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January 15, 2006

Some Pig Blogging Weekend: The Boar Supremacy


Tough, stringy, and flavourless.  That was our first impression of boar.  We were in Siena on our honeymoon, and surrounded by the picturesque streets of that mediaeval Tuscan town, we had stumbled upon some of the worst food  Italy has to offer.  Never trust the recommendations of the tourist office, even when asking for typical fare (we soon learned to scout out good restaurants by asking the owners of food shops and students, and looking for lineups outside tiny places with their menu available only on chalkboard and only in one language -- the local one).

But we were intrigued enough by boar, a traditional Tuscan meat, to hunt down some recipes for boar ragu (aka: ragu di cinghiale) upon our return to Toronto.  The best ones seem to come from Mario Batali (like this one or this one), the patron saint of cooking in our household.  The following is an adaptation of one of his recipes.  It seemed only natural that we'd make it in honour of the Some Pig Blogging Weekend.

You can get boar, game stock, and other game from Whitehouse Meats in the south St. Lawrence Market in downtown Toronto.  We buy our bacon there, too, since it's meatier there than anywhere else we've found.  Sometimes we'll swap tales of dinner plans with the owner, who is always helpful.

First, cut the boar into big sturdy chunks and pat dry with a paper towel.  Season generously with kosher salt and ground black pepper. Heat a sturdy casserole dish till it's pretty hot and add olive oil. Brown the chunks on all sides for approx. 2 minutes per side.   I mean, really brown them.  You'll think they're burnt, but they're not.  Dance around the oil-filled pot as you turn the chunks, keeping in mind Rob's Law: "Never fry naked.  If you fry naked, never turn the pieces towards you."  Remove the darkened little husks and gaze in consternation at the blackened bits of goo in the bottom of the pan.  Deglaze pan with a bit of wine, then add your onions and bacon.   Cook until the onion is golden and things are really smelling good, then add the shredded carrot and the garlic, thinly sliced.  Cook until carrot is softened, taking care that you don't burn the garlic.

Add back the boar pieces, mix with tomato paste, then add the entire bottle of wine in one big sizzling gesture.  Batali calls for Barolo, but unless you are much wealthier than we are, you'll want to look for a less expensive alternative (the LCBO cashier laughed heartily when I told her my recipe called for Barolo).  This time, we used a Valpolicella that used Amarone lees for a Barolo-like character, but we've also had good results with a Chianti.  Go to your wine store and throw yourself at their mercy -- they'll be able to make good suggestions once they know the ingredients you're working with. Italian wine would be nice, though. 

We made a bouquet garni (a cheesecloth packet tied with string) for the seasoning:  crushed juniper berries, cracked peppercorns, torn bay leaves, and two torn sprigs of rosemary), added it to the heady wine mixture, and simmered for 30 minutes.  This makes it easier to remove all the spices, since flossing your teeth with rosemary branches isn't so seductive.

Add the stock, a rind of parmesan cheese (an old trick of Italian nonne to enrich soups and stews, and something that makes you feel thrifty as you save the bits from your expensive wedges of Parmigiano Reggiano -- I buy so much at my local cheesemonger that he gave me his business card and told me just to call from my office and order ahead when I need to get some for dinner that night.  I think this makes me the equivalent of a platinum cardholder of the cheese club.  Parmesan rinds are also good for stuffing into chickens before you roast them).  Put in half a can of tomatoes, preferably whole San Marzanos that you've squished between your fingers.  Although this makes a fantastic texture in the finished sauce, much better than pre-diced tomatoes, this is also something you don't want to do naked.  This time, we also put in ground cloves at this stage since we didn't have any whole ones for the bouquet garni.

Turn down to a simmer, put on the lid, and leave for 2 1/2 hours or so.  Everything will have amalgamated into a lovely aromatic brown sauce that will soon perfume your kitchen and, eventually, your entire house.  Fish out the chunks of boar from the braise, and tear them to bits with two forks, as if you were pulling pork for a southern-style barbeque sandwich.  Return the shredded bits to the sauce, stir in, and your boar ragu is finished.

We served this with rigatoni noodles cooked al dente and finished in a pan with the sauce and a little bit of the cooking water from the pasta.  Some recipes call for homemade fresh pasta cut into broad noodles, such as tagliatelle, and that is certainly delicious, but we like the contrast of the firm toothsome pasta with the melting richness of the boar sauce.  Top with grated parmesan, of course.  And a jaunty sprig of rosemary if you're going to take pictures.

Boar-rific!  Now, if we could just slip that restaurant in Siena this recipe....

Boar Ragu (Ragu di cinghiale)

1 onion, roughly chopped
2 medium carrots, grated
1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced
80 grams, approx. 4-6 slices, bacon
750 grams, boar shoulder, cut into 5 cm cubes
400 grams, canned whole tomatoes (approx. one half can)
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 750 ml bottle, Barolo or good Italian wine
500 ml wild game stock or chicken stock
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large parmesan rind, approximately 10 cm x 5 cm

For bouquet garni:

2 sprigs rosemary
8 juniper berries, lightly crushed
2 bay leaves, torn
10 peppercorns, lightly crushed

Preheat dutch oven over medium high heat.  Season the boar generously with salt and pepper, then add the olive oil and boar to the pot, being careful not to overcrowd, and sear on all sides, approximately 3 minutes per side, 15-20 minutes total.  Remove the boar and add the bacon.  When the bacon has released some of its fat, approximately 2 minutes, add the onion and cook until slightly golden, then add the carrot, garlic, and tomato paste.

Return the boar to the pot.  Add the wine and simmer for 30 minutes.  Add the game stock, tomatoes, parmesan rind, and bouquet garni, then simmer until boar is tender, approximately 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Remove boar from the pot, and shred with two forks.  Return to the pan, and simmer until sauce is reduced to desired consistency.

This sauce is best served over fresh broad noodles like pappardelle, or largish dry tube-shaped pasta like rigatoni.  For a real treat, serve this sauce over homemade potato gnocchi.  It is especially good after it sits for a day, and it freezes very well.


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A man after my own Tuscan heart!
Thanks for coming to the whole hog party!
stop by for the blessing on the 17th!


Very impressive recipe, Rob. I've only recently begun to notice wild boar on menus since moving to Paris so its very interesting to see your recipe and to find out that you are able to find the meat in Toronto. And of course its nice to encounter the blog of a fellow Torontonian!


Thank you both,

Diva, it was a real pleasure participating in this event. You deserve kudos for your efforts. I hope Tuscany is feeding you well.

Michèle, it's really wonderful to hear from a Torontonian in Paris. My wife and I were there last May, and had a wonderful time and enjoyed some unbelievable food.

We're very lucky living so close to the St. Lawrence Market -- it gives us access to pretty much any product we need. Boar, for example, is now available at a minimum of two butchers, including Whitehouse Meats, which also carries a huge assortment of game and exotic meats like elk, ostrich, venison, bison, and, of course, boar. Oh yeah, it also sells wonderful game and game bird stock.



Once again, allow me to express my jealousy over the fact that you've been to Sienna!

Oh yes ... and that is a lovely dish!


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