Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Moroccan Braised Boar with Orange Spiced Couscous

I am still a bit dizzy from the sensuous experience I just had with my lunch (I will call it Moroccan Braised Boar with Orange Spiced Couscous) but I will pull myself together and tell you the story of how my lunch came to be.

Three days ago my mom hinted that there was a treat for me that she had picked up at Fiesta Farms. I opened the double doors to the fridge and scanned quickly before going straight for the cheese drawer. “Ricotta!?” “no”….more scanning…then looking into the meat drawer, “duck breast!!!?” “nope, something else in there” …What could be better than a surprise duck breast? I picked up a styrofoam tray with a small, purple-hued shank…. “BOAR SHANK!”.

I had never cooked boar before. One idea would pop into my mind, and then I would be smacked with 10 more succulent ideas sprouting from the first. Maybe braise it in tomato sauce then tear it up and put it inside a ravioli…or braise it and shred it for on top pasta….or…try to cook it sous-vide….or ….or… My thoughts slowed down when I realized I would have a lot of time to think about my boar recipe.

Mom was making dinner that night (pasta con salsiccia finocchio e pollo in brodo) and the following night we were going to Aunty Kim’s for dinner (roast chicken with gravy, mashed squash and roast potatoes).

Last night, before I made Sheppard’s pie (yes, the proper way: with lamb) with mashed butternut squash on top (not so traditional, but delicious), I marinated my boar shank.

By this time I had checked on him every day, studied him for inspiration and had decided he would become a Moroccan shank. I looked through my cookbooks and the Internet and took note of some Moroccan flavours. Garlic, aniseed, cinnamon, coriander, caraway, turmeric, rose water, mace, mint, nutmeg, onion, parsley, pepper, saffron, sesame, thyme, almonds...

Into a ziploc bag I put:

- my boar shank
- ½ cinnamon stick
- zest of ¼ of a large orange
- 1 tsp chili flakes
-1 bay leaf
- 1 small sprig rosemary (to bring out the earthiness of the game)
- freshly ground pepper
- 2 cloves

I gently rubbed the boar around inside the sealed bag and put him back into his drawer in the fridge to soak up the flavour until I was ready for him and he was ready for me….we needed about 24 hours apart.

This morning I woke up and checked on my boar, moved him around inside the bag, put him back, ate breakfast then checked on him again. I checked my emails, harvested my Farmville farm, but I couldn’t stop thinking about my boar shank.

Well…it is 10am now, but he needs to braise long and slow, and I want him for lunch…so I better just go pay some attention to him instead of sitting here thinking about lunch.

I couldn’t find any inspiring recipes so I decided to be intuitive about it and let the ingredients inspire me. I set the oven to 170 C (a good braising temperature). I pulled out the meat from my fridge, patted it dry with paper towel and discarded the marinating liquid. While the shank came closer to room temperature, I got all my ingredients ready:

- vegetable oil
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 shallot, peeled and left whole
- 2 cloves of Trevor’s garlic, but if you don’t know Trevor you can just use Ontario
- about ½ cup red wine
- 2 sun-dried tomatoes

I heated up a pan and then added about 1 tbsp vegetable oil. When the oil was hot - but not smoking - I added the shank and browned it on all sides. *Remember that you are the one controlling the heat: If it isn't browning fast enough, turn up the heat and turn it down if it is burning in seconds.

I removed the shank and put it in a baking dish small enough - but tall enough - that the shank would be covered about half way with liquid.

Back to the pan: On medium heat, I used the red wine to deglaze (that means the pan goes HISSSSS) then added the shallot, the garlic cloves and the bay leaf. * Be careful for sizzling red wine while you deglaze. White shirts are a poor clothing decision.* I stirred that around a little and then added about 1 cup of water. Back on the heat until bubbling again and then over the happy, browned shank. Drop in 2 sun-dried tomatoes (for acidity and depth) and cover tightly with tin foil. Back into the oven at 170 C (that’s about 340 F).

You may check on your shank after one hour- give or take a few minutes. Braising is a nice option for people who are easily whisked away from the kitchen and distracted. Back to the shank: Remove from the oven, carefully take off foil, flip him onto his other side, put the foil back and seal tightly and then return to the oven for 45 more minutes.

During this time, you can go to your local store and buy the couscous you though you had. When you get home you can prepare the couscous:

Bring to a boil:

- 1 cup of water
- 1 clove
- ¼ cinnamon stick
- pinch of saffron
- 1 clove of garlic, sliced
- pinch of salt

When it comes to a boil, pour it to a heatproof bowl filled with:

- 1 cup couscous
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp orange zest
- 3 dried apricots, cut into small cubes
- ½ tbsp olive oil
- ¼ cup chopped (unsalted and roasted) almonds

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let it sit for 5 minutes. Couscous is super easy to make as long as you don’t interfere. Let it work its magic.

Take the shank out of the oven and put him in dish to hang out while you prepare the sauce.

Into a small pot over medium heat, strain the braising liquid (discard the garlic, onion and bay leaf but keep the sun-dried tomatoes, chop them up and set aside). To the liquid, add:

- ½ tsp maple syrup ('cause why not, right?)

Reduce the liquid just a little bit. After you have pulled the meat slowly off its bone - your mouth watering as you contemplate the seductive qualities of food - add it with the sun-dried tomatoes to the rich sauce. Taste and season accordingly. There should be just enough sauce to coat each piece of meat; this isn’t a meat soup. Turn off the heat.

I boiled some salted water and tossed in some fresh green beans. I cooked them until tender and then put them between the couscous and the boar when I plated. Your lunch, your choice of vegetables…but the green beans were tasty.

*This recipe makes 2 lunch servings or 1 dinner serving.

To plate: Use a fork to fluff up the couscous ( after you have removed the one clove and the cinnamon stick) and give it a taste. Put a little mound of couscous on the bottom of your plate and top with green beans/vegetable of choice and then spoon the meat on top. Drizzle over some of the sauce.

Enjoy your meal and be thankful for it.

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