In Over My Head



For me, the kitchen is a constant place of learning. It’s why I love it. When Chef told me we would be purchasing a whole, fresh, organic pig from a local farm for fabrication I thought it would be a great learning experience. When I was given the challenge of figuring out what to do with the head, the learning was elevated to a whole new level. This is way beyond egg day in culinary school. This is the head of an animal. What the hell. For a semi-vegetarian, this would be an adventure.

Upon googling pig head recipes, I found out that one could do a few things with a pig’s head. I watched a video on cooking a pig’s head. I ran into a recipe for pork brawn using the snout and eyes that made me queasy looked delicious. I was inspired by a woman named Carol who attempted the torchon from Thomas Keller’s French Laundry cookbook. And then the pig head arrived.

If you ever find yourself in possession of a pig’s head and don’t know what to do, I would suggest first: don’t panic. Breathe. It’s just a head. Everyone has one. We all have tongues, and eyes, teeth, and cheeks. Sure, the pig has a snout, and it was probably walking around in the mud a day or so ago, but no matter. Press on. Our particular pig came from a happy pig farm and was unbelievably fresh.  After working with this pig, I don’t want to imagine what a pig from a factory farm looks like. *Shudder* After tasting this pig, I am even more passionate about raising animals responsibly without hormones or antibiotics. Thanks, responsible farmer.

Fabricating a pig’s head is nothing like fabricating chickens or filleting fish. It is quite awkward. The jaws and cheek bones get in the way, so do your best to get all of the meat off the head. You will make a stock with the pig head when you have taken off all of the meat.

Cutting out the tongue is in the top 5 most disgusting culinary feats I have ever attempted. And eating a salmon eyeball is on that list. So, let’s just say I was a bit squeamish. I have to grab this thing with one hand and cut it out? Yes. Once you have mustered the courage to cut out the tongue, you’ll need to braise it for several hours and then remove the skin which is just really a most unpleasant task. Then chop the tongue to include in the torchon, given that it doesn’t get mistaken for mystery meat and tossed in the garbage in the meantime, which is what occurred in this case.

Take the head meat and pound it to make it flat for rolling. Lay out the flattened head meat on plastic wrap and roll. The chopped tongue should be spread out in the center of the meat. We used a layer of pork fat to encase the head meat and hold it in place. Wrap the creation in cheesecloth and braise for 6 hours in the pig head stock that you have made with the fabricated pig head. Rewrap the cooked torchon in cheesecloth and hang in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

After all of that work, you will be absolutely beside yourself to see how it turned out. We were. We opened it. We cut a slice and gave it a nice sear. What did it taste like? Well, pork. It tasted like delicious pork. Go figure. Sure, I was in over my head. But the pig gave me an education. Next time I’ll know exactly what to do.

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  • gansie November 17, 2010  


  • BS's Mom November 17, 2010  

    We, and other nearby farmers where I grew up in Ireland, raised pigs and killed one annually for the family. All I remember about the head is that my father and his friends played cards (25) regularly and this was the prize after a pig had been killed. Other than boiling the head and my father and mother enjoying it, I have no memory of it at all and now wonder how come we never ate the tongue (something I got to enjoy after I met my Jewish inlaws);

  • Bryce November 18, 2010  

    I’ve dealt with a pig’s head several times, but have braised it (halved) and done a torchon and terrine with it afterwards. I do like what you’ve done here though. I may have to try this method the next time we get one in. It looks great.

  • forkitude November 18, 2010  

    Wow, the pig head as a prize for winning a card game? What a great memory!

    Thanks! Yeah, we were loosely following the French Laundry recipe. I like how it turned out. And it tasted pretty good too.

  • gansie November 18, 2010  

    Hi BS’s Mom! I was just talking to my dad about how I missed your comments (and 80s mom). Anyway, thanks again for chiming in with another amazing story. Manhattan must seem like such a dull place compared to your Ireland.

  • Cathal November 18, 2010  

    I grew up in the Ireland of the 80s and 90s, afraid to say pig’s heads were in short supply. The dish looks great, shame the tongue got lost.

  • Lisa Fountain November 18, 2010  

    Nice. Gross – but nice. The first time I met my redneck husband’s 4’10”, 82 lb, 80+ year old grandmother stirring a big ol’ cauldron of Brunswick Stew in her south Georgia backyard kitchen, I obsequiously offered to help. I proceeded to grab the huge wooden ladle out of her weather-worn hands and gave the soup a hearty swirl, only to have the totally unexpected, previously submerged whole hogs head, complete with bulging eyes and hairy snout, rise to the surface and greet me through a vapor of steam. Yes. I yelped; well, screamed, really – much to the amusement of my husband’s kuntry-kin. But the stew was frakkin’ awesome, and despite the shock of pig-face in my pot, I am happy to say I dug in with relish. Now I know *two* things to do with a pigs head, if I’m ever lucky enough to get my hands on a freshly severed one. Thanks

  • erica November 18, 2010  

    I thought to fabricate something was to make it… this post made me look up the definition and i learned something (having only really butchered chickens for cat food, and badly). it still seems weird to me that a word that means to make something by uniting parts can also mean to take it apart!

  • Nee Nee November 18, 2010  

    The Mister and I had a visit by the exec chef at a restaurant a few weeks ago. We inquired about foie gras (yikes, I know) and ended up with a plate of offal. Included in the medley were pork cheeks and grilled tongue. The cheeks were tender and great and the tongue was, well, meaty. It’s a muscle, so I don’t know what I was expecting. Yes I do…I was totally thinking it would have the texture of cat tongue. Thank god it didn’t.

  • forkitude November 19, 2010  

    The leather-handed grandmother stewing a pig’s head in the backyard with a wooden ladle is literally a priceless image. I love these stories!! Keep them coming!

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