PIGHEADED SUCCESS

17 Nov

After some back-and-forth with the owners of the Piggery, I was able to obtain a pig head,with which I made headcheese and a homemade salumi!

Backstory:

I have been getting pork from The Piggery at the Ithaca Farmer’s Market for the past few months and started to wonder what happened to the heads after the pigs went to slaughter.  Even though I’ve seen cheek cuts on the menu at the market, I emailed the owners to see if I could snag a pig’s head.  I had seen Chris Cosentino make a stellar pig’s head salumi on his website, and I couldn’t help but envision myself cooking that awesome looking hunk of meat.

After I talked to the owners, I set a date to pick up my lovely little piggy head and some pork shoulder from them.

The day I went to pick up my order, I was taken by how large the head in question was.  In its cryovac package, it fit in my tote bag OK, but it weighed twenty or so pounds.  No matter; I did not have so much trouble lugging it back to Cornell campus–it only became a trial of my strength when I had to walk up the slope to my dorm.  After wielding some Herculean muscle power, I found myself in my dorm kitchen, pondering over this pig’s head.

I could not make the same salumi as Cosentino; the FDA does not permit The Piggery to de-hair their pigs in hot water but rather skins them.  Therefore, I was dealing with a skinless split skull:

 

pig head

The image may be shocking to you, dear reader, but the real-life experience was more humbling than the virtual image.

Holding another creature’s head in my hands was not how I expected it to be.  Yes, I have decided to play my role in the food chain as hunter-gatherer and forfeit the sadness many choose to experience as animals perish to fuel our hunger.  However, the sight, feel, and smell of having a dead pig’s head in my hands was something indescribable.  It’s not the cut and dry experience I anticipated–a little blood, some smooth flesh, and a face: there are different odors, textures of fluids, and parts of the inner head that go beyond.  After all, a living being is not merely a frame covered with skin that breaths and acts; it is an intricate thing.  Glands, veins, brains, and slimy stuff are a part of all creatures–and I beheld this prior to my cooking experience.  Seeing, feeling, and smelling all this makes the chef want to cook with respect, and I believe I did.

The head, as I mentioned, was large.  I used Cosentino’s guidelines in his demo video to remove the flesh from the skull and freed two nice pieces of meat from the head, both of which were like the one shown below.

I then took one half and a piece of pork shoulder and formed a roulade with rosemary, sage, fennel seeds, pepper, and salt to season it.  After wrapping it tightly in foil many times, I cooked it “sous vide” in a 180 degree (F) pot of water.  I did this for two and a half hours, although I wasn’t entirely sure what the optimum cooking time was.  I wanted to cook the meat and break down some fat in the shoulder without making it tough.  It came out as shown below.  Ultimately, I ate it sliced, and it was delicious, and then I used the rest diced up and sauteed with shredded Brussels sprouts on Thanksgiving, which I seasoned with smoked paprika and sherry vinegar.

I made the most delicious head cheese I’ve ever tasted with the other half-head and the rest of the shoulder.  I am serious when I say how good it was, and I am not bragging.  I am glad I could have used the head in a way that it was honored and even tasted so good my family ate it!  First, I cut the rest of the head into manageable-sized pieces first.  I had roasted the skull and made a pork stock with it after I took off the meat, so I braised the head meat and shoulder in the stock.  I braised this for a good five or so hours, and then I reduced the stock until it was shiny and I could tell it would form I nice gelatin when cold.

After cutting the pieces of head into bite-size pieces and pulling the shoulder into shreds, I put them in a container and poured over the stock.  A few hours in the fridge set the whole thing up, and although I had a very thick layer of fat on the bottom, the head cheese was fantastic!  I sliced it up and served it with hors d’ourves on Thanksgiving, and everyone went nuts!

You would think I would throw out the meat that was enveloped in all that extra fat, now, wouldn’t you?  Well, dear reader, that’s not how I roll.  Instead, a few hours before the end of my holiday break, I made some supreme nachos and used up the rest of the meat and fat!

Here’s how:

I sauteed up the fat-encased meat until all the fat melted, and I poured off most of the fat.  I added a mixture of mirin, sriracha, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, fish sauce chipotle adobo, and rice vinegar to the pan and simmered the meat until the liquid was a thick glaze.

I layered chips with cheddar, caramelized pearl onions (from Turkey day), pulled pork (dinner leftovers), and salsa.  Then, I poured the hot, sticky glazed head and shoulder meat over the nachos, topped with more cheese, and then put slices of headcheese on top.  After 15 minutes in a 425 degree oven, the nachos were glorious and lip-smacking good.  My Uncle, a nacho fanatic, claimed they were the best nachos he’d ever had.  With head cheese?  Imagine that!  If only I could have gotten a picture of them before we scarfed them all down!

 

 

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