By Well Seasoned, Feb 20 2019 02:00AM
A medieval beast stalks our countryside, but is so elusive that many people aren’t even aware of its existence. You might be surprised to learn that there are wild boar alive and well in British woodlands.
In the past, large numbers of boar inhabited our woods and fields. The Tudors loved to hunt them, and a spit-roasted wild boar was the centrepiece of many a medieval banquet. Sadly, sometime in the seventeenth century, British boar were hunted to extinction and nothing was seen of them for many years. But then, in the 1980s, boar farms breeding imported animals were established in Britain. In several incidents, most notably the great storm of 1987, some of the animals escaped, and in a few rare cases they were able to establish themselves as free-living populations. A
lthough there is some debate as to exactly how widespread they are, breeding populations have existed since at least 1990 and are now certainly established in Kent, Sussex, Dorset and the Forest of Dean.
Wild boar are extremely wary, generally venturing out only at night. They cause problems for a number of groups, including farmers who have to deal with the damage they do to land (boar feed in the same way as pigs, quickly reducing the ground to a hummocky quagmire) and ramblers who on several occasions have startled boar with their dogs, unexpectedly finding themselves in the middle of a c anine/porcine rumpus.
They are also hardy beasts, with no natural predators in this country, so most land managers agree that they need to be culled in the same way as deer. This ensures a healthy population and limits the damage they do to crops, land and fencing. The upside is that if your butcher can get hold of it, wild boar meat is a seriously tasty treat.
Wild boar breed during the warmer months and so, while there isn’t an official season for them, reputable dealers will only sell truly wild meat from late autumn through to the spring. That shouldn’t, however, stop you from buying farmed meat, which is invariably free range and of high quality all year round.
For me February is the ideal time to tuck in as it makes the perfect warming ragu for a hearty pasta dish.
Pappardelle with wild boar ragout
People often ask me about the merits of fresh versus dried pasta, but I think you have to look at them as two different products. The more robust texture of dried pasta made with just durum wheat semolina is not really comparable with fresh egg pasta. I like both in equal measures and have no qualms about using goodquality dried pasta. I feel it works better for something like a carbonara, as the texture stands up to the pancetta or guanciale and it gives the whole dish body. With a meltingly tender ragout or encasing soft ricotta, however, fresh egg pasta is the way to go.
The most important thing for me with a pasta dish is that the pasta shouldn’t be overshadowed by the sauce or filling. It has an equal role in many dishes but can also be the star, with the sauce just providing moisture and seasoning.
serves 6 as a main
For the wild boar ragout
650g wild boar or good-quality pork, diced
100 ml olive oil
125g coarse pork mince that is fairly fatty
1 carrot, peeled, quartered lengthwise and cut into ½cm pieces
1 stick celery, halved lengthwise and cut into ½cm pieces
1 large onion, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 tsp ground fennel seeds
1 tsp chilli flakes
150ml white wine
6 sage leaves and 1 bay leaf, tied in muslin
1 tsp dried oregano
½ a 400g tin of good-quality chopped tomatoes
100ml semi-skimmed milk
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
420–480g dried pappardelle, or 600–750g fresh egg pappardelle
aged Parmesan (24 months is a good choice)
1. Preheat the oven to 140˚C.
2. To make the ragout, season the boar, heat the olive oil in a large casserole or heavy pan, and fry
the boar in small batches to colour well. Drain and set to one side.
3. In the same pan, fry the pork mince, breaking it up into small chunks as you go. You are looking to colour the meat so use a fairly high heat and don’t overcrowd the pan. Remove from the pan and set aside with the boar. Tip off excessoil to leave around 2 tbsp.
4. Add the carrot, celery, onion and garlic to the pan and cook until starting to soften – around 10 minutes. Add the fennel seeds and chilli flakes and cook until aromatic. Add the wine and reduce by two-thirds. Add all the remaining ingredients, including the meat, and bring to a simmer. Season well, cover and place in the oven for at least 3 hours, stirring occasionally and topping up with water if the meat is getting too dry. The boar should be breaking up into flakes when it is cooked. It may need a little encouragement with a fork. Adjust the seasoning and leave the sauce to rest while you cook the pasta.
5. To serve, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil – around a litre for every 100g of pasta, with 1 tsp of salt per litre. Cook the pa sta according to the packet instructions for al dente if dried, or 1–3 minutes if fresh.
6. Heat the ragout and, using tongs, transfer the pasta to the ragout. Don’t drain the pasta too carefully, as the starchy water that comes with it will emulsify the sauce and allow you to cook the pasta and sauce together for a minute or two.
7. Finish with a good glug of your favourite olive oil and some freshly grated Parmesan.