwise unfillable craving for red meat.

(5) Wild Boar is flavorful and delicious.

(6) My local market carries a steady supply from this fantastic company.

(7) It's the sort of thing that would make Michael Pollan proud.

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Prepared well, the Wild Boar I've had has been very flavorful and tender. The last time I tasted some at a restaurant, it literally fell apart on the fork. The prepared sausages we've been eating at home have a wonderfully delicate texture and a hearty, beef-like flavor. So, we decided it was time to try making a boar roast ourselves.

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When I searched for a good guide on cooking wild boar, I quickly came up short. There actually aren't many recipes on the internet and many of the recipes I found did not distinguish between different cuts of meat. The dinner I worked on tonight was my best shot at uniting all of the advice I read: marinating, slow cooking, pairing with complementary flavors and textures.

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So, how'd everything go? Well, okay, the Wild Boar Roast was dry. Very dry. Bone dry. Chewy, actually. The wild mushroom pan sauce was the true star of the show: it was out of this world for "savory". The Boar pan drippings lent a meaty flavor to the mushrooms that I know I could never achieve with just wine and salt alone, and the last bit of butter emulsified everything into satiny goodness. I could have licked the pan - it was that good. As for the meat, the texture left much to be desired, but we devoured it anyway since the flavor was spot on. The red wine and sage complemented the rich, wild flavor of the Boar wonderfully. I wouldn't change the flavors of this dish, only the cooking method. Here are a few guesses for next time:

- Choose a different cut (although, the "mini-roast" available at my local market is dirt cheap and I'm not sure I want to spend, say, $60)

- Cook the meat longer (akin to brisket)

- Marinate longer (some recipes suggest up to five days)

- Marinate with something other than red wine (eg vinegar)

- Create more surface area for the meat to be exposed to the pan sauce while cooking (eg a ragu or bolognese)

In the meantime, if you're curious about Boar but don't want any hassle, these sausages are amazing.

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I know these mushrooms and polenta circles look awful, but oh my gosh it was delicious. So flavorful.

Wild Boar Roast with Wild Mushrooms and Polenta

1 Wild Boar roast, 1-1.5lb (for example)

2 tbsp olive oil

2 cups Red Bordeaux, or other hearty wine (more examples)

1 med onion

3-4 med carrots

6-8 cloves garlic

~2 tsp chopped fresh sage or 3/4 tsp dried sage)

12 oz cremini or baby bella mushrooms

4 oz wild mushrooms of choice(eg, Maitake, AKA Hen of the Woods)

2 tbsp butter

Extra Olive Oil

Polenta***

Add the roast and 1 cup of red wine to a plastic ziptop bag. Press out all of the air, seal the bag, and marinate for 6-8 hours in the refrigerator.*

About 3 hours before dinner, preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Cut the onion in half and cut each half in 4 wedges. Peel and slice the carrots into 1/4" medallions. Peel the garlic and leave whole. Set the vegetables aside. Slice off the woody ends of the stems, then halve or quarter the cremini or bella mushrooms so that they're all of similar size. Roughly chop the wild mushrooms. Set the mushrooms aside.

Add all of the olive oil to a cast iron dutch oven or heavy bottom casserole dish. Bring to medium high heat. Carefully place the roast into the pan: it's going to sizzle quite a bit. Brown the roast for 1-2 minutes per side. Make sure the roast gets a nice color on each side. And by "side", I mean all sides: at least four turns around plus two ends.

Once the roast is evenly browned, add the vegetables and cover with a good quantity of freshly ground pepper. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp of salt on top. Cover the dutch oven and place in a 275 degree oven. Baste every 30 minutes, turning the roast, until the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees** and the vegetables are cooked through. (Add the sage right at the end).

Slice cold polenta to 1/2" thick circles, place on a cookie sheet and brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with freshly grated black pepper. When the roast is cooked, remove the casserole dish and bring the oven temperature up to 350. Place the polenta circles in the oven and cook until lightly browned and soft throughout, ~20 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the cooked vegetables and roast to a platter, covering with silver foil and a towel to keep warm. Reserve the pan drippings and juice in the dutch oven. Add the mushrooms to this broth. Cook over medium heat with the lid off, stirring often, until the mushrooms begin to caramelize and the liquid is almost completely reduced (~10 minutes). Deglaze with an additional cup of red wine and repeat the process (~10 minutes). When about 1/2 cup of juice is left, turn off the heat and stir in 2 tbsp butter. Salt to taste.

Slice the roast as desired. Plate the roast with several polenta rounds on the side. Drizzle the mushroom glaze over the polenta rounds and spoon other vegetables and mushrooms on the side. Enjoy with a glass of the same wine you used to cook the boar. This dish goes well with plain Great Northern beans (recipe below).

*As I mentioned above, I probably should have marinated for longer

**Don't do what I did. The roast was in the oven for an hour and I basted it for the second time. The juices were bubbling. Out of curiosity, I took a spoon and sampled the basting liquid. It tasted horribly raw but for some reason I didn't spit it out. I checked the temperature of the liquid, which was only 140 degrees (a far cry from the required 170), and then proceeded to freak out. I am hoping that this particular boar haunch didn't host any parasites, or maybe they stay put in the meat and don't flow out into the juices. In any event, I did two shots of rum for good measure! I wanted to tell this story because some websites - D'Artagnan included - tell you that Boar is best cooked rare (like beef) and suggest a low temperature of 120. Personally (and I certainly could be wrong), I think this is a terrible idea, since foraging animals are fairly likely to pick up parasites such as these. Phrases like "burrow through the wall of your small intestine" come to mind. The only way to be safe is to cook the boar thoroughly. So, 170 degrees might worsen the toughness of the meat, but I would recommend it.

***You can make your own and cool it into a solid shape, or avoid the extra hassle and buy the tube:

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Great Northern Beans, quick method

These creamy beans are flavorful enough to hold their own without extra seasoning.

1 cup Great Northern Beans, rinsed and picked over

3 cups water or broth

salt to taste

Add beans to a pot and cover with 3" of water. Cover the pot, bring to a boil and then turn off the heat. Let stand for one hour. Empty out water and rinse beans thoroughly.

Place beans back in the pot with the 3 cups of water or broth. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until the beans are creamy (~1 hour, depending on how old the beans are). If the beans are at all gritty or grainy, keep cooking! Salt to taste.

4 comments:

Justin Marx said...

Wild Boar, Wild Mushrooms...these are some of our favorite things too! And, our most popular at our webstore for serious foodies.

I couldn't find your email, so I'm writing to you this way.

Check out http://www.marxfoods.com

We have a full line of wild boar (though, not all is listed...call us if you have a specific cut in mind) and a full line of whatever wild mushrooms are being picked in Pacific Northwest forests at the moment.

FYI - most maitake available in the US is cultivated. I'm not sure what it's wild season is, but I don't think we're in it. Also keep in mind that most wild boar that is marketed as "wild" is just a domesticated breed of a formerly wild animal...here's a shameless plug, but our wild boar is actually wild...trapped in Texas Hill Country.

Rachael said...

Justin, thanks very much for the information. I hadn't realized that maitake was a cultivated mushroom.

The particular company that I obtain my wild boar from does indeed raise "wild" animals (or at least free range by any definition). It looks like you have a variety of interesting foods on your website, so I will be sure to check it out!

liz said...

Where did you find the wild boar? I'm in New Haven as well, noticed your post on Smitten Kitchen, and have been digging through your archives ... Great blog!

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