One day, on a trip to Borough Market, I spied two burly butchers carrying what looked like a small and very hairy headless werewolf about the size of a large dog with great hurry into their shop. I had had a couple of glasses of wine, so with much speed and no hesitation I ran in after them to enquire, is that a wild boar?! YES, I was told grumpily, as they slammed it on the counter. It was bristly and muddy, and very much wild; this little guy had come straight from the forest.
Fresh wild boar! OOOH, maybe I could buy some of the belly? I popped in some days later to enquire. There was none on the counter but they had some out the back, and carved a 1.5kg slab for me to take home and play with in exchange for £12 per kilo. I sound like a wild boar myself now, don’t I? But, my, I was curious and very excited! What would it be like? How would it compare with my beloved pork belly?
I decided, in the interest of science, and obsession, to do a controlled experiment, and to cook it as I often cook pork belly, on a semi-slow roast, with cider and lentils so that I could compare and contrast.
What was it like? Clear, there was real clarity of flavour, if that makes any sense, but that was the first thing I thought. It was fatty, as belly always is, but it seemed less so, as this fella had been running around the forests, getting very muddy as he went. He didn’t have the same opportunity domestic pigs have to pile on those piggy pounds, but it had enough fat to retain much moisture and give it a beautiful flavour. The fat was present but didn’t overwhelm. I loved it.
The only problem is the price and lack of availability, but for a special treat, I’ll be seeking this one out. Delicious! The lentils are unctuous and creamy with the wild boar fat, and a lovely compliment to the tender meat and crispy crackling. If you want some vegetables on the side it’s lovely with some extra roasted carrots and a little cavolo nero. The vegetables in this recipe function as a trivet and supply flavour but are discarded at the end of the cooking process.
Notes for the recipe: keep an eye on the lentils once you add them, and make sure they have enough liquid adding more cider/stock if you need to. You can’t go wrong if you add a little at a time, worst case scenario is that you have lots of lovely wild boar gravy left over. Make sure you keep the crackling dry when you add more liquid.
PS. Forgive the photo. I’ve lost my photo mojo since my camera was stolen. Styling seems pointless with a small semi-broken thing. (I have to open the lens shield with my fingernail). Next purchase = a new one.
Slow Roast Wild Boar Belly with Cider & Puy Lentils
1.5kg wild boar belly, skin scored by your butcher or with a Stanley knife
3 carrots, cut in half lengthwise for the belly to sit on
2 large shallots or 1 medium onion, skinned and halved
A few cloves of garlic, skins on
A bay leaf or two
A few springs of fresh thyme
White peppercorns (black if you don’t have them but I love white peppercorns with pork)
250g puy lentils
250ml stock (pork or chicken best, vegetable is ok too) plus a little extra stock/cider on hand should you need them
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius.
Pour some boiling water over the skin of the pork in a colander or similar. Dry the skin, wiping with a kitchen towel. Sprinkle with some sea salt. The skin will have puffed up which will aid the crackling.
Place the pork in an oiled deep tray on top of the carrots, shallots, garlic, peppercorns, thyme and bay. Roast the pork for 20 minutes. The skin will start to blister.
Turn the heat down to 160 degrees and roast for a further 40 minutes.
Add the lentils and the cider and stock and roast for a further hour. The lentils should be tender by now.
Turn the heat back up to 220 and roast for 10-15 minutes, to make sure the crackling is crisp – take care not to burn it. It really doesn’t need very long.
Discard the vegetables and serve the sliced wild boar belly with the lentils and some of the lovely cidery gravy.