“Matsuda-san trapped a wild boar on his field and needs me to go kill it.”
The call came from my husband as the boys and I were just getting into our morning homeschooling. Helping out with killing and cleaning a boar definitely falls under the heading of “education,” so we jumped in Tadaaki’s van and drove up the hill to Matsuda-san’s place. Funny how my pacifist husband is the go-to-man when someone needs help with a kill.
As we tromped across the field, I could hear a “thwank, thwank” coming from the cage. The female “teenaged” boar was charging the oversized wire cage that she had naively walked into looking for food. Apparently she and her family had been ravaging Matsuda-san’s hillside crops, so he had set the trap out the night before.
Her snout was bloody, but she kept charging. Over and over, she relentlessly banged into the wire wall with that sickeningly hopeless metallic thwank and accompanying squelching sound that triggered a gut wrench in me each time. I was surprised her mother had not come back for her, but supposed the mother’s survival instincts were stronger than her maternal ones. Wild animals (and rats) are pretty savvy about avoiding humans and traps. Escape was no option, so it was hard to understand why the boar kept running repeatedly into the wire walls, despite her pain and obvious lack of success. (short boar clip)
Matsuda-san came bouncing across the field in his mini K-Truck and Tadaaki grabbed a coiled up rope from the back. He circled the cage looking for a way to secure the boar. Having been a cowboy in Brazil, Tadaaki knows a thing or to about making a lasso. In the end, it came down to chance more than skill. He tossed in the rope repeatedly until the female boar stepped in the circle at just the right moment. It took more than a dozen attempts before he could cinch in her two hooves and string her up. Christopher braced himself against the wire cage and held the hoisted up boar as Tadaaki unsheathed his hunting knife and in one practiced stroke, slit her throat. She struggled for several long moments as we watched silently in the otherwise peaceful morning. The boar gave up her life in succeedingly smaller imperceptive tremors until she was dead. (roping the boar)
Even though the boar was a pest, no one rejoiced in her kill. It just had to be done. This was my first time to witness a large animal being killed and mostly, I remember the silence of that day. The muted sounds of our talking. The understatement of our gestures or movements. The muffled quiet of my feelings.
Tadaaki let her blood drip out a bit longer before starting to clean her right there on the field. But without water and Matsuda-san’s help, he realized the job would take too long, so Matsuda-san helped him heft her onto the K-Truck. Once again the truck jounced across the field, transporting the boar to Matsuda-san’s small mayonnaise factory and organic café that sit at the top of a ravine over the Kanna River. They swung her onto a wooden table and Matsuda-san hosed her off to wash away the blood before skinning and gutting her.
Tadaaki started at one end and Matsuda-san at the other, while Christopher helped hold up the hooves. Tadaaki’s knife sliced the skin away from the meat in sure, swift movements. He made it look so easy, by contrast Matsuda-san’s knife hacked a bit. I always wonder where Tadaaki gets these skills. My knife strokes are more like Matsuda-san’s (another city transplant). Maybe it’s the country in Tadaaki, or perhaps his abilities come from patience and an innate sense of precision or economy of movement. And maybe that’s why my own knife work is so wild—lack of patience.
Matsuda-san divvied up the boar meat and we left with a rib rack and hefty leg. Tadaaki was excited to cook them in the pit barbecue, I was less so. Tadaaki has a tendency to overwork a certain cooking method, and I was getting a little tired of the pit barbecue. But this was his kill, and having no better plan, I rubbed a Yucatan-inspired anchiote spice mixture into the boar pieces then stored them in the fridge. Tadaaki decided we should serve the boar for lunch at Sunny-Side Up! (my preschool).
Truthfully, I wasn’t “feeling” it. I’ve eaten boar sausisson in France and was not too taken by its slightly rank flavor. So my boar menu was uninspired. The only vegetables we had at the time were carrots, potatoes and celery. For some misguided reason, I made potato salad with mayonnaise. The mayonnaise and boar were an unfortunate combination. Though the carrot salad, vibrant and slightly hot from the Dijon mustard dressing, balanced well with the rich boar meat. The pit barbecue, a heavy salt treatment and the subsequent marinade had yielded meat with an almost cured feel, reminiscent of French confit. It would have been fantastic served on freshly made warm corn tortillas and topped with tomato salsa from the garden. But it was May, and we didn’t have tomatoes. The kids had a grand old time eating picnic-style outside and fought over who got to gnaw on the rib bones. I felt guilty for not loving the boar meat, but was glad the kids all ate with enthusiasm. So in the end, the female boar’s death was honored and appreciated by those crazy little accept-any-kind-of-food SSU! kids and I was deeply moved. And thankful.
A couple of weeks ago, our neighbor poked his head in our door and shouted out for Tadaaki. Country people don’t ring the doorbell, they just come on in and announce themselves. This guy is a bit of a drunk, so I duck away when I hear his slurry (very loud) bluster. But this time he was in and out quickly, just there to drop off a chunk of fresh-killed boar leg he had shot in the nearby hills. Tadaaki handed it off to me, so I salted it to preserve and tenderize the meat. Still not particularly enthusiastic about boar meat, nonetheless I searched my cookbooks for a recipe. Finally, in desperation, I turned to the Internet and immediately hit upon a recipe by Susan Herrmann Loomis in Epicurious. It sounded simple, but delectable. And the spice-infused red wine marinade made sense for the boar. A couple days later, I roasted the boar to a rosy pink with a carmelized crust and served it with Tadaaki’s potatoes, parboiled then oven roasted with lemon thyme and some sautéed greens. The boar meat that night was tender, with spice and herb undertones, while the red wine marinade had reduced to a rich syrup. The boar was heavenly and not at all insistent. It was Tadaaki’s 51st birthday, so I didn’t mention the pit barbeque.
I’m not a slave to recipes, so substituted Susan’s recipe at will. But in spirit, I followed her idea fairly closely. Take a 6 lb. leg of wild boar and put it in a large freezer Ziploc (they usually don’t leak like the other ones). Salt the leg generously and let sit in the fridge for 36 hours or so. I didn’t weigh my boar leg, but figured it to be more like 8 lbs., so increased the amount of wine to 2 bottles instead of 1000 ml and used a hearty Rosenblum Zinfandel. Heat the red wine with a several bay leaves (more if not so fresh), a generous handful each of cut thyme and oregano, a small handful of black peppercorns, 10 or so cloves and a large leek cut into segments. Simmer for 3 minutes then cool. Strain and add 150 cc excellent red wine vinegar (preferably homemade). Add marinade to Ziploc bag with boar leg and refrigerate for 36 hours more. Remove from fridge several hours before cooking. Cut little slits in the leg and poke in 20 cloves. Film a cast iron pan with a couple tablespoons nice olive oil. Place leg in pan and pour ¼ of the wine marinade over the leg. Roast in a 450 degree oven for 2 hours. Add ¼ of the wine marinade every ½ hour. Let rest for 20 minutes, remove cloves, then slice thin and serve with reduced wine marinade from the pan.