'Desert Rats' turned tasty

For more food-related blogs from Georgia Pellegrini, check out her website www.GeorgiaPellegini.com.

I recently explored West Texas, where the Javelina run wild and the border patrol dogs sniff your car madly. I was on a trip to CF Ranch, 8,000 acres in the the Big Bend region, near Alpine Texas, and the set location of many old western movies, from "The Streets of Lauredo" to "Dead Man's Walk."


Adobo Javelina

I was there to hunt Javelina, what the local cowboys call a "desert rat." Rumors were that it was very hard to make the Javelina taste good, and so I accepted the challenge. It was a magical place to hunt, a place I'd recommend strongly for anyone looking for their first Javelina experience.

Javelina is a Collared Peccary, and is the only wild, native, pig-like animal found in the United States. They are primarily herbivores, feeding on various cacti, mesquite beans, sotol, lechuguilla, forbs and other succulent vegetation.

Early Spanish explorers, in their ventures into the New World, encountered an animal similar in appearance to the swine of the Old World. They called the animal Jabeli (Arabic-Spanish for wild boar) or Jabalina (Spanish for spear, due to its spear-like teeth).

Today, in the southern United States, herds occur in Saguaro deserts, where they prefer mesquite habitats with an abundance of prickly pear cacti. They also occur in semi-desert canyons, cliffs and watering holes near cacti, chaparral and oak. Physiological and behavioral adaptations make them versatile and allow them to deal with extreme climates such as high heat, periodic cold and low rainfall.

And what do they taste like? Quite like wild boar. The trick is to immediately remove the gland from the Javelina that is stored on the top of the spine. If the oil is released the meat is less palatable.

Javelina does have a naturally smoky flavor, and there are ways to use that to your advantage. It works well in chili for example. I decided to play on the smokiness with some chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce.

If you don't live in a region overrun with Javelina, do not fear. I have included some alternative meats that will work very well with this recipe. And as always, I've included some step-by-step photos to help you along.

What's the most unique animal you've ever hunted?

Adobo Javelina Backstrap

2 Javelina backstraps
1 chipotle chile pepper in adobo sauce, finely chopped, with about 1 or 2 teaspoons of the sauce
1/3 cup cider vinegar
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

1. Place in a re-sealable plastic food storage bag with all of the ingredients except 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Refrigerate for 6 hours.

2. Remove the meat from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature for 20 minutes.

3. Tie the backstraps with kitchen twine so they are uniform in thickness. If you are using tenderloins, tie them together using the same method.

4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Heat a large skillet and when hot, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Sear the tenderloins until golden brown on all sides, about 4 minutes. Transfer the skillet to the oven and cook for 12-15 minutes longer, until they reach an internal temperature of about 140 degrees F.

5. Remove from the heat and set on a plate. Cover with tin foil and let sit for 20 minutes before slicing to serve.

Serves: 4 - 6

Serve with: Guacamole and wild rice

Alternative meats: Wild boar, pork, venison, chicken breasts (though optimal internal temperatures will vary)

Editor's note: Georgia's passion for good food began at an early age, on a boulder by the side of a creek as she caught her trout for breakfast. After Wellesley and Harvard -- and a brief stint on Wall Street -- she decided to leave the cubicle world behind and enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in New York City.

Upon graduating at the top of her class, she worked in two of America's best restaurants, Gramercy Tavern and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, as well as in one of the premier destination restaurants in Provence, France, La Chassagnette. It was there that she decided it was time to really get at the heart of where our food comes from and head to the source -- Mother Nature. She bought a shotgun and set her sites on the cutting edge of culinary creativity intent on pushing the boundaries of American gastronomy, from field to stream to table.

Her new book, "Food Heroes: 16 Culinary Artisans Preserving Tradition" is available wherever books are sold. She currently roams the world, hunting, tasting good food and meeting the good people who make it. You can read more about her work at www.GeorgiaPellegrini.com.