Boar hunting can be seen as part of Greek culture and has been since ancient times. Greek mythology is full of stories about boar and boar-like monsters that either bring death and destruction, or have to be captured, or slain, in one way or another. The Calydonian boar, for example, is a monstrously large boar monster in Greek mythology that is sent by the goddess Artemis to punish the people of Calydon for not properly offering a sacrifice to her. Another famous and perhaps more popularly known ‘goddess-sent boar’ is the Erymanthian Boar that Heracles (or Hercules as he is more popularly known) was tasked with to capture as one of his twelve labors.
Unlike Heracles and other heroes, I didn’t have to capture my own boar. Neither was the boar monstrously large… though, I imagine it was still a tad scary and intimidating. Regular (meaning: not monster, or god-sent) wild boar are native to Greece and are still quite a popular game animal today. Moreover, this year and previous years there has been quite a large boar population explosion and, not unlike the monster-boars of mythology, they were destroying crops and scaring other animals (including humans, naturally). Unsurprisingly, then, this year quite a lot of Greeks went out to hunt for boar in a way reminiscent of the heroes of ancient mythology… albeit less heroically, with guns, rather than poisonous arrows and (demi)-godly bare strength. Luckily for un-heroic me, my boyfriend’s cousin’s husband is a hunter and since there was so much boar meat this year, it was shared amongst the family and we got some too!
Nice. I’ve got some wild boar… but how do I even cook a wild boar?
Wild boar is definitely not so common in The Netherlands where I am from, so I needed to do some research.
In Greece, if a boar is not roasted over an open fire, or in the oven with some potatoes, it’s commonly stewed for hours in an onion, wine and tomato sauce (agriogourouno kokkinisto, or stifado depending on the amount of certain ingredients used), or with a sauce made with wine, honey, spices and perhaps some fruits. While all of that sounded nice to me, I couldn’t possibly light a fire on my little balcony for roasting and I had recently posted a different ‘meat and fruit stew type situation’ already. For a little more inspiration, I opted to look at some of the neighboring countries’ recipes. Similar to Greece, in Italy, wild boar meat is often stewed for a long time in something wine-y and tomato-y. What I like about the Italian version is that it can be served over thick strands of pasta – imagine a ‘ragù alla Bolognese’ made with wild boar instead of beef – and that the meat is regularly combined with earthy mushrooms, which fit perfectly with the wild meat, as I can imagine mushrooms are something a boar would like to munch on as well. So, taking a bit of inspiration from both countries, here we are with my ‘Greek and Italian’-inspired version of Ragù di Cinghiale, or Agriogourouno Kokkinisto, if you will.
Wild Boar and Porcini Ragù / Ragù di Cinghiale e Porcini
- 650g wild boar meat (shoulder, or leg, or even ribs)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 carrot (about 120g)
- 1 large yellow onion
- 2 celery sticks
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 bay leaf
- 6 whole cloves
- ½ tablespoon fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
- ½ tablespoon fresh sage, roughly chopped
- 350g fresh tomatoes, diced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoons sugar
- 0.5l dry red wine
- 0.5l water
- 30ml red wine vinegar
- 30g dried porcini (or about 150g fresh)
- 400g pappardelle, or mafaldine (optional)
- Small bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Salt, to taste
- Prepare your ingredients: Debone the meat if it has any bones and cut the meat into chunks.Wash and finely dice the celery, carrot and onion. Roughly chop your fresh herbs (sage, rosemary, parsley). Crush the garlic cloves. Dice the fresh tomatoes.
- Sear the meat: Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven, or large high-rimmed frying pan over medium-high heat. Brown meat on all sides, then remove from pan.
- Sauté vegetables and aromatics: To the same pan you’ve used for the meat, add the chopped carrot, celery and onion. Sauté for 10 minutes until the vegetables turn soft and start to brown. Make sure you get a good color on the vegetables; this is where a lot of the flavor comes from. Then add crushed garlic, bay leaf, chopped rosemary, chopped sage, and whole cloves (don’t add the parsley yet). Sauté for another minute until fragrant.
- Make sauce: Pour in the vinegar, water and wine and bring to a simmer. When the wine starts to simmer, add the diced tomato, tomato paste, sugar, and some salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
- Braise the meat: Return the meat to the pan with the sauce. Turn the heat to low and cover with a lid. Simmer for 2 hours until the meat is very tender.
- Shred the meat: After simmering for about 2 hours, remove the meat from the sauce and shred it with a fork. Put the shredded meat back in the sauce and continue cooking uncovered on medium heat for another 30 minutes to let the sauce thicken. Meanwhile, while your sauce is simmering, soak dried porcini in some hot water for the same 30 minutes.
- Add porcini: Drain and add re-hydrated porcini to the wild boar sauce. Continue cooking for 15 minutes more.
- Cook pasta: If serving with pasta, boil the pasta in generously salted water according to instructions on the package.
- Serve: To serve, add the chopped parsley to the sauce and season with more salt and pepper if necessary. Drain cooked pasta and coat it with the sauce.