Feb 07 2022

Into the Wild! Talking Game Meats from Spain

It's "game on" right now for specialty meats from Spain. Let's take a walk on the wild side, with a look at Marx Foods imports and this new wave of meats from Spain that are causing a sensation.

In Spain it’s “game on” these days for wild meats, with a rise in popularity of traditionally hunted species that end up in gourmet dishes across high end restaurants. Meats such as venison, wild boar, duck and hare are marking modern menus with their unique flavor.

For a traditional approach to wild meats, you only need to look to Toledo, in Castilla la Mancha, Spain. Hailed as Capital of Gastronomy in the last decade, this rugged mountainous setting plays host to rural recipes rooted in heritage. Ciervo en Salsa is a must try, as is the partridge stew; but there’s a real toledano twist - partridge in chocolate, anyone?

Tasty as it all sounds, there’s so much more to wild game than really meats the eye. Did you know that game is usually of higher nutritional content, rich in vitamins and minerals, free of additives and lower in fat than the usual mass produced meats? The Iberian Peninsula boasts some of the best landscapes for free-range style cultivation of these species and around 90% of it is exported worldwide.

Quality and authenticity

“Getting into the game” so to speak, we talk with Justin Marx of Marx Foods about their own selection of Spanish specialty meats and what they mean for the US consumer.

“Our customers are looking for quality and authenticity,” says Marx, when asked about the upward tick in interest in game meats across the country. The trend aligns with the gradual shift in consumer values seen in recent years - “they want products that are treated with care, they want animal welfare, they are interested in sustainability, and they want top quality”.

Products that are better for the environment are better for the consumer too and game meats are a good example of these common interests. Game is a central tenet of a lot of Spanish cooking, what are the most popular specialty meats from Spain?

Marx Foods offers quail from Lleida, rabbit from Valladolid and DOP Guijuelo Jamón Ibérico as the most representative of current market trends. “Each of these products are regional, descending from wild lineage”. He continues by confirming that they are now “small, family run operations that are not just making decisions based on profitability”. What that means is a more conscious sourcing of meats.

“Producers are really focused on creating something of excellent quality” says Marx, and Spain is definitely one of the most important imports in the meat market. Currently Marx Foods is seeking out suckling pig cochinillo to add to its growing range of Spanish meats.

A wide array of recipes

So let’s do this: How can we update our everyday meals using these more sustainable - and tasty - meats from Spain? Marx gives us his home cooked suggestions.

“My wife makes our Ibérico pork into Hungarian goulash, but I also recommend these cutlets for pounding and searing on the grill”. He insists that Ibérico is the best pork in the world, especially with a side of seasonal vegetables, such as “onions, peppers, zucchini and asparagus - if it’s in season”.

Next up, quail are great in a chicken soup, as quail bones add amazing depth of texture to a poultry broth. The game bird is in fact a strong source of Vitamin C, as well as a host of other minerals. Another suggestion from Marx: “pan-seared (quail) with potatoes. Or tortilla, if you want to try some other Spanish dishes”.

The good news for game meat eaters is that “everything is available all year round”. Thanks to gentle management of these types of wild and specialty meats from Spain, you can just change up your Spanish recipes with the same meats, depending on the season. In fact, he has two such suggestions for the Spanish rabbit. In winter the Marx household tends to braise it in a stew, whereas in summer they cook it in a paella “straight on the grill”. Seeing as a typical Valencian paella includes pork cutlets, chicken, and rabbit, it wouldn’t be unheard of to combine all three of the above for a jaw-dropping grill out, Spanish style.

When asked about what wines they like with their specialty Spanish meats, Marx has two favorites - “for white meats, Rías Baixas DO - like an Albariño - and definitely a Rioja DOC for red meats and stews”. Lesser known, but no-less fantastic wines from Spain that are worth a try for these types of recipes would be an earthy Cariñena (red) or a nuanced Xarel·lo (white).

Although based in Seattle, Marx Foods also distributes in New Jersey and NYC, meaning that their customer base stretches from coast to coast. And chefs across the country are turning less-than-ordinary meats into delectable culinary cuisine. Take Seattle’s own The Harvest Vine for example, with its grilled Iberico pork, panadera potatoes and cider sauce.

Back in Spain, top chefs are turning the tables with their gamey alta cocina. From the famous Akelarre restaurant in San Sebastian right across to Barcelona and the Costa Brava, Michelin star-studded restaurants are putting out partridge meatballs, roast deer with cocoa beans…you get the picture. So let your culinary imagination go wild with game meats from Spain.