Archive for the ‘Game’ Category

Ragù di cinghiale in polenta

April 22, 2012

Polenta with wild boar sauce

I don’t know why, but when I ran across a wild boar “mini-roast” at a local market, I had to buy it.

Let’s blame it on the trips to Italy, the reading up on Italian cuisine and culture. I just knew I could make something really good out of this piece of meat.

The experiments began. My first attempt was palatable, but not quite what I was looking for. Eager to hit the mark, I pressed on.

I think I have hit it. The recipe below is the latest version. And I admit it is but a mere representation of the process. You have to taste. You have to imagine. You have to adjust. Use the best of what you have on hand. Go for it. The worst thing you can say is that you know what to do differently next time.

The recipe below should serve four hungry people nicely. Maybe six “normal” people.  It is easily scaled up to serve more if need be.

Wild Boar Ragu

  • 1 tbs fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1.5 LB wild boar*, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
  • 3 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 2 T fresh oregano
  • 6 – 8 fresh sage leaves 1/4 pound pancetta diced
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 large onion 4-5 cloves garlic 1/2 cup carrots, finely diced 1/2 cup sweet pepper 1/4 cup Vin Santo or Brandy 1 14 1/2 oz can chicken stock or more, as needed 6 – 8 ounces red wine
  • seasonings: kosher salt, coarsely ground pepper
  • 2-3 T tomato paste, as needed

Prep ingredients: lightly toast fennel seeds and red pepper flakes, set aside.

Strip leaves from rosemary sprigs, set aside.

Strip leaves from oregano stems, set aside.

Remove sage leaves from stems, set aside.

Place fennel, red pepper, rosemary, oregano and sage in mini-chopper, food processor, blender or chop finely by hand. Add a pinch of salt and black pepper (if using mechanical device, throw whole black pepper corns into mix).

Sprinkle diced boar meat with just enough seasoning mix to cover. Toss with hands. Add some more spice mix. Toss. Repeat until meat is just nicely covered with seasoning set aside in non-reactive bowl for up to 1/2 hour at room temperature. Longer if in refrigerator.

Put pancetta in a heavy stock pot or sauce pan and render out fat over medium low heat.

In the meantime, finely dice the carrot, sweet pepper and onion.

When the fat has rendered out of the pancetta, remove the meat from the pan set aside.

If need be, augment fat in pan with up to a tablespoon of olive oil. Let come up to temp.

Turn heat up to medium and brown off seasoned boar meat in batches. Do not overcrowd pan.

When all meat is browned, deglaze pan with brandy or vin santo. Be careful regarding the alcohol and the open flame.

Add carrots to deglazed pot and stir. Let cook, stirring often, until slightly softened and just browning. About five minutes.

Add onion and pepper to pot. Stir often until softened. About 10 minutes

Smash and chop garlic, add to pot once vegetables are softened.

Stir and cook for 2 -3 minutes.

Make a spot in the center of the pot and add 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of tomato paste. Let brown for just a moment and then stir to mix into vegetables.

Add reserved meat and any juices back into pot. Stir to mix thoroughly.

Adjust heat to medium.

Add red wine. Stir and let alcohol cook off and wine reduce.

Add stock. Stir and bring to boil. Reduce heat until just simmering, partially cover and let cook for an hour. Check frequently. Adjust heat downward if necessary; add stock if needed to keep mixture loose.

This mixture should simmer slowly covered until the meat has fallen apart into shreds and the sauce thickened. Shoot for a minimum of two hours, five to six is better. If you have to add liquid, use a flavorful stock and/or more wine.

About 15 minutes before you plan to serve, check for seasonings and adjust as necessary. If the ragu is a little too thin, add another tablespoon or so of tomato paste. Stir and cook to desired consistency.

Serve over polenta, tagliatelle, or maltagliati.

*d’Artagnan produces wild boar roast which can be found in higher-end grocery stores or ordered from the web at–Range-Wild-Boar-Mini-Roast.html They also sell wild boar shoulder and wild boar stew meat.

And if, like me, you had the question about “wild boar” being processed and available in a supermarket, the d’artagnan website explains it this way:

Lean and full flavored, D’Artagnan free-range wild boar bears little resemblance to traditional domesticated pork.

First of all, our wild boars are actually wild. Humanely cage trapped in Texas then brought to USDA-inspected processing plants, where they are thoroughly examined. The wild boars take foraging seriously. They eat greens, native roots, acorns, and pretty much any agricultural crop they can access. As a result, farmers and ranchers in Texas are fully supportive of the law that encourages hunters and trappers to cut down on the population of these nuisance hogs. This works to your advantage, because even in a state as large as Texas, they can’t eat all the wild boar!

Robust enough to stand up to a strong red wine, as well as sauces and rubs, wild boar meat offers a distinctive taste—lean, and pork-like, but more intense, with darker color and tighter grain. Their wild-foraged diet contributes to the unique flavor.

Simply marinate lightly with a balsamic vinaigrette and skewer with sweet peppers, porcini mushrooms, and Vidalia onions for an incredible, easy- to-prepare grilled feast. Also makes a lovely replacement for the other white meat in pork stews, soups or chili.

Truly wild

Natural foraged diet of grass, roots, nuts, fruits, acorns and grains

No hormones

No antibiotics

USDA inspected

Still squeamish? I suppose you could use a boneless boston butt and scale the recipe as required.


  • 1 1/3 cups polenta (corn meal)
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 bay leaves
  • salt
  • 1/2 cup half/half
  • 1/3 cup grated cheese
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 T butter
  • 1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano

Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan. Throw in the bay leaves and simmer for 20 minutes.

Remove the bay leaves, salt the water to taste.

Increase heat to get a nice boil.

Slowly whisk in the cornmeal until you have a smooth porridge.

Stir often enough to keep the grain from sticking and burning and until you have thick, almost gelatinous mass. (30 – 45 minutes depending).

About 10 minutes in, stir in 1/4 cup of the half and half.

Twenty minutes in, stir in another cup of half and half.

When the polenta is pulling away from the sides of the pot, remove from heat. Stir in the butter, parmigiano and black pepper to taste.

Spread on a serving platter. Top with ragu and serve.


Fagiano alla cacciatora

December 14, 2009

Don’t be chicken, show you’ve got game with this version of a favorite.

I’m not a hunter.  I’m barely a fisherman. But I like game when it’s properly prepared.  And I figure, if anyone has gone to the trouble of stalking and killing some wild bird or mammal, it should be eaten.

That said, I’ve always had this question about the dish “chicken cacciatore” (pollo alla cacciatora)…chicken hunter’s style.

Isn’t the term “chicken” used to refer to a domesticated fowl? I don’t know of any wild chickens running around in the hills of Tuscany, right? It just seems to me that chicken hunter’s style is sort of an oxymoron. Rabbit or a game bird hunter’s style I can understand.  Chicken? Maybe not.

Now pheasant, that’s a game bird with an exotic heritage (in fact, I believe the ring-necked pheasant we have come to associate with American fields is actually a native of Asia). And there just seems something so much more appropriate, more fitting to the dish “fagiano alla cacciatora” or pheasant hunter’s style.

A longtime neighbor of my mother’s used to hunt a lot.  For many years he didn’t eat pheasant (or venison if he had shot the deer) so we did.  Mom just treated it as she would a chicken and that was that. No big deal. Symbolic of the sprawl that has taken over the former farms and fields of the Garden State, sightings of pheasant in the wild have diminished over the years.  Sadly, so did the birds appearance on our table.    

Honestly, I never rarely gave it much thought until the last decade or so.  What brought the notion to mind, I am not sure.

Before Marsilio’s closed and Tattoni’s moved out of Trenton, I occasionally found myself enjoying their (white) cacciatora…versions that rely more on white wine and stock than tomato for the sauce.  I started wondering what a white cacciatora would taste like with pheasant instead of chicken.

Since I’m not a hunter a trip out to the Griggstown Farm Market provided me with the primary ingredient for the dish.  Conveniently cut up and partially de-boned I brought two of their pheasant home and stashed them in the freezer.  Then I started looking around for “white” cacciatora recipes.  They are not that common or easy to find, even on the web.  Robbing a little from here and taking some tips from there, I cobbled together a process utilizing a slow cooker. It’s a great dish to put on early in the morning of a busy day so you can enjoy an elegantly rustic dinner later in the day.

Finally, I thought I had done enough research to try the dish.  Ann was away on a business trip so I invited my mother to join me in tasting the results of the experiment.  To say we enjoyed it would be an understatement of grand proportions. 

For 2 people

  • 1 pheasant boned/cut up (about 1.25 to 1.5 pounds)
  • 4 oz. of pancetta, diced
  • 8 oz. fresh mushrooms coarsely chopped
  • 2 tbs. olive oil
  • 2 – 3 tbs. Italian parsley, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 4 -5 springs of fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • bay leaf
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 cup dry white wine (pinot grigio or a Chardonnay that isn’t too oaky)
  • 1  to 1 1/2 pts of chicken stock (depending upon how much broth you want)

Brown off pancetta in a large skillet and remove the pieces (reserve for another use).  Add olive oil to fat rendered out of pancetta

Salt and pepper pheasant to taste and add pieces to skillet, skin side down.  Cook over medium high heat until browned (3-5 minutes)

Turn pieces over and cook for another 3-5 minutes. When pheasant is done, remove from skillet and add to slow cooker

Replace skillet over medium high flame and add the cut up mushrooms and chopped garlic. Stir or shake to prevent from sticking and burning.

Add parsley and thyme to pan and mix.

Cook until mushrooms have given up all their moisture and caramelized slightly.  Add to slow cooker.

Return skillet to flame and add wine.  Cook, stirring well to de-glaze pan, until wine reduces by about half.  Pour over pheasant and mushrooms in slow cooker.  Turn slow cooker on low.

Add stock to slow cooker. Toss in the bay leaf. Cover and let cook for 6 – 8 hours.  Stirring occasionally if you feel like it.  Dish is done when meat all but falls off the bone.

The same preparation would work for rabbit or, if you must, chicken thighs or a cut up fryer.  But splurge a little and try it with pheasant. 

Serve over polenta, pasta, rice or alone in a bowl with some crusty bread to sop up the juices. Drink the wine you used in the dish or, if you are fond of reds as I am, I enjoyed a nice sangiovese with the dish.  Add a salad and you have a simple and satisfying meal.