Why Austria goes wild for Wild

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Austrian cuisine is still very seasonal – which is a very welcome change to the globalization-related all-year-round strawberries and other items which used to be seasonal. Usually family-run restaurants will have a chalk board that proclaims something being in season – be it asparagus (Spargel), goose (Martinigänsl), grape must (Sturm), or as currently is the case – Wild.

Wild is an umbrella term for any animals living wild that are hunted in accordance with hunting law. Lower Austria, especially on the edge of the Marchfeld, has many hunting stands in its flat fields, and a lot of animals are hunted and eaten for their meat. Of course not all of the animals that are hunted are hunted at the same time – there are regulated hunting periods (Schusszeiten) depending on the breeding cycles and biological cycles of the animals concerned. Some places will serve Wild off-season, which indicates that it has been frozen rather than having been shot out of season (i.e. illegally). A number of animals are classed as Wild:

Venison (Reh or Hirsch) – apparently there is a difference in the length of the meat fibres between Reh and Hirsch, in that Reh has shorter fibres – no doubt Heston Blumenthal would be able to eulogise about the virtues of this difference. There is a certain culinary prestige for meat that has come from fawn or yearlings, while cuts from calves and yearlings are popular on the menu for Hirsch.

Chamois (Gams) is mainly found on the menu in more mountainous areas – and it has a distinctively dark meat. Boar (Wildschwein) is a fattier meat, although it is leaner than pork from domestic pigs. Boar can be found all year round. Hare (Hase) generally tends to be from young hares (less than a year old, with the hunting season being during the autumn. Pheasant (Fasan) is often served in cuts or as a whole, and often it tends to be the meat of the cock pheasant that is used. Wild duck (wild duck or mallard (Stockente)) usually tends to be lower in fat than farmed duck – with a darker meat that the farm-reared variety.