Headcheese August 15, 2011Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Charcutepalooza, Innards, Pork.
Note: the photos below include some somewhat graphic images of preparing headcheese – if you don’t want to look, don’t scroll beyond the orchid!
It may surprise you to learn (given the other things I’ve cooked) that I have never cooked a pig’s head. For some reason, I’ve not felt ‘ready’. I think maybe because the head is such a symbol of nose-to-tail cooking for me. Anyway, with the amount of offal I’ve cooked by now, I was now confident in my ability to cook a head. Well, half a head.
Having seen pig’s heads for sale many times, I was thrilled to finally be buying one. I was concerned that I didn’t have a large enough saucepan for a whole head, so I settled on half a head. As it turned out, my concerns about saucepan size were justified…
As you can see, even half a head didn’t fit. While I was super excited that the brain had been included with the head, I wasn’t so excited about the need to start hacking bits off to make the head fit. I started with the ear, which I’d been intending to remove anyway, and cut some pieces off the snout. Somehow, I was able to jam the head far enough in that it could be covered.
I added water, garlic, parsley, carrot, onion, star anise, ginger, salt, and some other spices. I should note I didn’t really follow a recipe, but just made it up after reading a few. After I brought everything to a boil, I realised that I was not using the half head to my advantage, and flipped the head over so that the fleshy side was more in the water. I removed the ear after about 1 hour of cooking, and left the rest of it for about 4 hours to cook – admittedly, I didn’t check it as closely as I could have.
Being so well cooked, I was easily able to pull the flesh off the bones, and shred it to go into the terrine moulds. And here an interesting question was raised for me. I have no specific terrine or pate moulds – I usually just use my small loaf tins. However, Mrs Wheelbarrow had asked us to find some beauty in cooking some typically unattractive items. My mind turned to other things I could use as moulds – and I realised the only mould I had was a jelly mould, shaped like a brain. Was it in bad taste? Probably. Did I find it hilarious? Absolutely. Sorry. After lining the moulds with plastic wrap, I filled them with shredded meat. And obviously the universe was on my side with the use of the brain mould, as I had just enough meat to fill the brain mould, and about half my loaf tin.
A note about the liquid: by the time the head was cooked, the liquid had reduced so much I didn’t bother reducing it any further. This turned out to be fine as the headcheese set with no problems.
After bashing them on the counter to remove air bubbles, I put the terrines in the fridge overnight. When I went to unmould them, I took photos of both (I had not decided at that point if I’d reveal my brain terrine to the world!). Here’s the more traditional, ploughman’s lunch-type shot, with some pickled veggies and octopus, and some olives (all homemade).
And here – is the brain. I was very happy with the way it came out! Such detail and shaping! Such texture and contrast!
The terrine was absolutely fantastic. It was rich, with meat that seemed to just melt away, and flavours such as the star anise came through nicely. It was beautiful to eat on its own.
I decided I wanted to use the essential characteristics of the headcheese to make one of my favourite type of dumplings: xiao long bao. Xiao long bao are dumplings where jellied soup stock is added as well as other filling, so that when the dumpling is cooked, the soup is liquified. They are delicious – although there is a technique to eat them without the soup escaping on the first bite! I used this recipe from Steamy Kitchen to make the dough, and began the process of filling the pieces of dough with the headcheese.
I know mine aren’t very pretty, but at least I got a few pleats into the dumplings! I steamed them for about 5 minutes – as the filling was already cooked, I was only concerned with heating the headcheese enough for the jellied stock to liquify again.
I also took this opportunity to slice up the cooked pig’s ear, and fried them until they were crispy. I made a salad of spinach, rocket, red cabbage, parsley and some celery leaves, added the pig’s ears and served the dumplings on top.
While the headcheese was fabulous on its own, these dumplings were brilliant. The dough was thick enough to contain the soup, and the taste and texture was perfect. The somewhat ‘dour’ salad (to borrow a word from Fergus Henderson) was a great contrast to the rich dumplings, and the ears were crispy and tasty.
I find this kind of cooking very interesting as it essentially consists of ‘put something in water and leave for many hours’ – but the transformation that occurs is incredible. I would suggest that everyone should cook a pig’s head at least once in their life, to see how easy and delicious the results can be!