Thursday, July 13, 2006

Are you Pigheaded?

The Christmas before last we spent in Sweden. Earlier that December, my sister, who was going to join us, asked what I wanted for Christmas present. My answer came lightning fast; -a Pigs head, or actually, two.

There was a long silence on the phone……….

-A what? She said.

-A pigs head, or two, I repeated.

This was apparently not something she had thought of, I thought smugly.

You have to realize that there is somewhat of a history here, where my sister is notorious for giving bad Christmas presents. The worst being a book that she apparently had stolen in a library. This was proven by the stamps in it saying “Property of the City of Stockholm Library”.

Anyway, the stunned silence turned into some indeterminable whining about pigs’ heads. –I don’t know where to buy them, -they are heavy, -bloody, -smelly, -and what the hell are you going to do with a pigs head anyway, etc. etc. In the end she refused to buy me my pigs head with the motivation that her daughter might see it, and get traumatized for life.

So that Christmas I didn’t get to make head cheese or anything else good that you can do with a pigs head. I did, however, boil pigs feet and fried, breaded, crispy pigs’ tail. But even then I was relegated to the second kitchen where nobody would see me, or smell my cooking.

Now, this little story illustrates what has gone wrong with people and their relation with meat. People in general don’t know anymore what good meat is, and they don’t know that meat comes from animals that were once alive.

This Christmas we spent in Berkeley, and in order to make my Head Cheese, I went down to Chinatown and bought my own pig’s head. When I came home, I let my two boys look at it and play with it a little bit.

-Dad, Can I keep the eyeball?

- Look Dad ! I can stick my finger all the way into the mouth and it doesn’t bite!

After this I butchered it with the kids watching and giving helpful comments.

Try this at home! It is sort of tricky knife work if you are not used to it, but the good thing is that it doesn’t matter if you botch it up. You are anyway going to cut the whole thing to small pieces later. Essentially you are trying to “undress” the head i.e. separate everything from the skull. A hint, the snout has small pieces of cartilage in it. Locate those and take them out. Another hint, pig’s snout tastes very good, so if you can buy a few extra, do that and add them into the dish. Cut off the ears and put them into the refrigerator. You are going to use them later to make crispy pig’s ear, I’ll tell you how in a later posting.

After you “undressed” the head, cut the meat and skin in medium size pieces and put it all into brine together with the extra 3-4 pigs’ tongues and lean pork meat that you bought. If you found extra snouts, put them in as well. Leave it in the brine for about 5 days in the refrigerator.

Now, this is what you do after those 5 days:

  1. Fill a big pot with water, put in the tongues and cook on low heat for 30 minutes. Add skin, snouts, and meat from the head and cook for another thirty minutes. Then add the lean pork meat and boil on low heat for an additional half an hour (or so). It is good to remove (skim) the scum now and then whilst boiling.
  2. Take out the meats and strain the cooking liquid. Reduce it to about a quarter of it original volume.
  3. Trim the tongues (peel them) so that no coarse surface is left. You can also take out the cartilage of the snouts here, it’s easier than if you do it when the snouts are raw (but hotter). Dice all the meats into pieces. The size of the pieces is really up to you, but remember you have to stuff them into a casing, but you are not really making sausage. ½ inch maybe.
  4. Take the now diced meats and mix it with all the other ingredients and a suitable amount of the reduced stock. How much? Well, you are not making soup. You are not making hamburgers, somewhere in between, where the meats can take up the juice inside the casings without bathing in them.
  5. Stuff into waterproof cooking casings (synthetic), or use cow intestine. I prefer the intestine, where I use the sausage maker attachment on our Kitchen Aid to stuff the meat into the casings (take away the grinding part, or else you are going to get minced meat).
  6. Put the stuffed casings (sealed of course) in nearly boiling water. Let this simmer away until you believe that the internal temperature matches, or is just under the water temperature. The reason I don’t give you a time here is that it depends on so many factors, like the size of your casing for example. I really don’t believe you should be too worried about over-cooking though. Last time I did this, I let them simmer for about an hour.
  7. When you are done, take them out of the water and refrigerate for at least 24 hours before eating.
  8. Take your traumatized kids to the shrink.

Now here is a little bit of a dilemma, this dish is highly individual. Everybody who makes it is going to do it differently when it comes to how much lean meat you add, and what spices you use. I tend to think of the lean pork meat as filling and everything from the head as “goodies”. I then sort of look at the two different piles and try to determine whether it is too much goodies or too much filling. As you can see this is a highly scientific method which I suggest you adopt. Trust me, it will taste good whatever you do. As to spices I suggest that you put in what you like. In the list to follow I feel that the pine nuts, cinnamon, and nutmeg are essential because these are the tastes I associate strongly with this dish. As for the amount of spices, test your way. Since the meat is cooked when you mix the spices, you can feel free to taste the mixture until you like how it is spiced.

1 pigshead
Lean pork meat
Extra tongues (2-3)
Extra Snouts (if available)
pine nuts (I love pine nuts in this dish so I tend to use a lot)
Black pepper, ground (or White pepper, whatever you prefer)
Herbs like Rosemary, Sage, or Thyme

The liquid has to cover the meat.

Per litre of water:

100 g sugar
150 g Salt
3-4 Juniper berries (optional)
3 Cloves (optional)
1 Bay leave (optional)

Bring it to the boil and boil until sugar and salt has totally dissolved. Let it cool before putting in the meats.

PS. If you make this, you will be in my list of cool people. DS.

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