Simple and hearty today. We’re going back for a taste of the ancient Near East.
Thanks to the famous Greek historian Herodotus, most anthropologists believed that Egyptians avoided pork either for religion or out of disgust, but evidence has shown that first wild boar, and then domesticated pig as well as their fat as a cooking medium were consumed regularly up until the New Kingdom. In this late period, when a rising sort of middle class could afford to eat pork, the elites may have shunned it to distinguish themselves. After that, pigs were considered a lower class food.
We’re tracing Egypt from the very beginning, so for this dish I’m gonna say pigs are not yet domesticated. Luckily, I’ve got the shoulder of a wild boar. Boar is interesting. It cooks like pig but will remind you more of beef than of pork.
Why boil it all? Well first off, it’ll really be more of a heavy simmer. But the long cook time needed to make pork shoulder tender will work well with a lot of liquid, keeping the meat nice and juicy and forming a flavorful broth in the process. Secondly, pottery changed cooking in the Neolithic. Pottage, or soups and stews, were very popular all over the Near East. Even though we’re using this recipe to kick off History of Food’s Egypt episode, this is a dish you could probably find all over the fertile crescent and beyond. Anywhere there was wild boar to be domesticated, and pots invented to cook it in.
Remember though… because it has meat, this is automatically an upper class dish. It may be found all over the region, but probably only on elite tables.
As for the topping, lentils were a staple in gardens everywhere too, a great protein supplement in a grain heavy diet. Since we’re going for a rich person’s dinner, I figured why not go all out, import some olive oil like the Pre-dynastic Egyptian elites did. Mix with some yogurt, some onions (Egyptians loved their onions), and you’ve got a great side dish or topping.
Thanks to my friend Al Goehring for supplying the boar for this one.
BOILED BOAR (Or Pork Shoulder) WITH POTTAGE VEGETABLES
1 Boar shoulder
2 sm. Onions, rough diced.
1/2 head garlic cloves
3 tbsp. lard
Assorted Root Vegetables (pictured: carrot, parsnip, turnip, cabbage, lotus root)
large grain salt
- Salt the Boar shoulder all over and let rest on a rack in the fridge for 3-4 hours for a very quick cure.
- After cure, in a large pot, sweat the onions and garlic over medium high heat. Add the Boar shoulder, salt and all, and enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium low for a rolling, bubbly simmer. Cover with lid. Cook for 2-3 hours until fork tender, then remove from pot.
- Cut the vegetables to desired size or leave them whole. Add to braising liquid and keep the heavy simmer going. Cover but leave the lid cracked, until the veggies are tender. 20-60m, depending on size.
- Meanwhile, after meat has rested 20 minutes, slice it into thin pieces, add back to pot for 2 minutes when ready to serve. Use a bowl and serve with a spoon to get all that brothy goodness.
1/2 cup Lentils
1/4 cup sliced spring onions or scallions
4 mint leaves
4 stalks cilantro
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. Yogurt
- Add the lentils to a pot and cover with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat a little but keep it basically boiling. Stir frequently until the lentils are tender, 20-30m.
- Meanwhile, slice the onions and lightly chop the herbs. Mix with yogurt, herbs, olive oil (Olive oil was not native to Egypt, but the elites did import it) and season with salt.
- Drain the lentils and add them still warm to the bowl. Mix together and serve on top of meat and fish, or just eat as a side dish.