A new week should be cause for experimentation – cue my Tuscan wild boar stew in dark chocolate!
Hunting is king in country Tuscany. It’s such a cliche to imagine country folk out with their guns shooting game, but it’s a huge part of what defines them and a real source of pride. When Giulio ran for mayor a couple of months back, one of the biggest criticisms lobbed at him was that he didn’t hunt. People couldn’t believe he’d never even seen gun, let alone not been raised to shoot and kill.
I come from hunting stock, but I don’t hunt. We have this small stretch of forest behind our house and the wild boars come out at night to forage in the vegetable garden. They love roots and dig these giant holes almost like burrows. The other day, I pulled out the most beautiful looking cabbage only to discover it was hollow – a wild boar had eaten it, roots and all!
The wild boar used in this recipe was not that one!
The hunting season is short and very heavily. It’s a team effort, so a small group of hunters scout out a designated section of forest. They can spend hours waiting, sometimes for nothing. Wild boar are very clever and very dangerous, so not a hunting season goes by when there aren’t tales of injuries. Tradition goes that the person who shoots the wild boar gets first pick of which piece of meat he (or she) wants and the rest is divided among the team.
Since we don’t hunt, we get our wild boar from a family friend. Every year in autumn, he’ll bring us huge piece of wild boar, which my parents-in-law break down and freeze. Then in the summer months, my father-in-law will repay in kind with baskets of zucchini and tomatoes and summer fruits. It’s bartering at its best!
You’ll be surprised at how porky Tuscan wild boar is. In the olden days, it was so gamey, you had to soak the meat in vinegar for days just to make it edible! These days, an overly enthusiastic (and hopefully amorous) attraction to the locals domestic pigs, have produced a porky-boary hybrid that only has the slightest hint of game.
This braised Tuscan wild boar recipe is actually from a very famous local restaurant in the mountains near us. It’s called Aiuole and if you’re ever in or around Monte Amiata, I very much recommend you head there and give it a try.
Wild boar is done to death in Maremman restaurants. Nine out of 10 times, it’s served as Tuscan wild boar ragu and nine out of 10 times, it tastes like it came out of can, which it probably did, since you can buy ragu al cinghiale in a jar in every local supermarket.
I can’t stomach ‘Tuscan wild boar ragu’. It is so watery and tasteless, like a really bad, chewy pasta bolognese and as about Italian.
This recipe, on the other hand, is actually a celebration of the gamey flavour of the meat and something a little left-field. You don’t normally associate meat with chocolate, but I remember watching a Jamie Oliver cooking show a million years back when he did deer braised in chocolate and I’ve been in love with the idea ever since. If you’ve ever had Mexican mole, this is very similar.
The most important thing here is to get really good dark chocolate, we’re talking 80% cocoa or more. You don’t want to use Hershey’s kisses. You’re looking for the rich fruity nutty flavour of the chocolate, not it’s sweetness.
The roots of this Tuscan wild boar are actually Renaissance and they used to serve it with pine nuts and sultanas, but my more scaled back modern version just has a handful of hazelnuts as a nod to those roots and plenty of good red wine.
I really am in love with this dish. I adore anything that is culinarily out of the box and this Tuscan wild boar recipe has so much flavour and so much oomph!
The meat is meltingly tender and the sauce is so earthy and fragrant that you’ll be pushing the meat to one side just to get at it with plenty of crusty bread.
Seriously, I made this over the weekend and now all I want to do is work my way through our wild boar stores. My mother-in-law has locked the freezer and hidden the key!
TUSCAN wild boar brAISED IN DARK CHOCOLATE
500g wild boar loin, cubed (you can use pork loin)
2 white onions, finely chopped
1 cinnamon quill
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
4 fresh bay leaves
10 juniper berries
250ml dry red wine
200g dark chocolate (80%)
20g butter, extra
handful of roasted hazelnuts, to serve
Melt the butter in a large casserole dish, add the onions and fry over medium heat until golden. Add the cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves and juniper berries and cook until fragrant (30 seconds).
Increase the heat to high and add the wild boar, brown on all sides (5 minutes). Add the red wine and cook until the liquid has almost evaporated and you can no longer smell the alcohol. Add a cup of water and bring to the boil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook, adding more water if necessary, until the wild boar is tender and the sauce has thickened (3 hours).
Melt the chocolate in a small saucepan with the extra butter. Add to the wild boar and cook for a further 20 minutes.
Serve with a scattering of hazelnuts, crusty bread and red wine.