Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A tongue in cheek dinner

"You go on ahead, I'll follow on foot".

When I got hold of my copy of Fergus Henderson's "Nose to Tail Eating", I immediately got fascinated by all the recipes involving pig's head. I decided that this was something spectacular that just had to be tried, so off I went to the butcher's in high hopes of getting some head. I didn't. Head is not something you just get, not in these parts of the world anyway. It is something you wait and yearn for. And then suddenly one day, if your butcher is kind, you get the head you have been anticipating for weeks.
The head I got was frozen, it was split in two, weighed almost 5 kg and cost me some 200 kr. I thought it was expensive, because I thought it was mostly bone. I was wrong twice. To my great dismay, the ears had been cut off and the tongue removed, as well as the brain. I really wanted to try the "Crispy pig's ear salad", and now I was without ears. And some of my fondest childhood memories are of tongue. Back to the butcher's shop I went, to replenish the head with some tongue. Since I could not get hold of any ears, I bought some trotters instead.

There are plenty of recipes out there how to cook a pig's head, most notably the pig's head roll from the  The French Laundry. Making the roll the Keller way is a lot of work, and since this was my first head I wanted to keep it simple. Besides, if you are going to eat a head, why not show it off in all its glory, and serve it looking like a head, snout and all. And since my guests were a carefully selected bunch of brutes, it felt appropriate.  So here is what I did:

Brining the meats

Put the head, tongues and trotters in a big plastic storage box. Add 4-5 bay leaves, some peppercorns and mustard seeds, and cover the lot with a 5% brine. Put the box in the fridge for 3 days.

Cooking the head and tongues

The head is full of connective tissue, sinew and what not, so it's very tough and needs to be simmered for a long time, 2 1/2 - 3 hours. You will need a very big kettle for this. My 15 liter kettle was just barely big enough, and I had to crack some bones in the snout to make it fit, poor animal. Add the tongues, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Skim all impurities as they rise to the surface, there will be a lot of it. After an hour or so, add the stock vegetables and spices: 4 onions, 2 carrots, 2 sticks of celery, button mushrooms, bay leaf, parsley stems and some peppercorns. After 2 hours check the tongues, and remove if very tender. The tongues must be peeled while hot, or it will be difficult to remove the skin. The head probably needs nearly 3 hours until the meat comes off the bone easily. When everything is cooked, strain the liquid into a clean container and degrease. The stock is absolutely fabulous.  When the head has cooled a bit, separate the meat from the bone using your hands. It should come off easily. Warm the head in the oven just before serving.

Cooking the trotters

Cook the trotters the same way as the head, checking if done around 1 1/2 - 2 hours. I prefer to cook the trotters in a separate kettle, since they give off a slight scent of pig's foot sweat (or something).  The trotter stock, while a bit sweaty, is very delicious. Before serving put the trotters in a baking dish, pour over a little trotter stock, and give them a few minutes under a hot grill. Serve with fresh bread to soak up the juices.

The sauce
Make a velouté using the head stock; Cook a spoonful of wheat flour in butter until it smells like biscuit, letting it brown a little. Add a couple of ladlefuls of stock while whisking, and let it boil slowly for 20 min, adding more stock if necessary. Season with salt. Just before serving add a generous amount of finely grated horseradish and chopped parsley.

I served the head, trotters and tongues together with potato mash, boiled and butter glazed small beets, the horseradish sauce and fresh bread with aïoli. It went down pretty well.


  1. Takk for en hyggelig aften, and thanx for all the tongue!!!

  2. And a few years ago this guy was a tofu-sausage eating vegetarian. Talk about mood swings...

  3. Glad you got some head. Just don't expect any here in Helsinki, at least not at my place.