I love the rich, homey, old-world recipes of Italian comfort food—ones that are especially borne of necessity, of rustic foraging, of victory in the wilderness. Which is why, after I went with a few of the other test cooks on a successful wild boar hunt last year, I decided to make a ragu from the portion of the beast I claimed: the shoulder.
Since certain parts of the boar (like mine) are much tougher than others, they require specific cooking techniques to tenderize them. Additionally, wild boar is particularly tricky to break down due to the fact that the meat tends to be a lot leaner than that of its domesticated cousin, sus scrofa domesticus, or the common pig.
But whether you’re working with wild boar or pork, certain cuts are better suited toward certain recipes. The shoulder portion of the animal has a lot less fat and more connective tissue than other cuts (like, for example, the super-lean tenderloin) because of the heavy work it had to do when the animal was alive. Less fat and more connective tissue are two major factors that can cause meat to be tough if it doesn’t have an opportunity to properly break down over time, so the shoulder cut is used in a lot of recipes that are either grilled low and slow, ground into sausage, slow-roasted, or—in the case of this ragu—braised. In my recipe, I slowly braise the tough shoulder until it’s tender, succulent, and falling apart in an aromatic tomato sauce.
Rendering pancetta will help boost the porky flavor, and also adds fat that wild boar often lacks.
Once the pancetta is rendered and crisp, add the vegetables to the pot.
Cook the vegetables until they begin to get soft, but be careful not to overcook. If they get mushy it will ruin the texture of the sauce.
Puree the tomatoes until they’re very smooth and add them to the pot.
Bring the sauce to a simmer and cover. The first 90 minutes is very important: Wild boar tends to be a bit tougher than pork, so the initial simmer will help tenderize the meat without drying it out. After 90 minutes, stir in 1½ cups of water and bring to a simmer again.
After the second 90 minutes, test a piece of meat up against the side of the Dutch oven with two forks. If it pulls apart easily, it’s ready. If not, continue to simmer until it does.
Shred most of the meat into bite-size pieces, but leave a few pieces larger to vary the texture of the sauce.
Stirring in grated Parmesan adds a little creaminess and helps season the ragu.
This wild boar ragu pairs very well with pappardelle pasta. If the sauce is too thick, you can adjust the consistency and thin it out with a little bit of the water used to cook the pasta.