Head cheese

So what have I been up to in my absence?

1. Working on the extremely collectible Kittenwar line of products, AVAILABLE NOW TO PRE-ORDER FROM AMAZON UK or from AMAZON US, even though they’re not out until the second half of 2007.

2. Visiting Luxembourg. It’s breath-takingly pretty, yet irredeemably dull. Quite a mixture.

3. Eating testicles. Not in a sexual sense, of course, but in the Lebanese restaurant kind of way. Creamy, delicious, and highly recommended.

4. Recording voice-overs that are subsequently badly lip-synced to footage of Neil Ruddock. Don’t ask.

5. Painting my bathroom day-glo green.

Anyway. On with the show. Upon moving into my new flat last month I decided I needed to set myself a culinary task, something to set the standard for all subsequent cooking projects, and settled on the delightfully-named head cheese (more commonly known in the UK as brawn, as tête fromagée to the French, or as queijo de porco in the favellas of Rio de Janeiro). For the uninitiated, head cheese is a cold-meat jelly constructed from the head of a pig. A staple part of the British diet during the middle part of the last century, it’s popularity has waned of late. I can’t imagine why.

Getting hold of a pig’s head is itself an adventure, entailing an early morning trip to bustling environs of Borough Market, where smug country-dwellers sell delicious yet over-priced provisions to London’s middle-class households. Eventually I procure my porky noggin from the fine butchers representing Northfield Farm, who quarter the cranium according to my instructions (my cutlery drawer lacks a bone saw), much to the bewilderment/horror of a steadily growing crowd of camera-wielding tourists.


This used to be a pig

On arriving home I unpack my porcine parcel and begin the delicate task of cleaning the beast. First up, the ears. These are severed from the skull, cleared of all bristles and washed. The image below demonstrates the before (right) and after (left) stages in this process.

All other parts of the head are then shaved, before proceeding with what must be the least pleasant part of the project, picking earwax from the pig’s auditory canal. Suffice to say, our porker wasn’t the most hygienic of critters, and a hefty residue of aural marmalade has to be mined before being able to progress with the recipe.


Gillette. The best a pig can get.

Of course, we’re relying on our good friend Hugh Furry Whittingstall to provide instruction and, as ever, he provides. First up, we soak the pieces of meat and bone (as well as a couple of trotters) in brine for 24 hours. I use Hugh’s standard brine with the additional of a couple of litres of apple juice.

For those curious enough to wonder at the reason for this lengthy immersion, it’s because brining makes cooked meat moister by hydrating the cells of its muscle tissue before cooking, via the process of osmosis, and by allowing the cells to hold on to the water while they are cooked, via the process of denaturation. The brine surrounding the cells has a higher concentration of salt than the fluid within the cells, but the cell fluid has a higher concentration of other solutes. This leads salt ions to enter the cell via diffusion. The increased salinity of the cell fluid causes the cell to absorb water from the brine via osmosis. The salt introduced into the cell also denatures its proteins. The proteins coagulate, forming a matrix which traps water molecules and holds them during cooking. This prevents the meat from drying out.*

Brining over, it’s time to cook. Various herbs (parsley, bay leaves, thyme and marjoram) and spices (peppercorns, cloves, coriander seeds) are tossed into the pot alongside the brined meat and trotters, and a couple of onions. After four hours of gentle simmer, the meat can easily be pulled from the bone.

I chop the meat, mix with a handful of parsley and some lemon juice, then combine with a few tablespoons of the cooking liquor, which I’ve strained through a piece of muslin (available from the drapery department of the very fine John Lewis department store). This heady blend, rich with gelatin from from the trotters, is put in a dish and refrigerated overnight.

By morning, it’s ready. Turned out and sliced, it’s delicious: nuggets of creamy white fat nestling gleefully next to chunks of snout, cheek and eyelid, all combining to create bite-sized bursts of ambrosial brilliance.

Special meaty bonus: As I enjoyed the end result so much, I’ve decided to make the image above available as a computer wallpaper. Simply download using the links below, making sure you choose the correct resolution image for your machine.

1600 x 1024
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1152 x 768
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800 x 600

* I didn’t actually know this, I just copied it from Wikipedia.

57 Comments

  1. I dont think there is anything more grotesque you could cook is there? Any food you need to shave in preparation is off the menu for me!

  2. I was delighted to see the new entry, then undelighted to see the photos of the quartered pig head! You go to such lengths to enjoy meat, I love that! May I come over for a slice?

  3. Welcome back, big fella.

    Was that your razor or did you buy one specially for the pig?

    P.S. Looks delicious.

  4. You’re still alive! Huzzah! Mmm. Looks tasty. Shaving pork always seems to be such a chore – I’ve been tempted to try waxing the damn hog sometimes. Have you tried singeing your piggy? Smells ghastly but it’s a heck of a lot faster and I’m sure you have one of those small blow-torch thingummies in a cupboard somewhere.

  5. Mmm… snouts.

  6. NinaZer0: There appears to be a gap in the market for Porcine Immac, a gap our Fraser is ideally suited to fill. This time next year, Rodders…

  7. Charlotte, Portsmouth

    Yay! Nice to see you are back Fraser.

    Must say it does look good!

    Charlotte

    P.s Sure there is a joke in there about shaving the area before you eat………. ; )

  8. After all the abuse I get for eating kindeys and liver I’m really glad to see that not everyone is boring about food. Hooray for you, Fraser!

    Next time you go to Borough and have animals cut up, can you give us advance warning? I want to be there and watch!

  9. Babe’s now Head-Cheese.

    ‘That’ll do, pig’.

  10. In germany you can buy a pig’s head in the local supermarket. No decent cuts of lamb, though.

  11. Fraser, top work… an inspired choice!

    My only observation about your use of a hairy head and then shaving it yourself is… the subcutaneous remains of the hair? Whatever is left below the skin will end up in your Pâté de tête.

    Much better methinks to pluck the whole hair out after poaching the head!

  12. That looks fabulous. The only time I’ve had brawn before, it was more jelly than meat and had bits of bone in. It was at a very posh picnic and I think the host had made it herself to some ancient family recipe

    The whole family looked rather undernourished. I don’t think they liked her cooking either.

    Anyway, it rather put me off the stuff, but that looks like a really nice thing to spread on toast with lots of butter.

  13. The government should be feeding this to schoolchildren.

  14. Having worked as a storeman in the pet products wholesale industry, I can wholeheartedly announce that pigs ears stink… still, dogs love them, and they can be comedically used for certain Star Trek ™ gags…

    Yet again, you’ve turned something that was once wonderfully disgusting into something that looks amazingly edible… now where’s my pigs head and crunchy bread in a tin!

  15. MrsFred/ Holloway cohort

    As one of the lucky beneficiaries of a piece of Fraser’s head cheese, I can assure you it was delicious! Although, at the time, I didn’t know I was consuming subcutaneous remains of hair. Oddly, it had no affect.
    Fras -chocolate cake this weekend come up for a slice.

  16. Great to have you back, I have missed your unique cooking style – however a pigs head is not what i would call tasty but each to there own. Kxx

  17. My father makes this as well, but he calls it pottedhead. I find it easier to eat if I call it paté.

  18. Top pig trotter and head trimming tip. Use a cigarette lighter to burn off excess hair. That’s the way the Vietnamese on my street used to do it and that’s good enough for me.

  19. I’ve now got the wallpaper on my computer. It makes me feel constantly hungry. There goes my plan to lose a stone before the new year. Arse bum.

  20. Hooray! Frasers back. ‘bowf’
    End result looks tasty…mighty brave of you to assemble it from a head.
    I suggest a Remington Fuzz-away for the bristles should you intend to do this on a more regualr basis?
    Oh – I had a gobfull of really tasty Fruit & Nut cake when I read the earjam paragraph. ‘bowf’
    So…..did you resist a Spock impression with the ears?

  21. Oh!
    You’re gonna do really well on the Kittenwar cardgame, congrats in advance!

  22. I think if the head cheese in Chicago looked anything like that, I would be much more inclined to give it a shot.
    Murphy is doing quite well on puppywar – glad I found your site, because I am now obsessed with checking out the popularity of my dog.
    Love your posts, glad you are back.

  23. Am I the only one feeling a little sick?

  24. this dish is still quite common where i’m from (Denmark). You should be able to get it at most well assorted butchers or even larger supermarkets.
    I have myself eaten it on a few occasions, though I am not a fan (I dislike fatty foods)

  25. Wow… that looks disgusting and delicious all at the same time. Is this stuff available prepared? I’m not sure I could go through the process of actually making this scrumptious delicacy.

  26. Christley feck- looks like a dish delish! Would you mind, however, my using your term ” special meaty bonus” during my (and Mrs Mission’s) love making regime? Perhaps we’ll chuck a pigs head into the proceedings for the sake of authenticity. Wow.

  27. My dog Hattie loves pig’s ears, if you still have them left over….. Much better than processed dog biscuits and secondly only to marrow bones for succulent tastiness. Yum!

  28. My grandma used ot make this, she calls it brawn (now she just buy it in tescos). My boyfriend is from the west country and thinks it is terribly quaint and “Eastend cockney” and working class of her. (she lives in essex but to him its all london)

  29. Spanx:

    I guess cooking really runs in the family! Good for you. At least you’re not afraid to go near an oven! Good luck and Congrats on your new Flat! Enjoyed all the posts you’ve been sending my way. Keep it up! You’re doing an “outstanding job”.
    10/22/2006 LV NV

  30. in the southeast u.s. it’s called SAUS and it’s pronounced sou (like in south) ssssss. they make it in blocks and it smells soooo gross. i’m too chicken to try it. good bravery show fraser!

  31. roasted pigs head is quite nice too. In particular, the cheek meat looks and tastes a bit like lamb, only nicer. I chickened out of making ‘head cheese’. Maybe I will next time…

    Put my daughter off pork for quite a while though. Up until a few days before she’d been feeding the little porker!

  32. Sometimes I don’t know whether your recipies are brilliant or perverse.

  33. Having been to the Czech republic where you can get this as a starter on aplatter (with regular cheese, cold meat and olives etc.) I know it’s absolutely fucking gorgeous! Have you tried tripe yet?

  34. Did you make any silk purses?

  35. Eeeurgh!

    My uncle eats this stuff, along with various other miscellaneous internal organs. I have no idea how he stomachs it!

  36. An impressive cullinary effort. How about tongue? Ox of course. I could never quite steel myself to ripping off the tongue skin once it was cooked, but a man like yourself……..

  37. I bet there’s some psycho killers blog somewhere that’s just like this one…. urghhh

  38. there’s a temperature at which pig hair falls out. Pop the pig into half a 44 gallon drum of hot water for a wee while. The hair can be scraped right off. Can’t remember what the temp is tho, the home-kill guy does it for us.

  39. Yaaawn. I think you may go to hell for spamming such an amount of tripe on a ‘comments’ page.

    Clearly waaay too long for anyone to sit down and read seriously on a page such as this, so I suggest you use your own forum for this tripe before you insult anyone further.

    Good grief, it says that the hiphop subculture is deaddening femininity…and worse! Hells teeth, do you even KNOW what a B-girl is and what they stand for?

    In your basket.

  40. Hm. Spam-man’s religious post has been miraculously removed by the blog-god. Whew.
    But now it looks like I am whinging at nothing.
    :(

  41. Queso de Cabeza , its called here in Chile …. Is a tipical food in all the city markets.

    How many pigs are walking whitout ear in Chile

    O_o !

    salu2

  42. yum…I think you’ll love our very own sisig, only made richer by the brains, and is served in a sizzling plate. best served with beer. ^^

  43. These pictures reminded me of Night of the Living Dead. It’s a movie about zombies who feed on brains. Who knew real live humans did this as well! Seriously, do you ever get freaked out and think about someone eating your brain while you’re chowing down on this dog food? I could understand if this was the last food source on earth…but it’s not. With so much better food out there — I just don’t get it!

  44. Thought I’d give you an easier way to make headcheese- an less tramatic to any children who might be around….

    My dad uses the left over pork from a leg in roast- dinner one night, then breakfast the next on homemade toasted bread… Yum.

    He takes the left over cuts and put them through a meat grinder with some additional spices- mainly the ones you mentioned. The mixture is then pressed into a ramakin and chilled over night- it can also be eaten warm though, but has more flavor if it sits over night.

    No shazing or q-tipping of the pig required….

  45. Yes. Looks about right. You can still find brawn in some butchers in the UK. There are such delicacies as haslett still to be found, fortunately.

    I still remember a Xmas meal in North italy, where roast sucking pig (a piglet) was served. Delicious. After stripping it of meat, there were still people trying to break into the skull for the brains.

    We are becoming too precious for our own good. We actually eat most of these pig parts in sausages. It is nice to see them celebrated for once.

  46. got one yesterday in a glasgow chinese store. cost £1.50. will shoot a rabbit to go in as well. it cuts the fat, and is cheeper than beef.
    brown sugar. english mustard and vinigar makes a great dressing for the brawn.

  47. That is one of the most disgusting things I have seen in quite some time! What would be funny is to serve it to some people, lie about what it is and then show them how it was made after they ate it. :)

  48. My husband’s Jewish (from Odessa, Ukraine) family make a kosher version with chicken and turkey — even though they don’t keep kosher and love all other pork sosiskis. (and classsic “holodietz is indeed made with pork) Basically lots of boiling and spicing to taste (they actuallly like it quite peppery). All completed much quicker due to nature of poultry of course. The texture is ussually a little softer set than loaves of head cheese. It’s eated with a spoon in a dish as an appetizer.

  49. headcheese is one of my fav. In China the way we make it is a bit different but in general they all have same taste(maybe) and texture.

  50. We are a small business in WI that make head cheese and I just happened to stumble on this sight looking for our competition. All your comments has motivated me to work on expanding our delivery area!

  51. I finally found a recipe for head cheese, Thank you. I’ll be making it here in the US..

  52. Loved seeing the headcheese.. I have not had it since I was a little girl and granny fixed it.. I have a hog head now.. that I plan on cooking this week.. for some of my own delicious head cheese.. UMMMM I cannot wait.. People just do not realize how good this is.. They just see it as a YUCKY old hog head… Boy are they missing something good.. Thank you. for sharing your’s

  53. does anyone know where I CAN BUY head cheese in ARKANSAS 0r mail order ?

    thanks,

  54. Well I was not going to read all the comments, but most seem to consider this a joke. I, on the other hand am greatly appreciative. I’m picking up two whole pork heads, along with a butchered hog tomorrow. I have found many recipes for head cheese, but this was the first one starting with almost a whole head and illustrations. Thank you

  55. love Head Cheese,though I have only ever had it when it was ground up and looked more like a pate’, I know the name sounds grosse but it is so gooood, also when I ate it ,it had summer savory and some finely chopped raw onion, miss it as the only man that made it, died many years ago, would love to know how he made it

  56. Thank–you for the gracious instruction.
    The appreciation of meat and the culinary conservation of fat is rare in consumer society.
    In a postmodern sense, more environmental than environmental. I would be tempted to add mustard seeds.

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