Diary of a Pigs Head - Part 2

After 72 hours in a bucket of brine, William no longer had that pink ‘alive’ look. He looked pallid, and slightly greyish, as you would imagine anything would that had spent time immersed in salt water. I don’t like using Saltpetre as the pink-preserver because it seems like one chemical too many in a life already filled with unseen chemicals hidden in our foods.
I am always curious about the long line of lineage of preserving food. I wonder how long it took stone-age man to realise that eating spoiled meat would consequently spoil him (and his family) too. And how many more years before salt became the chief preserver of all meats and fish?
Either way it was of little or no consequence to William. He lay submerged in the brine, his empty eye socket filled covered over with a dried bay leaf and his skin (skin? I suppose at this point it becomes rind) pitted with peppercorns.
I removed William from his briny depths, knowing this would be the last time that he would bear any resemblance to the proud beast he once was. I rinsed off the brine and placed him and a pair of trotters (which I doubt were his but it would be nice to think so) in my large stockpot to rapidly boil out any excess salt.
The smell of hot cloves and brown sugar quickly filled the air. I was expecting a rather more unpleasant offal-like smell but the brine had taken care of that. Besides, with the brain removed there is nothing but meat and fat left anyway. And what’s not to like about meat and fat?
Once again, William and trotters were transferred to another pot, this time immersed in an herbal infusion of celery, fresh herbs, carrots, onions, a whole head of fresh garlic and a splash of white wine vinegar to sharpen the ensuing jelly.
I was rather precariously working from two recipes: the Jane Grigson one, which instructed four hours of slow simmering, and the Fergus Henderson one which advocated just two hours cooking and that was for a whole head.
Striking a happy medium between the two, I simmered it for 2 and a half hours. After this time, the vegetables had collapsed and the meat was falling from the bones.
I lifted the meat (no longer referred to as William) from the pan, and put it in a large bowl to cool off slightly before I started to pick it apart. I strained the cooking liquor and then reduced it by half with rapid boiling. This would – in theory – produce a rich, flavoursome jelly, made further gelatinous from the addition of the trotters to suspend the shreds of meat in the terrine like tiny pink rags.
And, bolstered by some alcohol, I tasted the stock and was pleasantly surprised by the intensely savoury liquor, imbued with the whole head of garlic and numerous herbs, not to mention Williams sweet meat, made sweeter still by a lifetime spent in pig luxury. No salt was needed, I just added a dash more vinegar to smarten it up a bit. I left it to simmer whilst I attacked the head.
Ah yes. The head. Whilst I was flitting around tweaking the cooking liquor, there was always that dark spectre of the cooked pigs head, staring up at me from the draining board.
I took it downstairs. Paul was going to have to watch me do this if not actively participate. Unfortunately, he was on the phone to his parents and seemed to be making unnecessary conversation with them, as if to prolong the call. I figured there was only one way to deal with this: hands straight in. And that is precisely what I did. I had my lined terrine next to me, a waiting vessel for the meat as I removed it from the various parts of the head. I was interested to note that there was moist, lean brown meat right behind the eye socket that, with a lot of coercion I managed to work loose. When you have your fingers eye socket deep into a cooked pigs head, you do seriously start to question your own sanity.
After about an hour spent picking apart this once masterful animal, I was left with about half a terrine of decent meat, of varying textures and colours. Some as dark as roast duck, some as pink as a rare steak. Some of the fat resembled raw pork, such was it's white density.
Fingertips still tingling from the heat of the freshly cooked pigs head, I trot upstairs with my half filled terrine and pour over the reduced gelatine-to-be. The Brawn or Cochon du Tete or Headcheese - which it now is - is refrigerated for several hours. After this time, it will separate into two distinct layers, one a protective covering of pure pig fat, the second a pink and bronzed translucent strata of gelatine and meat. It turns out perfectly.
William’s work here is done.


Claudia said...

I am so ashamed at being grossed out by this process. I didn't even think. Pigs head - head cheese. DUH! I LOVE head cheese and buy it at the Polish butcher whenever I'm out that way. We make or have tried to make pretty much anything, but the whole head cheese thing somehow slipped under my radar. NOW I get it - you guys rock!

Yorkshire Deli said...

These posts have made brilliant reading; your writing paints such a vivid picture and demystifies the whole process - well done!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Williams work is done here...what a great way to conclude that this is now head cheese. I've not ever had head cheese let alone made it.
You are light years ahead of me.

Katie said...

You make it sound so easy! But, I'm afraid I'll have to pass on the head. I'm only slightly passed the point where I know that meat does not spontaneously grow in cling film.
Congrats on a job well (and bravely) done!

tigerfish said...

Your deep pot is not deep enough for the head! :O
What comes next? Do you just eat the gelatine and meat strate like that? I will not be surprised because this is how and wwat some Chinese restaurants serve as cold appetizers. :)

Lucy said...

Well done. Very, very well done.

Do you think, Freya, that you'd do this again? Squemishness aside, it's amazingly rewarding to do this kind of traditional cookery.

T.W. Barritt said...

Bravo - it takes a courageous chef to confront the beast. We salute you, and William, and especially the narrative he inspired!

Chubbypanda said...

Beautifully spine-tingling. Lass, my saliva glands salute you.

Tell Paul I think he's a wuss. Gimme time to down a pint or two and I'll back it up anytime he wants to fly to my side of the pond. (^_~)

Lis said...

Okay so my dad ate head cheese and his 3 daughters ran in terror when he brought it home.

His eldest daughter (Hi! me!) still finds this uhh.. not my cup of tea? hehee


The writing of these posts was fabulous - you had me hanging on every sentence just waiting to see what would become of William. Wonderful job! =)


ostwestwind said...

This looks great, I love head cheese!

Kathryn said...

Not sure what to say except I couldn't have done that.

Have you tasted him??

mae said...

What a brave task you've undertaken, Freya. I don't think i could have done it (i still think i couldn't do it!).

I've never had head cheese. First time i heard of it.

Well done!

Melting Wok said...

wish you guys have done this earlier, the traditional Chinese style calls for some uncountable herbs and spices..so confusing !! oo..that terrine is lovely, reminds me of sichuan's spicy pig ear's salad, and the hot garlicy pork feets..yummys ! So, how should we distribute this ? *grin*

Gemma said...

I am mightily impressed with this endeavour but it is not one for me as I have a deep aversion to jelly (of the savoury meat kind, I love the jelly and ice cream kind).

Anyway, you are setting the bar very high for yourselves so what'll be next!

Deborah Dowd said...

I have never been able to get past the head in headcheese, but I give you props (as my kids would say) for tackling this! My mom used to love souse which is a pork product very similar, but I couldn't even look at it without feeling a bit ill, though how this is any more repulsive than eating liver or sweetbreads I don't know. Maybe pigs head needs a less descriptive name like squab is for pidgeon!

Linda said...

i gotta admit i'm pretty grossed out myself. it's my vegginess i suppose. the first pic though i do adore - shows everything. i'm sure the meat was very tender with such an intense process.

Joyce said...

The folks at Oldways would be so proud of you. What an undertaking!

Do you do this after putting in a full day's work? Ah, the energy of youth.

Great images reflecting the finely descriptive prose. Thumbs up, lady!

s'kat said...

I've never been able to get savoury, gelled terrines... but your description of everything in the pot has my mouth watering!

What a mighty undertaking, and I love that Burroughs is your favourite author!

Callipygia said...

While I think the Cochon du Tete must taste sublime, I admit to being slightly disturbed from the get go with your description of William's pallid color. Plus hearing his name volleyed about amidst the leeks and peppercorns. Superb nonetheless!

Kelly-Jane said...

We wnet for a drive yesterday, and passed a field of outdoor raised pigs. I couldn't help but think of your diary!

Did the terrine taste good, was it worth all your effort?


mooncrazy said...

I know I'm being silly but I can't get by, "… fingers deep in the pig's eye sockets." Your are truly heroic.

sher said...

Oh my! This is what it's all about! Thank you for these marvelous posts. They are such a treat. :):)

Helene said...

I truly appreciated your posting about this because Old Chef tried to get me to put my fingers in these eyesockets and I just could not...I enjoyed my pastry corner too much. I used to giggle whenever some young chef was looking for the "pink salt"...dude something that pink can't be good for you!
Enjoy the terrine and have an extra slice for me!

Monkey Wrangler said...

Can I swear? I really need the outlet sometimes with a little one about so here goes: Congratufuckinglations! You have achieved the craft of charcuterie at it's finest!


joey said...

You are amazing! I applaud you! You have shown such a dedication and respect to a single piece of food and it has yielded its best for you. I would love to have some of your terrine :) It looks perfect!

veron said...

Bravo! What an engaging post! I laughed at the way Paul was trying to avoid involvement in the entire process. I have to say you have bestowed great honor to William in the way you have transformed him into a perfect fare.

Little Foodie said...

You are a genius! My husband loves nose to tail eating by Fergus Henderson. If I show him this he'll insist we give it a try. Should we involve L and S that's the question?

Claire said...

Never had pig's head but I have seen sheep's head eaten. In Kyrgyzstan the male guest of honor/oldest is offered the eyeball. My dad was supposedly this person but he slipped out of that "honor" by pointing out that there was a "much older" man who should get the eyeball...he would settle for the ear!