St John’s Fergus Henderson. King of nose to tail eating. Photograph: Suki Dhanda for the Observer
Boning a pig’s head isn’t easy. My friend, the food historian Dr Annie Gray, tried it once. It took her and a friend five hours. She was following the 1846 instructions of Charles Elmé Francatelli, once chef to Queen Victoria, who was an old hand at the whole pig boning business. The key is to get a head severed at the second vertebrae, so that when you have tunnel-boned the skull, working the blade carefully about the jaw and skull, and then refilled it with the forcemeat, you have a flap of skin to be re-stitched at the back.
Before you can do that, you have to take the pig’s head, the eyes stitched closed, and smear it with six pounds of salt, handfuls of saltpetre, sugar, cloves, mace, garlic, thyme, marjoram and basil. It then needs to be submerged in a quart of port for two weeks and turned every day.
Next you stuff it with sausagemeat, and a mixture of tongue, fatty bacon, truffles and pistachio kernels. It now needs to be wrapped in butter-rubbed muslin and simmered in a stock full of cow’s feet and grouse carcasses for five hours, before being allowed to cool. Finally, decorate it with piped lard and separately baked pastry pieces. Queen Victoria had a head like this on her table at Christmas every year. Apparently the upper classes have long appreciated the ceremony that attends the boning of pig heads.
Preparing a pig’s head this way is tricky, of course, because you’re trying to keep it in one piece. If that’s not an issue you can cut off the pieces you want: the cheeks ears and snout. Pig cheeks braise beautifully. The ears have many uses. Fuchsia Dunlop has a great recipe in her Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook for an aromatic salad, which is all about chilli oil and sesame oil, and the thin slices of gelatinous skin sandwiching a crunch of cartilage.
Alternatively, April Bloomfield does a crispy pig’s ear salad, in which they become the biggest curve of pork scratching imaginable. The Pitt Cue boys recommend boiling them for a couple of hours and refrigerating overnight, before cutting into strips, deep frying them and serving with a habanero sauce. At Duck & Waffle, they dust crispy strips of ear with a sweet salty mix. They taste like Frazzles.
If this doesn’t appeal, you can always boil a head until the flesh falls away. Next, remove all the meat. There are now two ways to go. Spice it up the old English way with lots of mace and white pepper, and press it to make a classic brawn. Or (again, pace Pitt Cue) form it into a sausage bound in clingfilm. Once refrigerated and set, cut it into discs, bread crumb and deep fry to make pig’s head croquettes.
Alternatively, take the whole thing and, as they do at St John, slow roast it for hours until the meat falls from the bones, and the skin shatters beneath your teeth like savoury glass. Think of this as a self-boning pig’s head, which is a neat trick if you can pull it off. Of course, there may be other ways to go about boning a pig’s head.
Originally posted: http://www.theguardian.com/