A few years ago, Isaac Toups drove into his father’s deer camp on the Louisiana-Mississippi line to find that his dad had shot and skinned a wild hog, rubbed down the whole carcass with salt, pepper, and Creole mustard, and had it waiting for him in a giant cooler. “The only chef’s tool I had was my pocketknife,” Toups recalls, “but we went to work.” Toups wrapped the hog in chicken wire, threaded two lengths of rebar through the carcass for handles, and slow-roasted it over wood from an oak that had fallen nearby. “That was some rudimentary shit,” he says, laughing. “But now they beg me to come back every year.”
Not all of Toups’s efforts are so elemental. He spent a decade working the stoves of Emeril Lagasse’s kitchens, and as chef and owner of the acclaimed Toups’ Meatery in New Orleans, the proud Cajun—his family has been in Louisiana for three hundred years—has been a James Beard Award semifinalist three times. Wild hog, he says, “has a definite role in the Cajun repertoire.” While he often uses healthy doses of aromatics such as cumin and coriander, this pork chop relies on a tangy sweet gastrique. “It’s simple, just syrup, butter, and vinegar,” Toups explains. “But the first time I put it in my mouth, jack, it close to knocked me down.” His version is characteristically hyperlocal, an alchemical brew of Louisiana-born Steen’s cane syrup and cane vinegar.
The domesticated-pig version of this recipe is a Toups’ Meatery staple he serves over his signature dirty rice. But using wild hog deepens the taste—and the experience. “The brine helps keep the chop juicy since you have to go with a little higher temperature on the wild boar,” he says. “It’s intense and earthy, and the more you eat, the more you get that wild goodness just ingrained in you.”