I recently went on my third boar hunt in the hills of Tuscany. The first time was 20-odd years ago, and I only managed to get a single shot off, which went about a foot over its head. It didn’t even flinch, just continued to stare at me, indignant. Since then I’ve taken up game shooting of the winged variety so my eye is a tad better – not great but getting there.
The second time was different. After some light-footed stalking – these beasts can sense human footsteps from hundreds of metres away – we came across a likely candidate, a big, mean-looking male. I lifted my rifle, measured my shot and dispatched the creature with my first bullet. The feeling is miles away from shooting game birds. This is a big mammal, really something to behold, totally different from a bird just dropping at your feet. Only after lumping it in the Land Rover did I start to think about how I was going to prepare it.
So this time, on a hunt in around an hour outside of Florence, I was confident, prepared to employ that crack shot again and bring home the bacon, so to speak. It’s the hope that kills you. We were hunting with bloodhounds and saw a fair bit of action in the woods but my inexperienced eye failed us on the day. I just never seemed to get a clear line of sight, or the nimble things would scurry into the undergrowth before I’d had a chance to raise my rifle. In my head I was already deciding how I was going to cook the thing, which might have put me off my game. That’s my excuse, anyway. “Must shoot more,” was the depressing advice from my guide.
I managed to fool a few people who knew I’d gone shooting by sending them pictures of the last one, but eventually someone noticed I was wearing a completely different outfit from the pictures I’d posted earlier. The shame!
My plan was to cook an Indian boar feast for friends who own Castello di Vicarello near Grosseto, but thanks to me we were boarless apart from a shoulder my guide had bagged the week before. Thankfully there was more than enough meat on it for the six of us and I managed to rustle up a five course supper. I brought my own spice mixes from London in anticipation of a boar and I got started in the kitchen, a two ring cooker in a hunting lodge, which was a little cosy but hey, confined spaces are sometimes a good thing for organisation.
The butchery process certainly gets the mind going, and as I was tackling each joint and muscle with a razor sharp knife I came up with the menu. Jointing a beast, whether it’s a rabbit or a boar, is fairly straightforward. I singled out muscles within the joints that need very little cooking and tougher muscles that needed a slow cook. This is called seam butchery and means you don’t end up with some tender and some chewy pieces in your pie or stew.
We knocked up some boar bhajis, with the less tender meat finely chopped, made into keema and served on homemade flatbreads. The more tender meat I turned into tikka and the chunkier bits I used in a biryani in the traditional fashion, with a layer of meat and sauce topped with rice and a pastry crust. Last of all I made a stock with the bones and sinewy bits, which I chopped and stuffed into little potato and coconut cakes. We washed it down with wines from the surrounding vineyard. Like fishing, it’s not all about what you catch.
• Mark went hunting with guide Oliver Rampley, whose business Altana Europe focuses on sustainable hunting, fishing and bird watching. For more info go to altanaeurope.com