I now know that if there was a nuclear war and I had to survive in an a forest, jungle, or other untamed location that I could cook for myself – assuming that some one else could make the fire and hunt the game. After my recent heart-wrenching experience of preparing baby wild boar, I think I could skin, gut, and filet anything that moves. Jeez- did I just write that?
It's hunting season and we are receiving all sorts of animals at the 3-star restaurant I cook at in Paris. As Comis to the Chef de Viande, that means that I get to learn how to work with all of them.
I first saw the baby in the walk in fridge with it's paws dangling out of a plastic bag. I thought it was just a wild hare, but then an apprentice asked me how I was going to emotionally handle cutting up the baby pig with it's cute little snout and strange half smile – I had to go back to the fridge and take a second look at the contents of the plastic bag. Sure enough, it was a tiny little wild boar with short coarse hair and strips down it's back.
My heart stopped when I first looked at the whole body. In fact, I think my boss was in shock too. We both just stared at it for awhile in the fridge – cold air filling our lungs, eyes a little weepy. "Aaah, eet'z good!" my boss finally exclaimed in his thick French accent as he grabbed the plastic body bag to carry up to our meat station. "It's good? You think killing animals this young is fair?" I questioned unbelieving that anything so young should be hunted."
I followed him up the stairs (our kitchen is on two levels which makes for lots of stairclimbing throughout the day) not quite sure how to feel about our upcoming project. I rationalized that it was already dead so I might as well just do eeeet! When we got to our station he admitted that he had never actually prepared baby wild boar before. He then began playing with the pig putting it in various positions to make me laugh. I didn't find any of it funny but managed to finally give a half chuckle when he started adding voices.
What happened next was humourous only because it was just soooooo Français. All the executive chefs came to huddle around the boar and discuss the best way to go about preparing it. It was like a secretive football huddle. I couldn't make out all the conversation but it was decided that it would be skinned, roasted whole, and cut at the tableside like wild rabbit removing the legs and then the fillets. "C'est bon ça, c'est bon ça, huh?" the Executive Chef kept muttering. "Uggh, how can one actually kill something as cute and innocent that looks strangely like my family dog?" I thought to myself disgusted.
It's always the first cut that's the hardest. I wonder if plastic surgeons go through this same feeling? That first pierce through the skin always sends shivers down my spine. Unlike the rabbit's skin that you can yank off, boar's skin is difficult to sever from the muscle and takes a lot of knife work.
My boss and I traded turns carefully removing the skin. Once most of the skin was off I stopped feeling so nostalgic about the whole situation. Cutting it's face off was revolting and so was popping out it's eyes. The ears we removed entirely after a brief discussion as to whether or not they should be eaten as well. I firmly said "Non!", he authoratatively said "Oui!", but they were too difficult to skin so off they came.
We roasted it whole with some wild pigeon carcasses to make a jus with afterwards. Every time I opened the oven to baste it I kept thinking, "Gawd, this thing looks so prehistoric, like something that Fred Flinstone would enjoy with Wilma". The toothpicks in it's eye sockets, which I assume were stuck in there to hold the brain in, really added to the cave man look.
The pig was finally presented to a private party, cut tableside and then sent back to the kitchen to arrange on plates with wild mushrooms of huge porcinis, mushrooms of death, and girolle.
Unfortunately I was too busy filleting pigeon and hacking apart chickens to order that I didn't get to see the finished plates. I can't say that I ever want to cook or prepare another baby boar ever again, but I can say that it is strangely empowering to know how to and also that I could do it again if I absolutely had to in order to survive. Very strange indeed...