Diary of a Pigs Head - Part 1

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...

34 comments:

Melting Wok said...

freya & paul, I'm thinking here who actually does the brining ie. who puts the heads into the pot, u or paul hehehe..err..waiting for day 3 now, quick !!

Freya and Paul said...

It was not me. I was scared.
-Paul

Gattina said...

Freya, you'll be a good forensic pathologist!
Too bad William's ears gone, they are pretty crunchy...

Kathryn said...

Wow! I never know what's coming next with you two. I hope you are going to eat some of William at some point although I scarcely dare look....!!!

Anonymous said...

When I was quite young, my dad raised hogs. He would butcher one and it would hang in the hayloft doorway. When ready to cut into meat sections, my mom would take the head and make head cheese and sulta (sp) from the meat in the head. I did like the head cheese with vinegar but don't ask me how she made it. The thoughts are a little grusesome --La Crosse Mom

Kelly-Jane said...

Ewwww! You are a brave woman and man! I'm afraid I've have had to leave the kitchen too. Jane G makes it all sound so easy...

KJxx

mooncrazy said...

I'm always amazed at your "goings on." You are two of the most adventerous cooks around.

Every culture that has a working class has dealt with this. Waste not, want not. I'm interested in what comes of William but can't say why.

Quellia said...

Ugh. Maybe I'll put that ham I have out for dinner tomorrow back in the freezer.
Actually I took part in raising pigs, cows, chickens and turkeys, and helped with the slaughter of it, so it is not that I'm squeamish. I think it was the name thing. That and the image of Paul with his vegetarian book, looking green, fleeing from the scene!
So what are you planning on doing with William after you brine him? (See? I'm over it already.)

Callipygia said...

I await with baited breath (or snout?). I like the idea of the brining being a fan of pickled pig's feet. Can't wait to see what's next.

Brilynn said...

We used to roast a whole pig every year, it was great! I've never undertaken just the head, good for you! Invite me over for some when it's ready.

ostwestwind said...

How interesting! I love pig's head jelly!

Joyce said...

oh, boy...this should be good as you're off to a mind blowing start!
Lead on, brave heart!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Absolutely great writting! But the pictures you create with words are mind blowing!! Paul fleeing with the vegetarian cookbook...
We roasted an entire pig 40 years ago, the best meat I've ever eaten but I have no idea what happened to the head.
I can't wait to hear the final outcome.

Elle said...

Intrepid in the kitchen is what you are. William sounds like a fairly calm beast. Wonderful writing and you have left everyong hanging on the next installment...what happens to William?

T.W. Barritt said...

I thank you for having done this for all of us, so we don't have to. You are brave and courageous chefs. It is a brilliant and heady story, and the cranium can only imagine what is yet to come ...

Deb said...

As much as I love food.... I can't get beyond the site! Arrrrrggg! Is it because I'm a Yank?!

Chris said...

Wow - what a great post! I love your writing - can't take my eyes away(makes a former English teacher smile!)

But, I must say I am reading this with my hand over my eyes, with a little space to peep through.

Have a good weekend!

Lucy said...

Gruesome, but rewarding. You guys never take the 'easy' path.

Good on you.

Am looking forward to part 2.

Kristen said...

Not what I expected to see....ewwwww.

You are quite adventurous!

tigerfish said...

I just did a porky dish and I saw the pig head here...:O....OMG!
When a pig head is hung at the door or gate, it means someone owns the loansharks(aka money lenders) money! (It always happens in the Chinese movie)

Chubbypanda said...

Good on you. Keep it up. My Taiwanese soul approves.

valentina said...

Freya, I wouldn't know what to do with a pig's head.You are inspiring. Can't wait to read some more about it.

veron said...

Brave Brave girl. Even I wouldn't know what to do with a pig's head. I think the hubby would freak out if he finds one in the freezer. I have dealt with the tongue and the ears but never the whole head.
Can't wait to see what is next!

Shaun said...

Freya - Written with the pacing of a gifted author of suspense, your post has me biting my nails. What comes next? I think your curiosity allows us readers to live vicariously through you, for, unlike you, most of just wonder, whereas you go ahead and tread the territory hardly ever taken (these days). I can't wait to see what you do next and how you make use of the Grigson text.

Claudia said...

Yikes. And I thought WE were adventerous cooks. You guys win.

Sara said...

Wow, you are much much braver than I...love the part about Paul and his vegetarian book! Can't wait to see what happens next.

rob said...

I think this is fantastic, Freya and Paul. I actually had a dish made with tete de cochon a couple of weeks ago. It was a pan sauteed torchon, and it was extraordinary. What most people fail to realize is just how tender, rich, and tasty all of the (admittedly nasty looking) meat in the head is. Have you figured out what to do with it? Is the answer just a post away? I, for one, can't wait.

Monkey Wrangler said...

Are you making cheese? I have recently been doing some reading about charcuterie and can't wait to sink my teeth into some smoked cheeks, but I'm not sure I'm ready to go headlong into this adventure. You guys are my heroes.

And Burroughs huh? I wouldn't call him my favorite, but I do fondly recall several states of intoxication while reading his stuff.....what a trip. Please tell me your next post won't be as random and out of order as Naked Lunch, cuz' this one is right on and quite lucid..........wait, maybe you're referring to a different WSB. Can't wait for part 2.

Melting Wok said...

ooh speaking of pig heads, chinese always fully utilised the heads and feets haha, anyway, just thought you wanna know, we usually roast them and cooked it again in sour mustard soups, or in most cases, they are cut up (after roasting), keep it in the freezer, and used for later in any soup/broth, as a soup flavor enhancer, love tt smoky flavor ! :) something like using chinese smoked ham ie. virginia ham in authentic chinese soups.

Gemma said...

Well this has made me feel a little queasy but I'm intrigued and will be checking back to see William's progress!

Mary said...

I am quite simply impressed. Wow are you brave or what?

Mary
www.ceresandbacchus.com

Katie said...

When we lived in Ireland we shopped at the "English Market" in Cork city. During the week before Easter the butchers counter was lined with whole pig heads. I, American that I am, assumed they were somme kind of bizarre, plastic Easter decoration.... until a lady paid for one, picked it up and tucked it under her arm for the trip home. Nothing plastic could look that real!

Helene said...

Not a good thing for me to read right now...as I am sipping my Ginger Ale...But...I am dying to know what you'll be makign with this..head cheese? which I absolutely love...
We do a bbq pig roast every year and it feeds the entire neighborhood for days!
Fantastic writing.

Anonymous said...

My first time posting on one of these so excuse me. Have cooked brawn using a pigs head a few times - use Hugh Fearnley W's Meat book and instead of lemon juice add a splash of calvados at the end! Love your writing, its very inspiring....