Why Wild Boar Bacon Is the Hero of My Fridge Right Now

Welcome to Living Wild by Danielle Prewett, a wild game cook and contributing editor at MeatEater. In this ser

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Welcome to Living Wild by Danielle Prewett, a wild game cook and contributing editor at MeatEater. In this series, she explores what it means to eat consciously and live mindfully. For Danielle, that way of life relies on hunting, fishing, foraging, and gardening. Her stories aim to inspire you to live a life more closely connected to the earth and to celebrate its natural bounty in your kitchen.

One weeknight after a long day of work, I found myself hungry with what felt like nothing to eat. It’s an all-too-familiar feeling for many of us. Under normal circumstances, I would have run to the store and grabbed a few things, but these are not normal circumstances. I was forced to reconcile with current conditions and reevaluated what was available in my pantry.

I found sourdough that was past its prime but hadn’t developed mold yet. I scanned through my collection of oils and vinegars sitting on the top shelf (you can never have too many) and snatched a bottle of red wine vinegar. Next, I moved to the fridge to find a half-eaten bag of red grapes, a few of which had started to deflate into soggy raisins. I was relieved to have fresh arugula and a handful of wild hog lardons. Like a robot, I inputted the list of ingredients in my head and—beep boop, boop, beep—a fabulous roasted grape salad with homemade croutons, and a bacon vinaigrette was on the dinner table thirty minutes later.

Like so many other families, my husband began working from home with me back in March due to COVID-19. We were excited to start sharing lunches together, and we began to eat through our wild game quickly. Typically, our freezer becomes spacious just as hunting season starts in the fall, but our supply was already running low by April, and I began to worry.

Throughout this pandemic, I’ve noticed that many of us are afraid of scarcity, whether real or imagined. I believe it is a natural emotion that is hard-wired into the human brain for survival. Unfortunately, this can lead to hoarding, or taking more than we need, instead of making do with what we already have. As a wild game cook and hunter, I express these fears through my freezer and have had to learn when to restrain, and when to take action. It’s comforting to see it full, and I reserve my favorite cuts for special occasions. However, I also know that all of the meat needs to be eaten, so it doesn’t waste. It’s a constant check and balance system. When I realized that we didn’t have enough meat to get us to fall, I knew we needed to do something about it.

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With hunting season closed, we had to focus on game that is not indigenous to our country and can be hunted year-round to control the population. Texas has a lot of these types of non-native animals. The most prevalent are feral hogs, whose sheer presence is despised by many because they destroy habitat for native species and damage farmland. These animals can also be very difficult to catch because they move at nighttime. In addition, they are not habitual, meaning they will come one day and not the next.

When it comes to food, hogs aren’t usually held in high regard. This is a shame because most are quite delicious. Some hunters only take the choice cuts, leaving too much meat to waste in the field. Always, but especially during this eye-opening time of our lives, I know that hunting is a privilege, and with that comes responsibility. I try to utilize as much of the animal as possible, knowing there will come a time when I am grateful to have it.

Coincidentally, we had some elusive hogs that were tearing up the hay pastures at our family ranch. We decided to make the most of the situation by hit two birds with one stone by building a trap. After a few failed attempts, we were finally able to set the tripwire just right, and on that. One night we successfully trapped three wild pigs of various sizes, enough to hold us over until we could hunt deer.

For the first time ever I saved the belly meat—the very meat key ingredient in my salad.

Wild boar bacon, cured for a week and smoked.
Wild boar bacon, cured for a week and smoked.

Wild hog belly is similar to that of a domestic pig, but with a few differences. They are considerably smaller, typically have less fat, and have tougher connective tissue. However, the flavor is phenomenal. Just as the leg meat of a turkey is darker and richer than the white breast meat, a wild hog is more robust than domestic pork.

After a week of curing with salt, pepper, and brown sugar, I smoked the belly at low temperatures for several hours (the process of doing so is similar to this one). However, it requires a longer smoke time than a domestic pork belly to break down the collagen, and I ended up wrapping it in paper halfway through so the meat wouldn’t be overwhelmed with smoke flavor. After smoking, I sliced away the skin and chilled it in the freezer for a couple of hours to harden. I cut thick slices and immediately fried a few pieces for a BLT sandwich with homegrown tomatoes. The meat was succulent and rich beyond words.

When cooking bacon from a wild pig, I noticed that the fat took longer to render than traditional bacon. This is likely due to its high saturated fat profile. If cooked at too high of a heat, the meat would burn before all the fat had rendered, giving you bitter meat and chewy pieces. I quickly learned that the best way to enjoy it was to cut it into lardons (matchstick-size strips) and cook over low heat. This renders it to crispy perfection while leaving behind a luscious cooking medium, or in my case, the base to a vinaigrette.

While rendering my lardons, I added sliced shallot for extra flavor before whisking into red wine vinegar. The acidity cut through the fat nicely. The sweet grapes roasted with thyme balanced the bitter arugula. I completed the salad with parmesan, sliced thinly using a vegetable peeler, and chunks of toasted sourdough. Sweet, savory, crunchy, and soft – all the right tastes and textures were there. It’s funny how a handful of random ingredients might seem foreign to each other, but they can blend seamlessly with a little imagination.

Now, when I hear the term “making do,” I don’t think of it as eating meagerly or having less. Instead, I view it as permission to embrace creativity in the kitchen and enjoy knowing that nothing goes to waste.

Have you ever had wild boar bacon? Let us know in the comments.

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