Thursday, July 29, 2010

What to do when life hands you a pig's head?

Still with me? Good. The head was part of the half pig that I shared with a friend. We were both a bit queasy about the head (You take it - no, you take it!), but we both couldn't just throw it out. There had to be something that we could make of it. I told this to my French friend, and she said that her mom makes a great pate out of pig's head. "Sulze" or "Head cheese" was what I was thinking, and the French word for it "Fromage de Tete", a literal translation of head cheese wasn't making it any better. Growing up in Germany, we'd have Suelze every once in a while, and I was never a fan of it. Chunks of mystery meat in gelatin? Urgh. Not mine. But hey, that was many moons ago and I decided that I should just give it another try. I had to do something with the head, didn't I?

So, finally my friend's mom came out to California for a visit, and we scheduled an afternoon in my kitchen. I had instructions: Before they came, I had to take the head out of the freezer, along with some tongue (the half pig we bought didn't have tongue coming with it, or at least it never made it into my freezer, so I got some lamb's tongue), and put it all in a big pot, cover it with water and a cup of white vinegar, and leave it overnight.

When they came, Mme L. cleaned everything out, then filled the pot with clean water, the head, the tongues, some salt, a bouquet garni (a bundle of herbs, with thyme, parsley and bay leaves), and an onion studded with three cloves. My pot was a bit on the small side, and I couldn't quite figure out whether it looked gross or cute, or just like food:

Yeah, it's gross for us modern city kids, but why is it worse to see the head than the bacon... Hm.

Anyways, we let it simmer for about 3 hours, until the meat fell off the bone. Then we (ok, she) took the meat out of the pot and put it on a cutting board in the sink - pretty smart move, because it continued to leak broth all over, and would have made quite the mess had it not been in the sink. I guess she didn't make it for the first time!

The meat that came off the bone looked wonderful, just the right mix of fat and meat for a nice pate. It's not for the faint of heart, though:

But again, it's better to eat it than to toss it, right? Especially if you can make something really yummy out of it... Everything got cut up into fairly small bits, and put in a bowl. In the meantime we reduced the broth, so that we could use the natural gelatin in the broth rather than having to use additional gelatin.

The meat got mixed with lots of finely chopped parsley, probably two good handfuls, and two small finely chopped onions. Then we added some of the stock, just enough to almost cover the solids. (I was glad, I can't stand chunks of meat suspended in aspic - so 70s!).

Add more salt and pepper. Mme L.'s advice was to oversalt at this stage because it becomes blander when it sets. I took a spoonful and it was absolutely delicious!

This mixture was put into pans - I guess you really want to use nice ceramic pans, but all I had were plain metal ones... They go into the oven, in a water bath, at 410 F, for 30 minutes, and then get left in the oven overnight to cool and set.

Mine weren't quite set in the morning, but after a few hours in the fridge they looked good. And I still had lots of broth leftover, after reducing it much more I'll put it in the freezer - perhaps it'll get turned into soup dumplings?!?

I'll post a pic of the result along with a taste test over the weekend, but I wanted to document the recipe before I forget. And keep the tension going here so you come and check back - provided the pics on the top haven't grossed you out completely.


Fromage de tĂȘte persillĂ©

1 pig head
1 pig tongue (although I used lamb...)
1 cup of white vinegar
1 onion
3 cloves
1 bouquet garni
2 small or 1 big onion
2 handful of parsley
salt and pepper

Soak head and tongue in vinegared water overnight. The next day, take out, clean the meat, put back on the stove with next 4 ingredients, covered with water. Bring to a boil, skim foam off the surface, then boil for 3 hours until the meat falls of the bone.

Place a cutting board in the sink, put the meat on, and cut it into small pieces and place in big bowl. Put broth back on stove to reduce. Finely chop onion and parsley, add to the meat. Add some of the reduced broth to the mixture, just enough to make everything nice and moist. Salt and pepper, a little more than to taste.

Place in the oven, in a waterbath, 30 minutes at 410 F. Turn off oven, leave in overnight.

Serve with boiled potatoes, a parsley vinaigrette, and cornichons (small French pickles). But that's really another story and shall be told in a few days!


  1. After getting past the first picture,that of the pig's snout(?)sticking out of the pot, I was intrigued to read on. I will be intested to hear more of the tasting. Mme L. must be a great friend.

  2. Silke, you have my complete admiration- you're a brave cook. And you're right, if one is going to eat meat, what better way to respect that life than to make sure it was well-treated and then to not waste any of it. Brava!

  3. Thanks Dar and Julie! Mme L. is the mom of a great friend - who likes to eat her mom's cooking.... but it was a super fun afternoon - we put the head on the stove and took off for a farmers market. It really isn't much work, and it tastes wonderful (I'll put the blog up in a little bit).

    While digging through my freezer yesterday I found the other half of the head (kinda strange because we only bought half a pig. Go figure). Now I'm wondering whether I'll do the same, or try this:
    Perhaps I'll make something in between - boil the head first and then get the meat off, that may be easier than cutting it off the bone. And perhaps I'll wait for my mom to come :-)

    Yes, Dar, it was the snout.

  4. Hey Silke, just gotten around to catching up on my reading ^_^. You are a brave cook. That's an awesome use of a pig's head - pate. I love pate.

    I thought the photo of the pig's snout peeking through the pot is cute. I know.. I'm weird. What's funny is that I couldn't figure out that it was inside the pot.

  5. Hey Jenn, I was missing you! I thought the snout was cute as well. In its own weird kind of way. Last night I realized that I have a lot of the broth leftover, and I reduced it further, so I can actually make some more of this without having to do the head, just use some fatty meat and some tongue, and then add parsley and onion and the juice. Hmmmmm!!! And then of course I'll eventually have to deal with the second half head :-)