I think all of us involved in this project are keen on the theory of nose to tail eating but we may not know how to handle the reality. To this end, I thought I’d blog about my experience of cooking the pig’s head and making brawn, hopefully everyone can learn from my (horribly public) mistakes and together we can figure out how to make this thing successful!
I have to admit to being really gung ho about the whole idea but the reality began to dawn when I got out of the car with a semifreddo pig head tucked under my arm and saw my horrified neighbour’s face: “You’re really going to cook it???” he asked, incredulous. Ulp. What have I taken on?
First up was the obligatory Facebook opportunity:
Then was the grim reality of looking into the face of a dear friend (porcine, not marital) and setting about cooking it. Sawing the ears off was grim, there’s no two ways about it, and having ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ playing in my imagination didn’t help, cleaning out the ear wax was horrid, just horrid. Once that bit was out of the way it wasn’t too bad, the squeamishness passed really quickly as the practicalities of the project took over. Scrubbing and shaving not a problem at all.
The first source of anxiety was the fact that this is a whole, intact head and most of the recipes I’ve seen call for a halved or quartered head. This raised questions about what that meant about the brain and the cooking times. I naturally turned to St Hugh of Whittingstall, his ‘Meat’ book confirmed that pig’s brain is not deadly poisonous and is currently the only type of animal brain which can be legally sold to the public. The reason it’s hard to get hold of is due to the difficulty of getting it out of the skull intact, as there’s no demand for brains on toast, it’s just not worth the hassle. So that set my mind to rest. And the cooking time? Well I think I’m just going to have to cook it for longer and see what happens.
The next source of anxiety is the sheer size of the sodding thing. My recipe (the James Martin one if anyone wants to Google it) suggested 3 litres of brine to cover the head. Pfffft, 9 litres more like. The only container I could find big enough to submerge it in was a flexibucket from the garden which I thoroughly scrubbed and scalded with hot water. Dissolving the salt took a surprisingly long time, as did allowing the brine to cool before putting the head in it. I wedged a baking tin on top of the head to try and keep it submerged – in hindsight that was a mistake what with salt being corrosive and all. My baking tin is in a sorry state now!
The final source of today’s anxiety: What am I going to cook it in? None of my pans were big enough, not my jam pan or my stock pot. Ruth and Carol offered me use of their stock pots but, no, still not big enough. The only solution I could think of was to slow roast it instead of boiling it. My plan is to put water in the bottom of the roasting tin and cover it with foil to keep the steam in. I’m hoping this will produce meat which is as tender and juicy as boiled would be. Then I will make a separate stock using some trotters and the ears and use that to make jelly around the picked head meat. Hopefully that will work but it’s an adventure for tomorrow …..