Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Pig Stew

My "Viking" pork stew
While I was reading An Early Meal, I kept an eye out, as I always do, for a recipe or two that might suit my taste and that of my (primarily) carnivorous husband.  

It was surprisingly hard work.  Serra and Tunberg emphasize, rightly, that the Viking age Scandinavians were largely dairy farmers, and at many locations in the Scandinavia of the period, cheese, skyr (a soft cheese very similar to yogurt), and butter were key components of the diet. I happen to like yogurt and cheese, but my husband, Eric, detests almost all forms of cheese and doesn't care much for yogurt--making that class of recipes a non-starter in my home.

There are recipes for roasted meats in An Early Meal, but my kitchen set up does not make roasting meat easy to do on a weekly basis.  Frying fish would be possible in my kitchen (and Serra and Tunberg theorize that in the spring and summer months Viking age Scandinavians increased their protein and food intake with fish), but, again, my husband is not fond of fish.  Unusual meats (such as the calf-tongue recipe in the book) drew a spousal grimace, and vegetarian porridges are always a hard sell for someone as meat-oriented as he.

That left me with Serra and Tunburg's proposed recipe for wild boar stew.  It features boar meat, leeks and kale gently simmered in butter, with pancetta to add an additional dash of flavor, and "3 dl of wheat, whole seeds without the hull" to add the starch that makes for a more complete meal.  The major seasoning was fresh thyme, which I had used in other recipes that my husband liked.  Best of all, I could see how to adapt the recipe for my crockpot, which  I usually use for stew-making.  So I decided that would be the recipe I would try.

To my surprise, our local butcher had wild boar available in the form of boar chops.  When I brought them home, Eric looked at me so appealingly that I didn't have the heart to reserve the actual boar meat (which we enjoyed) for the stew.  So I bought ordinary pork roast to chop into chunks for the stew.  I wasn't sure where to find wheat in the form of "whole seeds without the hull", or even exactly what they are despite the Wikipedia article on the subject, so I made do with buckwheat kashi.  Leeks, kale, and pancetta are easy to find at my local supermarket, as was fresh thyme, and I had mustard powder at home; that completed the ingredients I needed.

Serra and Tunberg's recipe directs the cook to boil the boar meat, gently fry the vegetables in butter, then add in the meat and stock created from boiling it, along with the mustard, kashi and thyme.  I don't have a pot appropriately sized for this approach, so my plan was to saute the kale and leeks in butter, transfer them to the crockpot, brown the meat in butter with the pancetta, add the meat to the crockpot, and then add in some beef bouillon and the kashi.  I had never cooked with kale before, and I was surprised at how coarse the leaves are and how much cooking they needed to be manageable.  In the end, I only used about 300g of the 500g of kale called for in the recipe.  

Despite all the compromises I made, my stew looked a lot like the picture in An Early Meal (see the photograph above).  Unfortunately, choosing domestic pork was a mistake, as it made the final product a bit bland, but overall I liked the result.

Eric, unfortunately, did not.  He complained that the stew had an "odd aftertaste" which we ultimately concluded was the flavor of the kale.  (This was confirmed later, when I made another batch of stew without the kale but with the sauteed leeks, a vegetable he really likes.)  Perhaps I'll try this stew again, without the kale but with boar meat and a different period vegetable, such as turnips.  Or maybe I'll have better luck with Serra and Tunberg's proposed recipe for goose stew.


  1. Eric the husband speaking. I should note that everything about the recipe worked for me except the kale. I think it would have been OK with a milder cabbage or cabbage-like vegetable. The kale tasted ... musty, like a room that hasn't been aired out in too long.

    And I'm not as opposed to fish as the article implies, either - I like fish when it's extremely fresh, but unless you catch it yourself that's difficult to arrange. The oxidation products get very noticeable to me after about three hours.

    I'm looking forward to trying the goose stew.

    1. Hello, love! Welcome to my blog. I apologize if I mischaracterized your feelings about fish.

      The only problem with trying the goose stew will be laying my hands on a 6-pound goose...perhaps our local butcher can help.

  2. The wheat we used for this dish is sometimes called Wheatberry
    Not entirely sure how buckwheat will influence the taste and texture
    In other dishes we have used barley though as that was the most common grain

    1. Danile; thanks for the URL; I'll check it out. That way, I can tell you the difference. :-)

      I have used barley with other stews I've made (mostly stews I did not expressly intend to be period) and I like it better than wheat anyway. Maybe I'll try making the stew with barley and boar meat sometime.