With all the pork products that are readily available at the market, is it really necessary to seek out wild boar? Hunters who kill and butcher wild boar with their own hands so they can smoke, slow-roast or pan-fry the meat for its intensely satisfying pork flavor would say yes. So would chefs who prize boar for adding variety to the menu and for elevating dishes like cassoulet and Bolognese sauce with its rich flavor. With a taste that is similar to regular pork but more intense and a texture that is richer, wild boar is something that all meat lovers should try at least once.
Boars are ancestors of the domesticated pig and have existed since before the Ice Age. In many parts of the world, boar has been part of a traditional diet for centuries although it’s still considered a novelty in the US. When domesticated pigs were brought to the Americas by Spanish explorers some escaped from farms, becoming wild, feral pigs. In the early 1900s, wild boars from Europe and Asia were brought to the US and released on hunting preserves and again, some escaped to freedom. Over time, the feral pigs and wild boars intermingled and created a hybrid breed in the US.
These days, how wild is the wild boar that’s sold in stores and restaurants? At least in the US, some of the “wild” boar you’re buying might actually be farm-raised, or in many cases ranch-raised. Ideally, this means the animals are not penned and are free to roam and eat as they would in their natural habitat. In some cases, they are even slaughtered in the field rather than caught and brought in for slaughter. In many states, boars have become such a nuisance that hunters are allowed to capture them alive from the wild and then bring the boars to slaughterhouses approved by the USDA.
Boar meat has the deep, meaty flavor and darker color that separates most types of game from domesticated meat. Like most game meat, boar is lean and runs the risk of becoming tough if not cooked properly. Boar steaks and medallions can be pan-seared or grilled to medium rare, which usually means only a few minutes of cooking on each side. The safest bet, though, is slow-cooking boar at a low heat, resulting in meat that is so tender it just falls apart. Braised Wild Boar with Sauerkraut is a hearty dish, but the tangy kraut contrasts perfectly with the rich meat. Bacon is added to make the dish even more savory and a few bay leaves and cloves are thrown in for aromatics and delicate flavor. It’s a richly satisfying meal that doesn’t require many ingredients or much work.
If you’re ready to walk on the wild side, wild boar is worth seeking out. Try special ordering it from your butcher or check online for mail order suppliers.
1-2 pounds wild boar leg or shoulder
2 tablespoons mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 slices of bacon, cut into small pieces
1 shallot, finely chopped
One 25-ounce jar sauerkraut, drained
2 cups white wine (try Riesling) or stock
4 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
Whisk together the mustard, olive oil, garlic and salt. Rub all over the meat. Marinate at room temperature for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 275 degrees F or set slow cooker to low.
In an oven-proof pot or a sauté pan over medium heat, cook the bacon pieces. Just before the bacon gets crispy add the shallot.
Add the boar to the pot, browning on all sides. If needed, add a few tablespoons of olive oil or lard as the meat browns.
The sauerkraut does not have to be rinsed, but can be if you want to mellow the tangy flavor. Add the sauerkraut, wine or stock, cloves, and bay leaves to the pot.
Cover the pot and place in the oven or transfer ingredients into a slow cooker. Cook until very tender, turning meat a few times. In the oven, it will take 2-3 hours, in the slow cooker 4-6 hours.