[Warning: The following may not be suitable for the weak-of-stomach, the meat-averse, the meat-with-a-face-attached-averse, the animal-head-averse, the owners of pet pigs, and probably a few other people. Welcome, everyone else.]
Headcheese: A Recipe/Photo Essay
1. Take one freshly butchered head from a pastured Berkshire hog.
(Give the ears away to someone else at the butchering demo.)
2. Leave pig head in a freezer in Williamsburg until a suitable size pot is located in which to place it. (A 16-quart Le Creuset.) Fetch head and lug home on the subway.
3. Brine head overnight. Worry from the outset about it not being totally submerged. Wrestle with it every few hours to rotate it within the brine (it weighs a lot, you know). Ten hours in, worry a little about leaving it out during a 100°F-heat wave and then realize that the pot fits in the fridge if you leave the lid off. Put pot in the fridge for the last 14 hours.
4. Discard brine. Cover head with water and a couple cups of white wine. Throw in an onion, some garlic cloves, peppercorns, a bouquet garni of parsley, bay leaf, and thyme, and simmer for three hours until done.
5. Wrestle head out of the pot. Be careful — head is extremely, extremely hot and completely unwieldy. An extra pair of hands is useful. While allowing it to cool, strain the cooking liquid and reduce, reduce, reduce.
6. Divest skull of meat, giving your fingers first-degree burns in the process, reduce meat to bite-size pieces, and place in a terrine. Regret for a moment giving away those ears; they would have been such a lovely textural addition to the finished product. Ah well. Continue picking off flesh.
[For some reason, this photo seems to wig people out the most, so I’ll leave it off this post. Must be the teeth.]
7. Continue reducing cooking liquid. Taste, add a lot of salt. Reduce some more.
8. Test cooking liquid for doneness by spooning some on a plate and sticking it in the fridge. Worry a little that there doesn’t seem to be any gelling happening. Continue reducing cooking liquid. Add some chiffonaded parsley to the bits in the terrine (all that beige needs a little perking up — the green is so pretty!).
9. Say “To hell with it” after an hour of reducing and pour the liquid into the terrine. Stick in the fridge overnight and cross fingers in the hopes that gelling will occur with time.
10. Experience equal amounts gratitude and elation when it turns out that there is, indeed, aspic holding all the bits together. Regret unmolding headcheese for a photo since there’s basically no way in hell it’s going back into the terrine all in one piece.
(Resolve to reduce cooking liquid even further next time for a stiffer set and to take home a trotter as well for added gelatin. Resolve also to cut meat into smaller pieces so the thing is actually sliceable.)
11. Enjoy headcheese for the next week and a half with some salsa verde.