Kitchen Window — Cooking With Boar: A Walk On The Wild Side Boar isn't as commonly eaten in the U.S. as it is in Europe, but it is gaining popularity. High in protein, low in fat, with distinct and versatile flavor, boar meat has another plus for food writer Lynda Balslev: It rekindles memories of a family trip to Italy.

Cooking With Boar: A Walk On The Wild Side

"Mom, there are shotgun pellets in my ragu" is not usually what you want to hear as you start dinner. On a family trip to Italy last summer, though, it was not entirely unexpected in the middle of an excursion to the Umbrian countryside, where we were immersing ourselves in all things local. It happened at a members-only eating club, discreetly placed on a tiny side street in the incongruously suburban neighborhood of Panicarola, near Castigliano del Lago. We got reservations through a club member whose villa we were renting.

We fasted all day in anticipation of our meal. We knew there would be a fixed menu served family-style, comprising numerous antipasti, a pasta dish, a main course, side courses and dessert, all accompanied by local Umbrian wine, coffee and a selection of grappa. The pappardelle smothered with wild boar ragu was so delicious, I didn't mind picking the pellets out for my son.

About The Author

Lynda Balslev moved to Paris to study cooking in 1991. She returned to the U.S. 17 years later with a Danish husband, two children and previous addresses in Geneva, London and Copenhagen. She had worked as a freelance food writer, caterer, cooking instructor and food editor for the Danish magazine Sphere. Now she lives in California's Bay Area, where she writes about food and culinary travel on her blog TasteFood, teaches cooking and is relieved to be speaking English again.

Since this trip, we often talk about this meal, particularly the wild boar ragu. While wild boar is native to northern and central Europe, where it's considered a food staple, it's less commonly eaten in North America.

Spanish explorers introduced boar as food to North America in the 16th century, and in the 20th century, boar were brought to the U.S. for the sport of hunting. Now, wild boar are found across the country, with populations concentrated in Florida, Texas and California. Generally, the boar are considered exotic pests because they are not indigenous and often wreak havoc on fields and vineyards. Despite their bad rap, boar meat has become increasingly popular in restaurants and with home chefs for the simple reason that boar meat is lean, rich in protein and tasty.

Boar meat tastes like a cross between pork and lamb. Like most game, it's well suited for stews, ragouts and braises. It marries well with fruit, spirits and spices such as juniper and cloves. It provides more protein than beef or pork, and less cholesterol than chicken. Because boar meat is so lean, it doesn't contribute much fat to stews (unlike beef chuck or pork shoulder), while it adds a distinctive yet not overwhelming meaty flavor that stands up well to aromatic ingredients. If using boar meat in a dish that relies on some meat fat, such as pate, be sure to combine it with another fatty meat, such as pork shoulder.

You don't have to hunt to get boar meat. It can be ordered from a butcher, specialty stores carrying game meat often sell frozen boar meat, and there are online sources for mail order. The meat will be farm- or ranch-raised boar. Try to find ranch-raised boar. The flavor of the meat will be more distinctive, reflecting the animals' natural habitat where they freely forage, unlike farm-raised boar, which are more confined and grain-fed.

One of our favorite souvenirs from traveling is the memory and re-creation of recipes we enjoyed. Lately, I have been buying boar meat online and storing it in my freezer so it's on hand for an easy pasta dinner or winter stew. Now, when the topic of our Umbrian trip comes up, it's less of a distant memory, since we can prepare the boar ragu at home. The only thing that's missing is the shotgun pellets.

Boar Ragu With Pappardelle

As the ragu simmers, the boar meat will absorb much of the liquid, which is ideal because of the leanness of the meat. Pork shoulder may be substituted for the boar. The ragu may be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated to allow the flavors to develop.

Lynda Balslev for NPR
Boar Ragu With Pappardelle
Lynda Balslev for NPR

Makes 4 to 6 servings

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 pound boar shoulder, cut in 1-inch chunks

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 large yellow onion, chopped

1 large carrot, chopped

1 large celery rib, chopped

4 large garlic cloves, chopped

1 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes with juices

2 cups full-bodied red wine

3 bay leaves

1 bouquet garni: 1 tablespoon crushed juniper berries, 8 black peppercorns, 6 whole cloves tied in cheesecloth with kitchen string

1 pound pappardelle, prepared per manufacturer's instructions

Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for serving

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Season boar all over with salt and pepper. Add boar to the skillet in batches and brown on all sides, taking care to not overcrowd the pan. Transfer meat to a bowl.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to the skillet. Saute onion, carrots and celery, scraping up brown bits, until they begin to soften, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and continue to saute, 1 minute. Return boar with any juices to the pan. Add tomatoes, red wine, bay leaves and bouquet garni. Simmer over very low heat, partially covered, until meat is falling-apart tender and sauce is reduced and thickened, about 2 hours. Discard bay leaves and bouquet garni. Serve ladled over pappardelle, topped with grated cheese.

Boar Stew With Prunes And Armagnac

The strength of the Armagnac brandy and the sweetness of prunes complement the gamey flavor of the boar. As with most stews and ragouts, this stew benefits from being made a day in advance to allow the flavors to develop overnight. Be sure to skim any collected fat before reheating. You will find that there is much less fat rendered than with a pork or beef stew.

Lynda Balslev for NPR
Boar Stew With Prunes And Armagnac
Lynda Balslev for NPR

Makes 6 to 8 servings

20 pitted prunes

3/4 cup Armagnac brandy

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 pounds boar shoulder meat, cut in 2-inch chunks

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 ounces bacon, coarsely chopped

4 shallots, peeled, cut in half horizontally

2 large carrots, sliced 1/4-inch thick

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1 bottle full-bodied red wine

2 bay leaves

1 bouguet garni: 3 rosemary sprigs, 2 thyme sprigs, handful of celery leaves

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Combine prunes and Armagnac in a bowl. Let sit at least one hour at room temperature.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat in a dutch oven or oven-proof pot with lid. Season the boar meat all over with salt and pepper. Saute in batches, without overcrowding, until brown on all sides. Transfer meat to a bowl.

Add bacon to dutch oven and saute until the fat renders. Add shallots, carrots and onion. Saute 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute, 1 minute. Return meat to the pot. Add prunes with the Armagnac, wine, bay leaves, bouquet garni, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover pan and transfer to oven. Bake until meat is very tender, 2 to 3 hours.

Remove from oven and taste to check seasoning. Remove bay leaves and bouquet garni. Stew may be prepared up to 1 day in advance. Cool, cover and refrigerate. Warm over low heat or in a 300-degree oven before serving. Serve with mashed potatoes or polenta.

Roasted Boar Leg

Serving a whole boar leg is a dramatic presentation for a special occasion. It may be prepared in a similar manner as a roasted leg of lamb. Because the meat is so lean, it should marinate overnight before roasting. Boar leg is easily available through mail order or in specialty stores.

Lynda Balslev for NPR
Roasted Boar Leg
Lynda Balslev for NPR

Makes 6 to 8 servings

1 3- to 4-pound boar leg with bone

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 bottle full-bodied red wine

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

6 rosemary sprigs, divided

4 thyme sprigs

4 garlic cloves, smashed

2 bay leaves

1 large carrot, coarsely chopped

1 large yellow onion, chopped

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 teaspoon juniper berries, cracked

1/4 cup Dijon-style mustard

1/4 cup olive oil

For The Sauce

2 cups chicken stock

4 sage leaves

1/4 cup red currant jelly or cranberry sauce

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

One day before serving, season boar leg all over with salt and pepper. Refrigerate while the marinade is prepared.

For marinade, combine the wine, vinegar, 4 rosemary sprigs, thyme, garlic, bay leaves, carrot, onion, peppercorns, juniper berries and 1 teaspoon salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer 20 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely.

Once the marinade is cool, arrange boar leg in a rimmed pan large enough to hold it. Pour marinade over the leg. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, turning leg once or twice.

One hour before roasting, remove boar leg from refrigerator to bring to room temperature. Transfer meat to a roasting pan. Strain marinade and discard solids.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly crush remaining 2 rosemary sprigs with the mustard in a mortar with a pestle. Whisk in oil. Smear mustard all over the boar leg. Pour strained marinade into the pan around boar leg. Place in oven and bake 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 275 degrees. Continue to roast boar leg until a meat thermometer inserted into thickest part reads 150 degrees, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Transfer boar leg to a cutting board. Tent loosely with foil and let rest 30 minutes.

While the meat is resting, prepare the sauce. Place roasting pan with any juices over medium heat on stovetop. Add chicken stock and sage leaves, stirring up the brown bits. Whisk 1/4 cup red currant jelly or cranberry sauce into the gravy and simmer, stirring, 5 minutes. Remove sage leaves. Whisk in butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Taste for seasoning. Pour into a serving bowl or gravy boat. Serve with the meat.

Country Pate With Boar

This is a chunky, rustic pate that's perfect as an appetizer or an easy dinner with cheese and salad. It's best prepared in advance and refrigerated 1 to 2 days before serving to let the flavors develop. Serve with cornichons, Dijon-style mustard and fresh French baguette or peasant bread.

Lynda Balslev for NPR
Country Pate With Boar
Lynda Balslev for NPR

Makes 20 servings

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing terrine

1 pound ground pork shoulder

1 pound ground boar shoulder

3/4 pound bacon, coarsely chopped

1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper

2 teaspoons dried thyme

1 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/3 cup heavy cream

1/3 cup Calvados brandy

1/4 cup shelled pistachios

1/4 cup dried cranberries

Coarsely ground peppercorns for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add onion and saute until translucent but not brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Combine pork, boar and bacon in a large bowl. Add onion, garlic, salt, 2 teaspoons pepper, thyme, allspice, coriander and cloves. Mix thoroughly.

Combine eggs, cream and Calvados in a small bowl. Add to meat and mix well.

Butter a loaf pan or terrine. Press one-third of the meat into the terrine. Sprinkle evenly with half of the pistachios and cranberries. Press another third of the meat into the terrine. Top with remaining pistachios and cranberries. Cover with remaining meat. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon black pepper over top. Cover terrine tightly with foil and place in a baking pan. Pour boiling water into the baking pan until halfway up the sides of the terrine. Bake in oven until meat thermometer inserted in the center reads 155 degrees, about 2 hours.

Remove from oven and remove terrine from the water bath. Place a terrine press over the pate (or a cutting board with cans on top) and cool completely. Transfer to refrigerator and let sit 1 to 2 days with weights before serving.

To serve, unmold pate. Scrape off any congealed fat. Cut in slices, 1/2 inch thick. Sprinkle with additional peppercorns if desired.