adventure, around the roman table, books, childhood, farmers market, meat, school, teaching

The Ancient Table: Roast boar

Obelix with dinner

I have this habit of getting totally immersed in whatever topic I’m teaching in history. The Declaration of Independence? Let’s watch 1776! Ancient Greece? Let’s check out The Odyssey from the library! The Gupta empire? Let’s eat Indian food for a week!

For the past couple of weeks, the cogs of my “immersion” brain have been turning, slowly putting together disparate strands of information. We’ve just started studying ancient Rome. There’s a stand at the farmers’ market that sells boar. I used to think boar looked delicious in Asterix comics. (And anything that lets me refer to Asterix while teaching is good in my book.)

Finally, it comes together: let’s roast some boar the ancient Roman way!

When I told Josh my plan, he said, in characteristic fashion, “Oh, boy.” But then he realized how grand it sounded: roast boar! The manliest of dishes!

It took a few more weeks to get organized. First, there was the recipe. While I took Latin in high school, my translation skills have atrophied to the point where I need to refer to an English-language recipe (sorry, Ms. V.). I found the perfect book at the library, Around the Roman Table by Patrick Faas. According to Faas, the Romans originally served boar divided in three parts, but they transitioned to serving whole wild boar towards the end of the Republic (as they moved to an empire). However, I have neither an oven large enough for a boar nor the capacity to consume a whole boar, so adaptations had to be made. I relied primarily on Faas’ recipe, which he converted from a recipe by M. Gavinus Apicius, author of the only ancient Roman cookbook still in existence. But I also occasionally referred to modern recipes for loin roast of wild boar, since the temperatures and timing were more appropriate to my experiment.

Next, the boar. My friendly neighborhood farmer sold boar in smaller pieces, so I chose a 3-lb boneless loin roast. A few days before I planned to cook, I let it defrost in the refrigerator. Exactly two days before I planned to cook, I rubbed the meat with a fragrant spice rub of crushed, toasted cumin, pepper, and sea salt. Then I let the meat marinate for two days, turning it occasionally.

Finally, the big night arrived. Roasting went pretty much as I expected, though the “low and slow” method recommended by so many websites left me tapping my toes, waiting for the meat to be finished. (This probably happened because I didn’t let the meat return to room temperature before cooking.) You really need a meat thermometer for this kind of experiment–mine was invaluable. As the meat cooked, I prepared a rich wine sauce to serve alongside the boar; apparently the Romans liked their boar with regular and dessert wine!

We set out plates with meat, sauce, and rather more modern braised leeks and carrots. Then we tasted it.

“I love this!” Josh exclaimed. “I usually hate pork, but…I love this!”

Yes, friends, if you’re not a fan of pork, then roast boar is the way to go. It’s lean and moist, and it picks up the fragrance of the spice rub so that the whole roast tasted faintly of toasted cumin. And the wine sauce? Divine.

Goscinny and Uderzo weren’t lying: that roast wild boar in Asterix really is delicious.

Roast Boar

for the boar:
3 lbs boneless loin roast of boar
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp sea salt

for the sauce:
250 ml red wine (a little over 1 cup)
1 tbsp honey
100 ml dessert wine (about 1/3 cup)

To make the boar:
Two days before cooking, rinse the loin roast and pat dry. In a dry skillet, toast the cumin seeds over low heat until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Move to a mortar and pestle and grind the seeds with the pepper and salt. When you have a fine mixture, sprinkle all over the boar. Refrigerate the boar for 2 days, turning occasionally.

When you’re ready to cook, preheat the oven to 500 F. Let the boar return to room temperature. Set the boar on a rack in a roasting pan and insert a meat thermometer if using. Place the boar in the preheated oven for 10 minutes to brown, then reduce the heat to 250 F and cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, checking the thermometer. Meat is done when the thermometer (or an instant-read one) reads 150 degrees. Remove the meat from the oven and place on a platter, then tent it loosely with aluminum foil. Let sit for 10 minutes to finish cooking and preserve the juices.

To make the sauce:
Reduce the red wine to about half a cup over medium-low heat. Add the honey and dessert wine, mixing well, and add salt to taste.

Carve the boar into thin slices and serve with the wine sauce.

Works cited: Welcome to Brussels (image). Around the Roman Table.


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