Day 1. The arrival.
When my arrival from Graig Farm Organic Meat arrived, for a brief moment I wondered if I had made a mistake, exchanging the out of stock and ubiquitous oxtail for half a pigs head. Elaine, the nice lady at the other end of the phone sounded slightly aghast but was accommodating nonetheless.
I also wondered if I was slightly touched by the madness. After all, did anybody eat pigs heads anymore these days? According to my middle-aged work colleagues, it was something that their parents ate as a treat during the war but what housewife knows what to do when presented with the head of an animal?
Yet still I persisted with my slightly unnerving idea and armed only with Jane Grigsons indispensable Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery and Fergus Hendersons Nose to Tail Eating, I felt suitably buoyed to complete the task in hand, whilst giving the beastie the dignity that it deserved. He had unwittingly given his life to me and I felt the least I could do was to make the very best of his special gift.
I unpacked my freezer box full of meat and found the half a head, nestling beneath freezer packs and pork hocks. I covered it back up.
After I had frozen the rest of the meat, I put my pigs head in the fridge. I needed some time to think this over.
Day 2. The brining.
After much research and mulling things over, I decided to start off with brining the pigs head. This would give me another 24 hours deep consideration. According to Jane Grigson, brining “improves the flavour immeasurably” and who am I to argue?
I returned from the supermarket laden with sea salt, lemons and a big bag of sugar. The brine is an aromatic blend of peppercorns, bay leaves, nutmeg and cloves simmered briefly with the salt (a whole kilo of it!), sugar (a whole kilo of it!) and the juice of four squeezed lemons. And of course water. Lots and lots of water.
Unlike Mrs Grigson, I didn’t have a stoneware (NOT earthenware, she strictly notes) container for the job in hand so used my special christened-for-the-purpose black plastic bucket.
Paul unwrapped the pigs head, automatically assuming that he had been allocated the job of removing the (sharp intake of breath) brains. After much prodding gingerly with a knife and spoon, he managed to successfully remove the half of brain that remained without ever having to lay a finger on what lay before him.
“I’m leaving you to it now.” And with that, he went downstairs, clutching his A-Z of Vegetarian Food to his chest and sweating profusely.
As I waited for the brine to boil, I turned my attention to the pig. He lay there, on the plastic bag he had been wrapped in, in two distinct halves (or quarters, if you will). One half his upper head, the other his lower head. His eye cavity was thankfully empty but he had also been deprived of his snout and ear. Not that he had any use for them any longer – he was now snuffling around looking for acorns in the sky – but, I would have still liked to have him mostly intact, if not entirely.
I delicately lifted up the top half of his head and wondered how something that still looked so pink could be so dead. This is the closest I have ever come to the actual being of this beast. I felt around his eye socket, wondering what he had seen and pulled the hairs around where his nose should have been, mentally hearing the squeal he would have emitted in real life. There and then I decided to give my pigs head a name – William, after my favourite author, William S Burroughs. It was the least I could do.
The lower half of his head, namely the jaw, cheek and all the good stuff, looked incredibly meaty. I was thrilled at the thought of what William and I could produce.
I placed the two halves lovingly in the bucket and poured the brine over the top. I hoped that he would approve of this fragrant bath but I knew deep down he would have preferred mud. In 24-48 hours time the hard work would start...