Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hunting Wild Boar

I’m not much of an outdoorsman. Most people know this about me. A stroll on the beach or a short hike on a trail is the extent of it in my book. The human race moved from huts to solid structure buildings centuries ago and I moved right in with them. Add air conditioning and I see no need to be in a tent. With this in mind, it is quite surprising that when Lisa mentioned that I should go hog hunting with her dad, I was immediately interested. Lisa is constantly looking for things to keep her newly retired father busy. In sharp contrast to me, Smitty, as he likes to be called, is a Bass Pro Shop kinda guy. He grew up on a farm, loves to hunt and can fix anything. Even with our differences in interest, I really enjoy spending time with him. So a little internet searching and I found a hunting guide down in Okeechobee that guarantees a kill. Game on. We were off.

2 ½ hrs from my front door in civilization, we pulled up to the meeting place a little before noon. It was a store on a lonely road on Lake Okeechobee that also functioned as a little restaurant, bait shop and feed store. Saying I was out of my element is a slight understatement. I pulled my little hatchback into the lot next to the trucks and swamp buggies and headed in. I found the guide service owner, Ron, sitting in a booth on his cell phone booking other hunters for future adventure. I was shocked that he had cell phone reception out here. I did not. Allowing him to finishing his call, I then introduced myself and forked over the remaining balance due (cash only). Ron then jumped back on his magic flip phone and called his “boys”. After tossing down some hot boiled peanuts, I saw a once blue pick-up truck pull in and its 3 occupants emerged. It was a scene from Deliverance. A few salutations later and we were following the truck down the road to get the dogs and the shotgun. What was I thinking? Once the requisite animals and hardware were recovered, we again drove a short distance to a dirt turnoff. In the few hundred yards from the main road until we stopped, I began wondering how much of my credit card limits could be reached before my dead body was found. Still we pressed on. Once one of the guys handed me the shotgun, I felt more at ease. I took a few shots at a tree to make sure I had the right aim. Amazingly, I was dead on.

The dogs and 2 of the guys went in one direction and Smitty and I jumped in the pick-up truck with the other guide and went the other. The plan was to circle back to them and let the dogs do their job. Just a short 10 or 15 minutes passed before the walkie-talkie went off saying the dogs had a hit. 5 minutes after that and I was chasing the dogs through dry lake bed, shotgun in hand. I found the dogs chasing a pretty good sized boar. They were in and out of the thickets and I didn’t really have a good line of sight at first. In short order, however, the animal got into the clear but the dogs were circling her. I didn’t want to shoot a dog. Suddenly, from about 30 yards away, I had a great silhouette. With one dog in front and one dog behind and after checking to be sure all humans were clear, I aimed and shot. She never took another step. She dropped instantly. I did it. I officially shot dinner for the first time in my life (and most likely the last).

I was relieved to get back to the main road a short time later. Once again I was following our guides with my trophy clearly visible in the bed of the truck ahead of me. We were headed back to the house where my hog would be prepared to look more like something found in the grocery store. As the animal was cleaned it became clear as to why the hog dropped quickly. Call it luck, but my shot entered the left shoulder and traversed both lungs and its heart. The mangled slug ended up in the right shoulder just under the skin. I liked the humane nature of this. During the quartering process, I asked some questions of the young men who made my hunt a success. I wondered how they were able to guarantee a hog to every hunter. The answer was surprising. Apparently, there are a lot of hogs. So many, in fact, that there is no license required to hunt them. Wild hogs have 2 litters a year and since they are not indigenous, they are nuisance animals that destroy local agriculture. Next, I asked about people just being a bad shot. How do you guarantee a hog then? I got another surprising answer. If the hunter misses, then the guides tackle the hog by hand. They hold it down, count to 3 then jump away as the poor shot pulls the trigger at point blank range. That’s even lees sporting than my concierge hunt. Still, it serves a purpose. These guys get to make a living (albeit humble), the wild boar population is kept in check and I get to take home 80 lbs of meat.

Our entire experience took less than 2 hours and we were headed home with 2 full coolers loaded. Since that day several weeks ago, I have made lots of boar recipes:

Horseradish crusted tenderloin with a champagne, mustard, thyme sauce.

Slow roasted wild boar ham that yielded several great dishes like this ham steak with peppered brown gravy and sunny side up egg.

So what does wild boar taste like? Well, that’s a tough one. Like lamb or duck, it has its own signature. I don’t really like the word gamey because it implies unpalatable to me but there’s the slight hint of wild animal that you find in venison combined with a much more substantial pork flavor. With very little fat, the heartiness of the meat is present in every bite. In a word, it is delicious. That being said, slow cooking is the key. Only the tenderloin can be eaten from a sauté. The connective tissue in the meat has got to be broken down in low heat over a long time. This technique makes for perfectly tender, succulent boar meat.

I’m going to share a recipe but I realize that most people won’t be able to get the same meat. Still, pork shoulder would be a great substitute and you’ll be making your own sausage meat if you give it a go. You do need a food processor or meat grinder though. I prefer the food processor so that I can grind the coriander and fennel seeds before adding the meat. I basically made a sausage and let it rest overnight so the flavors would combine then I used it as the base for an amazing but fairly basic ragout. I used a few strips of bacon just to give the meat the small amount of fat it was missing. I then whipped out the pasta maker and made some robust, wide tagliatelle. The velvety pasta was the perfect vessel to stand up to the rich, spicy tomato and boar ragout. I’m posting this recipe because this is one of the top 4 or 5 dishes I’ve ever made. It got rave reviews from everyone I shared it with. If I had a restaurant, I’d order boar meat and feature this dish. It was just that delectable and aside from hand making the sausage and pasta, it was pretty simple as well.

Tagliatelle with Wild Boar Sausage Ragout

For the sausage

2 lbs wild boar shoulder, cubed (substitute pork shoulder if you must)
1 tbsp whole coriander seeds
1 tbsp fennel seeds
4 cloves garlic, peeled
¼ cup fresh Italian parsley
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

In the food processor start by adding the coriander and fennel seeds. Once processed, add everything but the meat and again blend. Then add the boar or pork. Depending on the size of the food processor, this may need to be done in batches. I let the food processor run a good minute for each batch. This helps to make sure the meat is ground as fine as possible and prevents any chewy bits. Transfer to storage container and place in the refrigerator overnight.

The ragout

1 tbsp olive oil (not extra virgin)
4 strips of bacon
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, sliced or minced
Boar sausage from above
3 oz tomato paste
32 oz beef broth (only use as much as needed while reducing)
28 oz can of whole San Marzano tomatoes (better flavor but any can of tomatoes can be substituted)
8-10 large sprigs of thyme
1 tsp chili flakes (for some heat, optional)
Salt and pepper to taste (season in layers as you add the ingredients)

In a large pot over medium heat add the oil and bacon. Cook the bacon until it just begins to render its fat and add the onions and garlic. Sauté until onions are translucent and fragrant. About 1 minute. Add the boar and stir together. Brown the meat and break up into the smallest pieces possible with a wooden spoon. This takes about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook another 2-3 minutes stirring constantly. You can use a few tablespoons of broth at a time if it becomes too dry and sticks to the pot. Add the tomatoes, thyme and chili flakes. Stir together. Turn the heat up and bring to a boil then reduce heat to simmer. Let simmer for 3 hrs checking frequently and add ½ cup of the broth at a time as needed as it reduces. The amount will vary based on how hot your stove is. The final consistency should be that of a thick stew or chili. Check for seasoning after reducing.

For the pasta

If you have the ability to make fresh pasta, this is the time for that. If not, a pound of linguini will do just fine. Follow the directions on the box. Do not overcook.

Put it all together on a large serving platter if you’re having guests. Freshly grate some parmesan cheese over the top and serve.

1 comment:

Patrick Del Rosario said...

I haven't tasted wild boar before but it gives me idea of trying. The recipes looks great and delicious.