WILD BOAR RAGU
I’ve been a long time Mario Batali fan. I remember his very first shows on the newly launched Food Network sometime back in the 1990s. Since then, I’ve seen every single one of his shows on Food TV at least 5 times. I could never get enough no matter how many times I’ve seen an episode, because cooking is all about practicing and doing it over and over and over again. On my 40th Birthday, I was given a gift card from a generous client for Mario’s restaurant Babbo in New York City. My first encounter with wild boar was the “Secondi” – the second course which is always pasta in the Italian table. Stinging Nettle Pappardelle with Wild Boar Ragu was one of the most amazing pasta dishes I ever had. I remember the taste was more like veal than pork, but richer than beef. I remember the tiny pieces of carrots to sweeten the sauce and the homemade pasta was only secondary to this great sauce.
So, when my friend told me he caught two wild boar down in South Carolina and no one other than him and his son like boar, I was elated. Finally, I was going to try to recreate one of my most favorite pasta dishes. I don’t have stinging nettles (which are poisonous unless boiled) and I was too lazy to make my pasta after cooking all afternoon, and, I have to admit, that while I tried to follow the recipe as best I could, I had to cook in a much larger batch, but it was still great.
You can find the original recipe at either of these websites:
Here is how I did it: Using Mario Batali’s Dutch Oven (or any dutch oven, that is a cast iron pot that is porcelain coated) 3 swirls around in a heated pot of extra virgin olive oil (about 4-5 tablespoons). Get it hot, just starting to smoke, then add in 1 fine diced
carrot, 1 thin sliced celery stalk, 1 Spanish onion. Add salt and pepper and allow to cook until tender, about 11 minutes. Then I added in 1 teaspoon or chopped rosemary (about a small stalk or two); a teaspoon of red hot pepper flakes, and about 3 anchovies.
From there you want to add a cup of good red wine, not expensive wine, just something you would drink while eating this great dish. Find a bottle you like or use one of your favorites. I found a great bottle of red from California for $12 which you see here. I let all alcohol boil out for at leaset 5-10 minutes, because I am looking for the taste of the grapes, not the intoxication of the alcohol. It should cook down enough so that it is thickened. These photos were taken with my iPhone5, and as you can see, the steam coming up off the pot clouded the photo, but you get the idea.
So next in goes one (1) 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes and another 28-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes, and then I bring it up to a boil.
From here, you want to cut your wild boar, venison into 1″ cubes. I suppose you could use lamb, beef, buffalo, pork, who knows, even chicken might work, but then you are far away from what this recipe should be.
The Batali recipe calls for 90 minutes of cooking time for fresh boar, but this boar was frozen, defrosted and I found myself cooking it for 2-3 hours to get it to be fall-apart tender. The Mario Batali method then suggests to let the sauce rest off the heat for 10 minutes then put the sauce in a food processor in small batches, not all of it, but about half of it, so you have the whole boar meat, and some pulverized boar stew meat. I had a blender on pulse. Be sure to remove the top cap and go slow as to not make a volcanic mess of the kitchen. Do a few small batches at a time, and return to the pot. You can see the results below.
Its delicious, and even better if you choose a pasta to “hold” the sauce (as you always should). I had no time to make homemade pappardelle, but the best shape pasta for this is fusili, next would be penne rigate or rigatoni.
The rest you can put into clean jars, sterilized by boiling in hot water for 10 minutes, drain, allow to cool, then fill with the sauce, and allow to cool down. If you put it in the fridge or freezer now, its just going to warm up the other food inside of the fridge or freezer, so allow to cook until its no longer hot or even warm when you go to touch it. That could be 3-60 minutes depending on the climate and temperature of your house.
This is version 1. Tomorrow I will do my own version and variation on this recipe the way I think it should be cooked. I would never challenge Mario Batali in a Iron Chef competition, but I think this variation of the recipe might make him, at the very least read it, as there are no time constraints and its going to be a much more traditional way of making this dish, at least Sicilian-Style. But make no mistake, Mario Batali is the inspiration of this recipe, and no matter what the variation, I will always credit this to him. However, a basic rule of thumb is to brown your meat first, no matter what. So I have 2 batches this year. One Batali style, one more the way I would cook it, but not much big of a difference.
These jars you can find in your local supermarket or order online and are about $1 each. Please don’t use plastic. I’ve always been a big fan of glass and it will even keep it fresher longer. There are several sizes, styles and I find the best to be the tapers as you see above. The Mason “Ball” jars are more common, but when they are tapered, its easy for the frozen sauce to “slide out” – however, if you are like me, single, the small 8-ounce jewel containers can hold enough for 2-4 servings once defrosted. Remember, its going with your pasta, salad and appetizers.
But at this point, I have about 15 jars of this sauce, and at 3-5 servings per jar, I have enough for over a year. But, I don’t like to keep things in the freezer for longer than 8-12 months, so I will be giving some jars away to those who want an appreciate it. Not everyone are accepting or excited about wild game made into sauce, but its all ok, they would never taste the difference. I really can’t and I know everything that went into the sauce and still have a hard time tasting all the ingredients I put into it. I know its good, its made from the ground up (literally), this is great stuff for me. Its truly hand crafted from beginning to end.