A blog post without pictures? Isn't that like a song without words? Perhaps it is. Much like the song without words, maybe this will allow you a little... meditation.
I hesitated before writing about this past dinner, as it was part of my "private" life... It was a dinner that did not involve dismantling a wild animal, seething or loathing myself in the kitchen, or more than 6 diners... and that's including Karl and me. It was unbelievably civilized, which, if you read this blog on any sort of regular basis, you know is definitely not status quo... But it was, oh, so nourishing to my soul, and I am not just talking about the food.
It all began about a week ago at The International Meat Market (my local guys who hook me up on a regular basis,) where I was shopping for pig and duck livers to make country paté. I was waiting for my number to be called when I spied it. A wild boar shoulder roast. Wild Boar!!!
I hadn't had wild boar since I was in Portugal about 4 years ago with my friend Cucci, where we ate it in every town we visited. It was The Über Pig, and unlike anything I had ever tasted before. Firm and fleshy and succulent and absolutely... well, pork, and yet somehow more.
I don't kid myself: I acknowledge that almost everything tastes better when you are travelling and eating food prepared by people whose grandparents taught them to prepare it that way. There is something particularly satisfying about food prepared by those who grew or farmed it. That being said, the current "Eat Local" has its rewards, but can also be ridiculously impractical unless you're living in a rural area, or have recently won the lottery... But I digress. Back to Über Pig...
All I knew is that I found myself staring at a gorgeous shoulder of Wild Boar in the display of my local butcher shop, four years and 3500 miles away from Évora, and the effect was so powerful I was momentarily paralyzed. I had already committed to cook for others over the weekend, and the menus had been set, so I left without my little boar. I left that gorgeous cut of meat there and silently prayed that no one else would see it. I thought that if I could render it invisible using only the power of my avarice, then I could come back and carry it home and love it, and prepare it in a manner that would do justice to its deliciousness...
Later in the week, It comes to me: Invite people over for dinner! On a Wednesday! Karl called the butcher. SOMEONE HAD BOUGHT ÜBER PIG. Fuckers. (incidentally, this is where I admit that though I am consumed with jealousy that they bought it before I could, I am equally consumed with curiosity. What are THEY doing with it????????? I wish I knew.)
But wait! John says he has another shoulder that he has *just* put into the freezer. 'Pull it out of there!!!' I say! And off Karl scampers to get it.
We excitedly sent out emails to our guests, with the header: "Wild Boar and YOU." They excitedly responded that, yes... hell, yes... FUCK, yes, they'd like to come help us eat Über Pig.
I cannot decide what to do with this magnificent animal after we slooooow braise it in red wine, onions, rosemary, garlic and pork stock for seven hours at 275 degrees. Karl offers to try his hand at gnocchi. Aha. What a fantastic idea! But what sauce for Über Pig? Tomato reduction? Perhaps it will overpower the boar... A Marsala Sauce? Might be too sweet... Wild Mushroom Sauce.... Delicious, but not quite deep enough.
I decide to combine elements of an old Sicilian fig recipe for boar sauce, and (to satisfy my love of mushrooms) a mushroom sauce.
The gnocchi didn't end up as aesthetically pleasing as Karl had hoped. I explained to him that he had, in fact, inadvertently made a rustic varietal called Gnocchi Malfatti. He bought it, and, malformed or not, they tasted light, butter-potatoey and fantastic.
The guests arrived, bearing copious amounts of excellent wine. It seems that I was not the only one inspired by Wild Boar.
We started things off with our new house cocktail, The Love Shack. The base is the Melissa Clark cordial, with a little added white rum, juice from 1/2 of a lime and a touch of superfine sugar. Shake over ice, and pour into highball glasses, top with seltzer and stir. Perfumed with citrus and spices, the lime gives it a little zing. It is gorgeous, refreshing, and slightly romantic. Just exactly as we aspire to be.
The first course: The Country Paté, but this time, served with gorgeous Saffron Mustard, courtesy of Millisime and some of Karl's homemade pickled red onions.
We followed it with my old favorite, Fennel & Blood Orange salad.
Then the main event:
Braised Wild Boar over Gnocchi Malfatti.
We served it with Wilted Chard and escarole tossed in a Salsa Verde (anchovies, capers, fresh herbs and olive oil)
Dessert was wheels of Vacherin with sliced Bosc Pears and Late Harvest Gewürztraminer from Holdredge . Delicious...
Mmmm. Spirit sated, everyone left by 1 am. It was a school night, so I left the kitchen a horrible mess for poor Karl to clean up the following morning, and off to sleep we went, dreaming of boars and figs and pears and friends...
Wild Boar For Your Friends
One shoulder of Wild Boar, 5 -7 lbs.
1 head Garlic, smashed
1 huge Onion, chopped
2-3 sprigs of Rosemary
1 bottle Dry Red Wine
2 pints Pork Stock
Salt & Pepper to taste
Rub the shoulder with salt, pepper, half the smashed garlic and a little olive oil (Use your hands!)
Sear on all sides in a deep roasting pan.
Saute the onion and remaining garlic with a little more olive oil and the residual boar fat in pan.
Add the bottle of wine, 1 pint of the pork stock the rosemary sprigs and the boar shoulder.
Cover tightly, put in oven, and cook at 275 degrees.
Check every hour to be sure liquid remains. If it looks like it's starting to reduce too far, add more pork stock.
Slooooow braise for 5-7 hours.
About an hour before it's done, you can make the
5 cloves Garlic, smashed and diced
4 Shallots, diced
6 sprigs Thyme, stripped
1 sprig Rosemary, stripped
Olive oil to sauté
2 cups pan juices from braising wild boar (you can draw it out with a baster)
1.5 cups Red Wine (Ours was Pinot Noir that we had left sitting on the counter)
1/2 cup Dried Porcini Mushrooms
1 package Dried Figs (about 1/2- 2/3 cup) roughly chopped
Splash of Wine Vinegar. (Banyuls Wine Vinegar, again, courtesy of our friends at Millissime.
salt and pepper to taste
Cover mushrooms with boiling water and let them sit. You will use both the mushrooms and the liquid.
Saute herbs, shallots and garlic until translucent.
Add a splash of vinegar.
Add the wine, reduce slightly.
add the stock and figs, simmer and reduce further. The sauce will thicken.
Add the mushrooms and their liquid. Taste for balance.
I added a splash of Worchestshire sauce at this point, to add a little depth.
Taste for balance and let the sauce simmer and further reduce for about 30 minutes.
When the boar is done, remove from the oven. Use tongs to put on serving dish, as it will literally fall apart. Add the sauce and lightly combine.
Serve over hot gnocchi, pasta, rice... you name it.
Hooray, Über Pig!
PS-- this is absolutely NO substitution for actually travelling to Portugal. Especially in rural areas. Go, and go soon. It is glorious.