Austin restaurateur wants Texans to save the environment — by eating wild hogs
In Austin’s Cherrywood Neighborhood, the Dai Due restaurant has an unusual menu item — a wild boar confit.
The rich flavor profile is created with all locally sourced ingredients, cook Henry Tiles explained.
“Today, it's going to be turnips, parsley, dill, a little bit of orange zest, and then we're going to hit it with a red wine vinaigrette,” he said. “There's also going to be a borscht broth on top.”
It’s a popular dish.
“On a weekend I can easily sell 20 to 30,” he said.
Dai Due chef and owner Jesse Griffiths said there’s a reason the menu lists the meat as “wild boar.”
“What we learned early on is that feral hog chorizo doesn't sell nearly as well as wild boar chorizo,” he said. “But you will find often it's just a semantic deal… Feral hogs are hogs that are on the wrong side of the fence. They're escaped, or they could be, you know, 100 generations wild, but they're just hogs without addresses.”
There are a lot of hogs without addresses in the U.S. — more than 6 million across about 35 states, and about 3 million of those are in Texas, according to the USDA. It’s a huge problem for rural areas.
“They are very good at procreating,” Griffiths explained. “They're very intelligent. They're not going to go away, and they're also incredibly destructive.”
Texans, he said, should try eating the problem. He literally wrote the book on how to do just that: “The Hog Book: A Chef's Guide to Hunting, Butchering and Cooking Wild Pigs.”
“In order to pick an ingredient, or take a stand on an ingredient, that's really going to be something that can make a difference… It’s the feral hog,” he said. “And I feel no guilt in killing and eating as many of those things as I possibly can.”
“As we say, anybody who removes a pig is a friend of ours,” said Michael Bodenchuk, the State Director for the Texas Wildlife Services Program. “But this takes a concerted effort, a planned effort to deal with.”
He called feral hogs “an ecological train wreck” and warned that without mitigation, more Texans will be affected.
“We joke there's two kinds of people in Texas: those that have feral hogs and those that will,” he said. “Feral hogs are already moving into the suburbs. They're tearing up golf courses in public areas. We've got human safety risks associated with traffic accidents. And so if the population increases above the levels it is, yes, people will start noticing the problem — even in their own neighborhoods.”
His program coordinates with landowners to control wild hog populations.
John Tomeček also does this work. He’s an Assistant Professor and Wildlife Extension Specialist at Texas A&M AgriLife. He said hunting alone can’t contain the hog explosion. In fact, hunting actually helped light the fuse.
“They're not native wildlife, which means that they don't have a closed season on hunting, so they could be hunted year round,” he said. “There were folks, especially in the last couple decades of the 20th century, moving them to produce hunting opportunities, and essentially seeding pigs into new regions.”
He said dealing with such a massive problem will take a combination of techniques — hunting, trapping, fencing and potentially even poison or other biological controls.
“The trick in getting pigs managed long term is getting landscape scale coverage,” he said. “These things are everywhere, and you have connected populations that reproduce quite successfully and then reinhabit areas that are removed. You need everyone on the landscape, every land manager, landowner doing what they can with the goal of eradication in mind. We may never get there. It's the kind of the ‘shoot for the stars, reach the moon’ analogy.”
This isn’t the first time an invasive species has landed on a restaurant menu. You can order red lionfish on the east coast or kudzu vine salads throughout the south. Who would have guessed that ecological train wrecks could taste so good?