February 22, 2011
Looking back now, it was one of the most peaceful places I think I've ever known.
The author says that if it's handled correctly after the harvest, the "lowly"
javelina can be a gastronomic delight. Pictured is Col. Evan Quiros, owner of the famous Shipp Ranch.
Looking back now, it was one of the most peaceful places I think I've ever known. Late evening just before dark, the only noises that could be heard were a few crickets and various critters working their way through the impenetrable chaparral comprised of mesquite, prickly pear, acacia, and lotebush. The setting was the Shipp Ranch east of Laredo in South Texas--one of my favorite hangouts. My friend, Esteban, had worked for Col. Evan Quiros, owner of the Shipp, for many years, and he was an expert cowboy and brush guide. I'd been lucky he'd taken a liking to me, since I was just a gringo kid who spoke poor Spanish.
Esteban had brought me out to the peaceful little spot on the east side of the Shipp to help me get a shot at a South Texas Javelina. At the time, Javelina were considered varmints, and there was no license requirement to hunt them. My dad and Evan had business to tend to at the Shipp headquarters and had asked Esteban to get me out of their hair for a while, so we'd decided that bagging javelina would be a fine way to pass the time. After we'd sat enjoying the quiet for a while, we began hearing some movement in the brush about 30 or 40 yards away, down the little sendero we'd been watching. Esteban tapped my shoulder and smiled. Soon we heard the weird popping noise made by javelina when they gnash and snap their tusks. A short time later, they showed themselves, and I quickly got the drop on a large male with my Savage Model 99 .243. The shot was good, and the pig dropped in his tracks. Esteban was ecstatic, and we rushed over to check the kill. After we'd admired the javelina a minute or two, I pulled out my hunting knife, planning to gut the thing. Esteban gave me an odd look, then shook his finger in the negative.
"No, no podemos comerlo," he said, indicating we wouldn't be eating our harvest.
"But why?" I asked.
Esteban explained, mostly in Spanish, that Javelina meat smelled just like the pig laying in front of us--foul.
I was quite disappointed as I'd had no idea javelina wouldn't be great on the barbeque. Esteban was an expert at cooking my favorite Shipp Ranch dish, which was cabrito (roasted goat). I figured he could do wonders with javelina over mesquite, but it wasn't to happen.
Upon our return to the Shipp headquarters, I asked Col. Quiros about eating javelina, and he provided much the same response as Esteban had.
"The cowboys won't even eat 'em," the Colonel growled. "Well, sometimes if they're hungry enough, but only in tamales, with a lot of chile powder and garlic to kill the smell."
After that, I went many years touting the fact that javelina meat was entirely inedible until my good friend Sgt. Jim Hiltsley of the New Mexico State Police set me straight. Jim made a high-stakes bet that not only would I like his javelina recipe, I'd want more than one helping. Jim was more or less correct.
He had drawn a permit to take a New Mexico javelina and quickly filled the tag. He threw a little get-together to show off his javelina cooking skills, which turned out to be awesome. He'd cubed the meat, then pressure cooked it, then added his special barbeque sauce, and allowed it to cook for hours. It was delectable.
What I didn't know about Jim's recipe was that the secret to successfully cooking javelina lies entirely in the way the animal is handled after harvest. Sometime later I learned the technique from rancher Penn Baggett of Ozona, Texas. My friend Penn explained that although javelina wasn't his favorite meal, it could be enjoyed if it was cooked right. He explained the technique of removing the two musk glands that protrude from the javelina's back. This must be done with surgical precision, and any slip of the blade and spilling of musk on the meat ruins it entirely. Penn decided we should harvest a Baggett Ranch javelina so he could demonstrate.
After taking what Penn decided was a perfect eatin' size hog with a DPMS AR in .223, we set upon dressing him out. Penn hung the javelina from a tree to begin the procedure. Using an extremely sharp blade, Penn expertly carved around the glands and removed them in their entirety, including the musk sacs underneath the skin. As he skinned the hog, he was extremely careful not to touch the meat with his hand, plus he didn't allow the meat to come in contact with any part of the outside of the hide. Penn later sent me home with a perfectly processed javelina, advising me to cook him any way I'd like.
My old friend and fellow lawman Bill Fort had decided to throw a little pachanga in Alpine, Texas, and I figured it might be just the right setting in which to have a javelina barbeque. Bill agreed. I bathed the javelina in my secret marinade overnight, then placed it in the smoker with indirect heat and heavy mesquite smoke for several hours, which produced a bright red smoke rind on the meat. I removed the javelina from the smoke and placed it in a deep baking pan with seasoning and a bottle of Mexican beer. Sealing the pan tightly with foil, I then placed the concoction in the oven at about 225 degrees for several hours. Letting the javelina cool a bit, I was then able to easily pull the bone out of the meat, which I shredded with two forks. At Bill's pachanga, we served the mesquite-smoked javelina with fresh corn tortillas and pico de gallo. It was a hit with all who tried it--some didn't believe they were eating javelina. Granted, there was an abundance of Mexican beer and other beverages present at Bill's barbeque, but we found that the leftover peccary was even good the next day.
If you're planning a hunt anytime soon, don't make the mistake I did for so long in not processing your harvest due to the disagreeable odor of the javelina and rumors of it being inedible. Proper meat handling, mesquite smoking, and the right condiments can work wonders.
Alas, the lowly javelina can be a gastronomic delight.