Friday, 15 January 2010
Face Off: Part 1
I've been intrigued by the pigs head for a while. After watching Tim Hayward's video piece for the Guardian back in August last year I've been fascinated and waiting for the opportune moment to have a go. There's a problem in this adventure though. My wife has absolutely no inclination to try or be around the decapitated head of a pig. This posed a slight problem. I had originally planned to braise then roast the whole head, I would need someone to share it with as the whole point of this exercise is to use a part of the pig that would otherwise be wasted. If I was to only pick at some of it then have to "feed the rest to the birds," then that would defy the whole point and I would be back where I started. After scouring the various forums and discussion websites online I decided I had procrastinated long enough and went down to see my friends at my local butchers. I took home a fresh pigs head, the tongue had been removed, for just £3. I cleared the kitchen table, un-bagged the beasts head, poured myself a cup of coffee and stared at it resembling a twisted Smith and Jones sketch, while I pondered on what potential meals this face will provide. First, of course, the swine needed to be clean shaven, I took a plastic lady-shave razor out of the bathroom and set about shaving the coarse ginger hair away from my new friend. The eyebrows and corner of the eyes in particular were incredibly dense and stubborn to remove. Following the shave I rinsed the head thoroughly in the sink, my piggy now looking much more fresh faced and ready for the larger task at hand, the de-boning. Starting in the middle of its bottom jaw, I cut from the neck up to where its front teeth are. Working close to the bone in small, neat cuts with the tip of a knife, I slowly brought away the jowl.
If trying this at home be aware of the cheek bone as this is a little fiddly and you don't want to damage the lovely cheek meat. Just take your time and keep your eye on what is going on and the definition of the skull. Once over the tricky cheek work your way down and underneath the upper lip and stop about 3cm away from the snout. The eye area can also be a bit difficult but don't worry if you cut through the skin here too much as there is little between the skin and the bone here anyway. Once you can see half of the face de-boned it's time to turn it over and repeat on the other side. Eventually you should be left to separate just the area between the eyes and down the nose which is relatively simple and then chop off the snout. So I was left with a scary looking skull, eyes looking at me and once turned over an equally as scary mask. Bookmark this for next Halloween and freak out the kids.
I put the skull in the oven to roast, then put it in a pan with some onions, carrot and garlic and water for stock. Only half the head would fit so I made sure the back half was submerged where I guess there must be more flavour.
I cut away the snout and ears and wrapped them in foil and popped them in the fridge to tackle another day. Fergus Henderson's Pea and pigs ear soup might get tried in the next few days. I separated the two jowls and carefully removed the round cheeks. The two muscles alongside the snout were also removed. The thin, fatty skin from beneath the forehead area was dropped into my simmering stock for good measure and I was left with a small piece of forehead. I went out on a limb here and heavily seasoned it with salt, pepper and lemon zest before rolling it tightly in muslin, tied with string and poached it in simmering water for about half an hour. I let it chill and have left it in the fridge for a few days in the hope that It should be nice sliced thinly with some bread and salad.
My dad has agreed to come over in the next few days to help me polish off one of the jowls and the pigs ears while I plan to make Guanciale from the opposing jowel and I am yet to decide with what to do with those gorgeous cheeks. I had the whole kitchen sorted and disposed of the skull before my wife returned and I had the richest pork stock I've ever made. Perhaps I'll braise the cheeks in some. When I was questioned as to why on earth you would choose to eat the pigs head I thought for a moment and then gave my answer. To quote the great man himself, Fergus Henderson, "it's only polite."