In Over My Head
WARNING: MAY BE REVOLTING AND NAUSEATING.
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.