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Photo by Richard Owens
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Engelhardt recommends serving the meat with fresh vegetables and rosemary potatoes
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Photo by Richard Owens
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Chef Kathleen Engelhardt carefully carves a freshly grilled leg of wild boar
Wild boar can be seen as far afield as the streets of Barcelona. With a plentitude of these animals abounding, we find out how one person’s nuisance is another person’s meal.
In medieval times, the wild boar was seen by hunters as a “beast of venery”, one of the most noble to hunt. (The hart, the hare, the wolf and the bear were other members of this category.) Today however, these animals are often seen as a nuisance, especially in Catalunya where there are an estimated 50,000 of them. They have no natural predators here and the population can be difficult to control. Wild boar are nocturnal and omnivorous, and often pose a considerable problem to farmers as they devour their crops. In 2011, in order to try to get a handle on wild boar in the Parque Natural de Collserola in Barcelona, legislators explored allowing hunting the animals with bows and arrows, since firearms are prohibited there. Whether one considers them a nuisance or sees the wild boar as majestic, many meat-lovers agree that a barbeque or gathering that features wild boar is a meal to be savoured.
Juan Garcia Estelrich, the leader of the hunting associations of the Comarca del Garraf and Olerdola, south of Barcelona, says that during the boar-hunting season, which lasts from September through February, his group goes out every Saturday with their dogs. There may be thirty-seven to fifty people in the group, and although they usually wake at dawn and return to their homes at nightfall, the actual time spent hunting on the mountains might only be two and a half hours, he explains. These hunters help keep the population of wild boar in Catalunya from exploding, and they all must get permission to do so from the towns in which they wish to hunt. Estelrich says that the comradery of the hunt, including the post-hunt gutting of the boar, is all part of the experience and that each member of the group takes boar meat home regardless of who actually shot the animal.
“The hunters and the dogs are commonplace on early mornings on weekends in Mont-ral,” explains Silvia Camacho, owner of V&N Cellars, an online wine store based in Barcelona, about the town in the Prades mountains where she and her family spend weekends. “Several hunts ended in our backyard where we would see the boar… the dogs essentially sniff out the boar after a night of foraging and once cornered, the hunters end it,” she relates.
Camacho hosted a wild boar feast for a large group of friends at her weekend house recently and says that preparing such a meal can be a welcome break from the fast-paced lives of most city dwellers. “The boar is alive and living more or less the same as it did in the 12th century,” she notes, and this kind of experience involves returning to the most basic of human traditions – the hunting and preparation of one’s own food.
So, as Autumn’s crisper air brings thoughts of Thanksgiving dinner to the minds of Americans living abroad and of heartier fare to the minds of almost everyone, a meal based around wild boar may seem particularly palatable. Chef Kathleen Engelhardt, who helped prepare Camacho’s feast, had a week to prepare the meat. She also sourced the accompanying side dishes locally. Engelhardt wants it to be known that this meal can be prepared here in Barcelona as well.
“If you buy the meat prepared, meaning already leeched, you just need to brine or marinate it for 24 hours,” says this professional chef. She recommends “either grilling the meat on your barbeque at home or roasting it in the oven,” adding that “the meat transports well,” and noting that one of the best places to buy your boar in Barcelona is Polleria Remei in the Albaceria market in Gràcia. Boar meat can also be purchased from vendors located in the Sant Antoni Market - Aviram Cristina and Pares i Segarra. She counsels, “Definitely smell the meat and if you smell anything foul, don’t buy it. It’s called boar taint and will be evident with the finished meat.” She also mentions that “boar meat costs about €11 or €12 a kilo,” while Estelrich says that hunters normally give away meat since they cannot legally sell it anymore. Often, this meat is given to restaurants near where the hunters shot the boar.
Preparing a wild boar feast with friends in Barcelona should not be that complicated, says Engelhardt; however, she acknowledges that it “depends on your knowledge of grilling or if you are more comfortable roasting the boar in the oven.” One should start with the leg, “as this will need slow cooking, which doesn’t require constant watching. You just set the oven or get the coals to the right temperature and leave it for a while,” she advises. If the process seems overwhelming, Engelhardt says that she is available to cater events from informal barbeques to more formal affairs. Contact information can be found at www.jezebelsclandestinedining.com.
To accompany your main meat dish, Engelhardt recommends “fresh salads of heirloom tomatoes and goat cheese, roasted vegetables in the style of escalavida and roasted rosemary potatoes.” Jordi Valls Codina, the enologist at Finca Valldosera in Olerdola says that a red wine goes best with boar meat. This kind of meat contains strong flavours, he says, and therefore must be accompanied by “very solid, structured red wines.” In his opinion, the Finca Valldosera Collita 2008, a mix of merlot, cabernet and tempranillo grapes, is an ideal wine to have with this kind of meat. He also mentions that this particular wine reflects the Massif of Garraf—its minerality, balsamic scents and spices. (See: www.fincavalldosera.com) Engelhardt agrees that a deep-bodied red is a good wine choice for its complexity and boldness and Silvia Camacho says that since “the boar is a bit gamey and both the Reserva Vinyes Velles and Mencia [of V&N Cellars] have some lovely spice to them,” they would make “great choices since they complement the boar’s natural flavour.”
If one would like to accompany the boar with beer, Engelhardt recommends an Indian Pale Ale (I.P.A.) and says that her favourite is the I.P.A. from Brooklyn Brewery.
Finally, Juan Garcia Estelrich, who leads the groups of hunters in Garraf, says that visitors are welcome to join his group one day if they would like to participate (without firearms) in an ancient practice that in his view benefits the environment and the community. (He can be reached at 686 414 607). “Hunters are the only ones who have to pay to be on the mountain,” he says, citing the licenses needed to be an active participant in the hunt. Cyclists, hikers, runners and others rarely pay to be in nature, he points out, but hunters have a role to play in the modern world, and meat-eaters would do well to remember this.
One of Kathleen’s favorite recipes:
Roasted Wild Boar Leg w/ Pomegranate Chili Barbeque Sauce
A particularly hard-working set of muscles, the rear haunch of a wild boar requires long, low and moist heat to break down the collagen. This specimen should be seasoned first, then oven-roasted under cover at 148 celsius for 3 hours. Next, the meat should be uncovered and slow-roasted at 100 Celsius for 2 1/2 hours and mopped with Barbecue sauce every 15 minutes. Finally, the roast can be finished on an open wood fire for about 30 minutes, which will yield a smoky, crisp outer crust and a tender, moist interior.
For the barbecue sauce (enough for a 4/5 kg leg with a little left over)
1 tablespoon rendered boar fat
3 cups filtered water
1 medium Spanish onion, diced
2-3 ripe slicing tomatoes, cored and diced
2 tablespoons raw cider vinegar
1/4 cup (more-or-less) ground New Mexico chilies
2 cups pomegranate juice
1 1/2 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup pan juices from a roasted boar
sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Cook the onions and tomatoes with the boar fat in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat until the onions are soft and the tomatoes have begun to disintegrate. Add water, vinegar, chili powder, chipotle, pomegranate juice, cinnamon, cloves and pan juices and stir to combine. Reduce heat to very low and simmer until reduced in volume by about 1/3, about 2 hours. Add remaining ingredients and simmer another 30 minutes.