For the most part, my approach to handling game meat has been to try to keep it clean, keep it cool, and trim it up pretty quickly, boning out big game animals and then removing every bit of sinew and silverskin I could get to. For the most part, this works very well for elk, deer, and antelope. When my father and I used the same process on a feral hog, we ended up with a lot more trimming than meat. Also, rather than spending so very much time trying to grind and trim elk or deer shanks, I've taken to letting the oven, some wine, and time do the work. In what may turn out to be a bit of culinary evolution, when a friend got on the right side of a feral hog a little while back, we took a different approach.
Feral pigs are spreading into New Mexico and have reportedly achieved the Rio Grande valley, which will serve as corridor and entree to the rest of the state. They've also been in the Sacramento mountains for a while and our friend found this one out in relatively flat country. In any event, he has a freezer or so full of meat and so very generously offered the skinned and dressed hog to us. We were a bit short on time, so rather than boning and trimming out the quarters, we turned to other methods. First, one bone-in hind quarter, which, hip to top of hock weighed about nine pounds. This we rubbed with salt and pepper and let sit a few hours, then smoked for another four hours over oak and pecan. The next morning, we popped the quarter into a big roaster with a cup or so of water and braised it at low temp for hours, until falling off the bone, for Carolina-style pulled pork.
For the fore-quarters, I cut the meat off the bone in long strips, then we rubbed them with a spice cure containing pink salt, following a recipe from Polcyn and Ruhlman's "Charcuterie" for tasso ham.
Like the pulled pork, we smoked the tasso pieces, in their case for about 8 hours, then
wrapped them in foil and baked them at low heat until they hit an internal temperature of 165
F. Spicy and smoky, the tasso will no doubt be excellent in gumbo or jambalaya, if we don't eat it all just thinly sliced and accompanied by a cold beer or glass of vinho verde.
As to the last hindquarter, that we brined for a week, then smoked it for ham.
Ham and tasso on smoke:
After smoking, we wrapped the ham in foil and baked it to an internal 165 as well.
The ham came our really well. Nice texture, nicely salty and spiced with a bit more of a meaty flavor than most commercial hams I've had.
While this is a bit of a "me and Joe" or, in my case, "me and A" post, I hope to convey that the time put into curing or cooking isn't really that intensive- a lot of it is just patience- and the wild character of the meat still comes through in some very positive ways. Once things cool off in the fall, we'll be looking for wild pigs pretty hard, as I could easily use an entire hundred pounder's worth of tasso over a winter and want to try turning a loin into Canadian bacon.
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