Monday, 15 August 2016

Ancestral Head Cheese

The head was in the freezer for 10 months, each half wedged down the side. When you're in search of the solace only a bowl of ice cream can provide, you do not want to see a rigor mortis smile or frozen eye-lashes on closed eyes that will never open. Alongside the head was a bag of trotters. They're not there any more. They are in the fridge. They are neither head nor trotters any more. They are brawn. In North America it is called head cheese. Why would anyone do that? Call it head cheese I mean, not make brawn.

Before I go any further it is only fair to warn you that if you scroll down you are at risk of encountering gruesome pictures of grizzly detail of the transformation of raw pig head to tasty brawn. These are pictures that at the very least will make you curl up your upper lip and say "yeurgh", and at worse have you waking in a cold sweat from nightmares of being chased by a fleshless disembodied pig head. Just saying.

Step one. Remove your defrosted pig head from the fridge. At this point I offered David an out. There's no shame in admitting this is a step too far in nose to tail eating. But no, he would see this through.

Step two. Cut off the ears and clean out the wax. Ha ha ha ha! And yes, he did, and yes, the ears were waxy. I found the hole where ear met head disturbingly intriguing, insisting on pointing it out several times. The ears have subsequently been roasted and eaten as a crispy snack by Teri. The dog. She loves the pigs. We don't think she knew it was a pig ear. 


Step three. Soak your pig head in brine for 24 hours, after shaving it to remove hairs. Ha ha ha ha! It gets funnier and funnier. There was no way David was going to work up a nice foam and give the pig a shave. And besides, you can't shave off an eye lash. Can you? I gave him my tweezers. He didn't pluck for long before announcing we would not be using the skin in the brawn. I wasn't prepared to be the plucker so who was I to argue.


Step four. Boil your brined pig head with herbs and spices for 4 hours. Phew, we could now hide the head under greenery and vegetables. Uh oh, we're gonna need a bigger pot! Push the trotter under the water. Up pops the trotter. Push the trotter under the water. Trotter bobs back up. Push the trotter under the water. Hi there, me again! 


Step five. Pick the meat off the head. No, no, no, no .... it's still smiling at me. Though the smile is now so much more gruesome than it was before it was boiled. I waivered at step 5. "But I thought it would be nice to do it together", said David. Keep the magic alive, pick over a boiled pig head together. I conceded. He did the head. I did the trotters. Keep the magic alive, compromise. I screwed up my face a lot. I winced when the canine popped out the jaw bone. I peered across the table and said "is that the brain or the eyeball?". Curiosity started to over come squeamishness. A pig's teeth are fascinating, a rugged mountain range of toothy crags, perfect for grinding stones and chewing on wooden pig ark panels. 


Step six. Mix the meat with herbs and spoonfuls of the gelatinous stock and pack into a press. At last, the fruits of our labours began to look like real food instead of a terrible farming accident. Our family heirloom butcher's press, which had spent five years gathering dust and general detritus in the corner of our utility room, was now shiny and clean, ready for its moment of brawn glory, having lain unused since David's grandfather's butchers shop in Portsmouth closed its doors.



Step seven. Two days later, realise you forgot to line the press with cling-film, cross your fingers, hold your breath, ease the brawn out of the press. Hey presto, a thing of beauty, a feast, a labour of love, a meaty delight, a brawn David's grandfather would have been proud to have made.


Anonymous said...

My admiration knows no bounds... I'm not sure I could have done it.

Philippa Pickworth said...

And as tasty as it is, I'm not sure I could do it again!