Working one’s way through a whole (or even half) pig at home can lead down some interesting avenues. Head cheese was starting to look like a dead end.
Last year, when we received our half hog from Bob Hancock, we insisted on as close to primal cuts as possible, including the entire head (which, apparently, the folks buying the other part didn’t mind giving up). We decided to make head cheese, and tried Nathan Foot’s recipe from Primal Cuts. We were told the mix of pig head, pistachio and parsley would be “straightforward, balanced and trancendent.” Instead, it was a dismal failure. The terrine refused to gel into firmness (hardly surprising since it contained no gelatin-yielding pig feet), slouchingly sullying plates with mushy, vinegar-soaked pistachios and enough slimy parsley to resemble this jerk.
This year’s pig head, we decided, should take a more traditional route, so we followed Edna Lewis’ directions for “Head Cheese or Souse” from In Pursuit of Flavor. We wrangled the head, four feet (two from this year’s pig, two from last), water, carrots, celery, sprigs of parsley and other stock-making stuff into our largest, least-used pot. After several hours, we (well, mostly Steve) removed the pig parts, cooled and then stripped meat, gristle and skin, chopping them into bits. We added cider vinegar and sherry to the stock as instructed, then ladled some over the piggy bits in two molds and let them refrigerate for a few days.
Once again, we felt we had failed, this time in a blandly liquid fashion. The terrine not only had not set, but had no taste—the stock so watery it barely tasted of pig. Michelle wanted to give the whole mess to the chickens, but Steve wanted to see if he could salvage the stuff. Dumping the terrines into a pot, he simmered the mix for a few hours, then strained the meat and boiled the liquid down further. He ended up with one terrine. With a little salt, a little mustard and a bit of cornichon it was acceptable, though a little bland.
At least Steve thought so. But even after he’d frozen 2/3 of the terrine, a large chunk sat aging in the refrigerator, with Michelle indicating she had no plans to eat even a bite. Steve also wasn’t really much inclined to eat more, especially since he’d enjoyed a much better version over the weekend at Nashville’s Rolf and Daughters. Things were looking bad for Gourmandistan’s requests for pig heads, something we as nose-to-tail folk were sad to admit.
Then Steve then had a flash of inspiration—a flouring, egging, breading and frying kind of inspiration. Cutting the aspic into small cubes, covering the cubes in crumbs and deep-frying them turned a barely acceptable head cheese into delightfully porky cromesquis that might even make Marc Meneau proud.
Just one of these delicate, crispy squares had Michelle declaring she’s now a souse-loving spouse, looking forward to the start of spring when Gourmandistan may feature our souse sensation again in a fresh green salad. Perhaps you’ll never have such a swine head problem to solve. But if you do, this tasty solution will serve you well.
FRIED HEAD CHEESEFirm (cold) souse or head cheese Flour Eggs Bread crumbs Salt Pepper Paprika Cayenne
Cut head cheese into small (about 1/2″ to 3/4″) cubes.
Place flour in a small bowl. Beat eggs in another small bowl. In a third small bowl, place bread crumbs, seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika and cayenne.
Dip head cheese cubes first in flour, then in beaten eggs, then in seasoned bread crumbs.
Deep fry cubes in hot (350°) oil until browned. Drain on a rack or on paper towels.