Gourmandistan

Turning head cheese horror into souse-rousing success.

Fried head cheese

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.

Head cheese

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.

Fried head cheese

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 CHEESE

  • Firm (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.

 
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52 comments

    • Funny you should ask. At my suggestion, we made a dish called “pon haus,” which I gather is the Pennsylvania Dutch name for scrapple. Steve has not yet forgiven me for wasting our pork shoulder on it. (Strangely, that recipe called for shoulder rather than scraps.) Have you had better luck?

      • Actually … I thought scrapple *was* the Pennsylvania Dutch name!

        I tried it once and it wasn’t all that successful. I do want tor try again and I think I will use pork hocks for at least some of the ‘scraps’.

  1. Excellent – it’s great to see you’ve triumphed in the end! Those fried cubes look fantastic and delicious. I’ve been meaning to post brawn myself. I wonder if you cooked the head for long enough – I’d do it all day – it should be falling apart and the liquid should be quite sticky 😉

    • I think you’re exactly right about what the problem was. We followed the recipe as written, but it just didn’t work quite right. And when we seasoned, we had much too much liquid so the seasoning was like a drop in the ocean. All’s well in the end, though. 🙂

  2. Well, I still won’t try it. Been around too many pig slaughtering days. I would likely be more inclined to try the boiled chicken feet that my father in law speaks of… but I also do recall that they would boil the chicken heads and devour them also.
    Another type of head cheese, I suppose.
    I am just too spoiled living on a beef ranch where I have a freezer full of black angus cuts…

    • So, Arlene, we await your beef offal recipes! 🙂 My husband and mother love chicken feet at Chinese restaurants. And, actually, Steve will eat all parts of anything, except livers and kidneys. I’m all for nose-to-tail in theory, but I must admit I wuss out sometimes. 😦

  3. What a great way to save an almost sure failure. Well done! I’ve never dealt to a pig’s head and I will admit that the challenge freaks me out. I’ve never even dealt to offal which I consider less daunting.

    Crumbed and deep fried seems to be a good way to make almost anything palatable. As butter and garlic does magic to vegetables, crumbed and deep fried does magic to meat.

    Your post would make a great feature in Our Growing Edge.
    http://www.inlinkz.com/wpview.php?id=246157

  4. Eha

    [soft giggles!] If my parents were still alive to ask what I was given as my very first solid food, I bet they would say ‘brawn, of course’! I loved the stuff then, I love it know! There is no Estonian birthday, Christmas, Easter or any other festivity when this simple peasant dish is not made or adored! It is SO simple to make with pork head/trotters/veal! Hardly anything else bar carrot and onion and allspice and pepper and a wee bit of vinegar. Just takes a little bit of time and gelatine is NOT part of the equation – it is one of the purest and tastiest dishes in the world!!!!!!!!!! Well, to me 😀 !

  5. Well, perhaps that head cheese tasted bland, but it sure looks nice! And the croquettes looks simply fantastic! I have had breaded pig’s feet, but never thought you could do that with Head cheese! Great idea!

  6. Did this ever bring back some memories, Michelle. When I was a boy, I’d accompany my Grandpa to Detroit’s Eastern Market every Saturday. Once a year he’d buy a hog’s head for making head cheese. I would carry the thing, on my shoulder, from vendor stall to stall, as Grandpa haggled with each farmer over the price of the chickens or eggs or whatever. I’d beg him to let me drop off the head but, “No. Just one more stop,” was always his reply. I have the family recipe for head cheese but don’t know that I’ll post it. I’ve no interest in making the recipe and won’t post something unless I’ve made it. I am definitely going to show this post to Zia. She is going to get a charge out of knowing that there are people who still make head cheese at home. Like me, she’ll also be interested in your fried “croquettes.” What a great idea!

  7. Well played. That’s some American ingenuity right there!
    I made veal brawn for a gelatin challenge last year and I actually liked it.
    I am considering doing pigs feet soon. Any recommendations?

  8. I did always wonder what head cheese was. I think we just call it pig’s head terrine. I think the name head cheese needs rebranding, because it is delicious, but just sounds a bit off. I suppose there is no good way to mention eating somethings head. Great photos, looks really tasty.

  9. Pingback: Our Growing Edge… Edible All-Stars | Keeping Up With The Holsbys

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  11. well, i must say your final product looks amazing. i’ve made head cheese a few times and have found that cold terrines need to be “over” seasoned. i usually have to freeze 1/2…not many takers around here, BUT maybe if i go with the fried action i could disguise it. great post and fabulous photos.

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