The hunting season is upon us. In the course of the next few months, many Namibians will hunt, and as a result, include venison as a major source of animal protein in their daily meals. For many the main purpose of hunting for meat is to make biltong and droeë wors.
In addition, some of the prime cuts such as the sirloin and fillet will be retained for general cooking, as might the whole joints of smaller antelope such as springbok.
With our abundance of huntable species, venison eaters are spoiled for choice. Oryx, kudu, eland and springbok, are perhaps the most common sources of venison in Namibia. Not only because of their numerical abundance, but also because their meat is regarded as of superior quality.
As I paged through some older cookbooks the other day, I became aware of just how narrow our use of venison had become. I came upon recipes for hare, porcupine, leguaan, tortoise, as well as, for a number of birds including the go-away-bird (kwêvoël), partridge (patrys), guineafowl (tarentaal), and flamingo (flamink). All of these we no longer eat, not even on the most special of occations.
It is true that many species are protected today (and rightly so) and thus their meat is no longer commonly available, but with an open mind and a sense of adventure, there are still enough for us to explore.
A case in point is our warthog (Phacochoerus aethiopicus): a species that is commonly available and quite delicious. In addition, its meat is substantially cheaper than that of the more commonly hunted species. So why do we not eat more warthog?
On the one hand there seems to be prejudice: the perception that, for some reason, the meat is inferior. Whether that perception is based on the general perception that the animal itself is little more than a low-value “nuisance”, or on some misconception that there is something inherently “unkosher” or unhealthy about the meat, is not always clear. Fact is, neither perceptions, are true.
The Government of Namibia’s State Veterinarian confirmed that there are no regulations prohibiting the utilization or consumption of warthog meat. There are, however, special regulations prohibiting the transportation of live warthog to farms or facilities housing domesticated pigs, or commercial piggeries.
These regulations are aimed to prevent or prohibit outbreaks of African Swine Flu (ASF). The ASF virus persistently infects its natural hosts – warthogs, bushpigs and some ticks (of the Ornithodoros genus) – without ill effects to the host – but causes haemorrhagic fever with high mortality among domesticated pigs.
But to hunt, process or consume warthog meat at home or on the farm is not only legal, but also safe, as ASF holds no danger. Humans are not susceptible to the virus. So you can eat warthog with complete peace of mind.
Many people claim that warthog meat tends to be dry and tough compared to normal pork. This is true to the same extend that a farm chicken would be dryer and tougher than the commercially produced chicken. In my experience, warthog is no tougher or dryer than any other species of venison. All have proper working muscles and low fat content.
Most possibly the prime reason for not exploring our warthog resource to greater capacity is our unfamiliarity with the actual cooking of the meat.
Like all meat, incorrect cooking causes dryness, particularly “over-cooking” the meat by exposing it to high heat for longer than what is necessary. This is particularly true for all lean meat whether it is from a kudu or an oryx or a springbok. It is not unique to warthog.
Traditionally warthog meat (as other venison) were laced with fat (particularly pork or sheep fat), wrapped in caul fat or stuffed with fatty forcemeat to prevent dryness.
Alternatively, the meat have been slow-braised with sufficient liquid or served with a variety of sauces made with meat or vegetable stock or wine.
A common way to tenderize the meat was to marinade or brine the meat before cooking it. Cultured dairy products (yogurt or buttermilk) or alcohol (white or red wine) or even acetic acid (vinegar) were popular bases for marinades back then, and typically the meat would be marinated for two to three days.
Finally, the meat would be tenderized by hanging it in a cool room for a number of days. This would allow enzymes enough time to break down the tough protein strands.
In these modern times our options for keeping our warthog meat juicy and tender are even greater.
Cooking the meat with a sous vide application will tenderize even the toughest cut without any significant reduction in juiciness. When cooking venison sous vide, less fat is required (if that is your preference) and what fat is added is added mostly for flavour.
If you lay your hands on some Transglutaminase (meat glue) the options become even more creative. Thin layers of fat or fatty cuts (e.g. pork belly) could be “glued” in between two layers of less fatty warthog. In addition to moistening the warthog meat, this technique could provide interesting flavour and texture additions.
The extensive time required for marinating tough cuts of venison can be reduced through the use of a vacuum machine, to “force” the liquid marinade into the meat.
For this week’s dish I have used the ribs of a young warthog. These were prepared as “spareribs”. They were first marinated using a wet rub consisting of a variety of spices and soy sauce to give the ribs an Asian flavour profile. To ensure the meat retain its moisture, the meat is first encased in parchment or baking paper, then sealed in foil. The ribs are then cooked for at least 3 hours in a very low oven to ensure tenderness.
I hope that by now I have inspired at least someone out there to be flamboyant with warthog. It is a prime product that deserves a more prominent place on our tables and on our menus.