ith a cuisine that uses lardons as a seasoning akin to salt and pepper, the fact that the domesticated pig accounts for over 40 percent of all meat consumed in France, making it the top protein on the French table, should come as no surprise to culinary Francophiles. With cookbooks dedicated to it (such as Stephane Reynaud’s ‘Pork & Sons’), its jowly, snouty, one-ear-askew, barreltummied likeness on everything from shop signs to tea towels, and every bit of it from head to tail available at even the most modest of local boucheries, the pig reigns supreme in France. Is there anything more sacrosanct, more French than Le Cochon? Actually, there is. Sanglier. What we call wild boar. The feral ancestor to the domestic pig, the flesh of this hairy hunched-back shovelfaced beast causes the French to kiss their fingers with epicurean delight at its mere mention. Don’t believe us? Try this experiment: the next time you’re having dinner with a group of your French neighbours, mention that you’ve never tried wild boar. The sympathetic looks, the shrieks of disbelief, and the personal pledges to personally save you from your gastronomic ghetto will derail all other conversation. This time of year, it features in many festive feasts; and wild boar hunts across France take on a seriousness, organization and pageantry all of their own. Why all the fuss? Mainly because sanglier tastes like the most intense, sweet and nutty pork you can imagine. No amount of sugar or juniper berries can transform pork into sanglier. Don’t even try. But it’s also the connection with the land that adds to its mystique. As in most French cuisine, terroir matters. Sanglier lives in the forest; it eats roots, fruits, nuts so it tastes of the forest. Chances are some live in a woodland near you. However, unless, you were one of the 21,000 unfortunate enough to collide with a sanglier on a French roadway last year, you’ve probably never seen one in the wild. This reclusiveness and ferociousness (if cornered) add to the mythology.
From the kitchen window at Circle of Misse we’ve observed essentially all game that graces the table in our part of France: rabbit, grouse, pheasant, duck, deer, but no wild boar. In fact, while we’ve cooked and eaten its meat numerous times, we’ve never seen one in the wild. The fact that we have any idea what wild boar really look like, we owe to a Mont Tauch Fitou label.
CHEFS For many of us shopping for
fresh produce at market is one of the pleasures of French life. Wayne Milstead and Aaron Tighe are both foodies and market fans and each issue they choose a dish made from what’s around right now. This month: WILD BOAR
they’ll know where you can get it. You can also always ask the hunters in your area. When sourcing wild boar, age is everything. So much so that the French have two different words for wild boar meat. Marcassin refers to meat from animals under a year-old. All other wild boar meat gets the label sanglier. Only marcassin, tender and succulent, should be used for roasting. Sanglier works best in slow-cooking recipes such as braising and stewing. Try to ascertain the age of the animal - the older the sanglier, the longer the marinating (up to two days) and the slower the cooking method. Sanglier found in supermarkets are likely to be farm-reared (in large fencedin woodlands) and therefore young- ish. If the joints come boned and rolled, they make a perfect pot roast. We’ve included a roast recipe suitable for marcassin (and if you do get your hands on marcassin, definitely roast it, it’s sublime), and a rich and flavourful ragu recipe that works well for sanglier.
Roast leg of marcassin SERVES 4 2-3kg leg of marcassin 150g pancetta or bacon slices 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil Salt and pepper MARINADE 1 litre of red wine (cheap) Dozen peppercorns 2 bay leaves Bunch of thyme Bunch of parsley stalks 6 juniper berries bashed with the bottom of a frying pan 2 cloves of garlic or shallots split in half (peeling not necessary)
Despite its exalted position in the dining hierarchy, and its ubiquitous nature, sourcing sanglier can still prove tricky. Some supermarkets carry it, especially this time of year, and if you try the experiment with French friends mentioned earlier, you’ll probably be made a gift of a haunch. Your local butcher should be your first stop. If they do not have it,
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Mix the marinade ingredients together, pour into a plastic bag, add the meat and marinade in a refrigerator for 12-48 hours, depending on the age of the meat. Remove the meat from the marinade and pat dry. Rub in olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt then seal the meat in a roasting pan on top of the stove until just browned on all sides. Strain half of the marinade and add this to the roasting pan. Place the slices of pancetta or bacon on top of the joint as this will provide