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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Fromage de Tete - Head Cheese (Not for Vegetarians)


My dear vegetarian friends do not go any further as it is only going to get more graphic.
I have forayed into the world of Charcuterie.
As you may remember, I have been contemplating a pig's head and his feet and wondering what to do with them. I am in unknown territory...or rather I was.
My old recipe books were rather vague on some of the finer points but I managed to find this recipe by/from Mietta's for Pigs Head Brawn. It has many names in many different countries but in Australia it is more commonly known as Brawn and considered very old fashioned and probably not very elegant.
NOT SO!
It is very close in nature and style and method to pork rillettes that is so trendy at the moment. Pork rilettes is chopped pork pieces cooked in lard and then potted and used like a pate. The Gourmet Farmer Mathew Evans has created quite a foodie revival here of pork rillette but I quite liked this post on The Paupered Chef

And so my education continues....


this is what the typically slaughtered pigs head will look like. They are usually cut in half though you could order a whole but this is far more convenient. The brain was already removed and most of the bristles and the ears and snout. They are very clean and neat.
the first step was to wash well and cut the trotters in half (to release all that wonderful natural gelatine in the cooking) and remove the eyeballs. Removing the eyes is much more difficult than I anticipated. Do you remember as children constantly being warned by adults to "be careful or you'll poke your eye out"? I used to have visions that eyeballs were often in danger of just popping out. They are in fact encased very securely in some of the toughest musculature you will find on the body. There must be a trick to it I'm sure but it required a lot of working at it with a sharp knife.


I assembled a bouquet garni of bay leaves (yes rather tired looking ones) a few whole cloves, thyme and Tasmanian Pepper Berries. 


Into the slow cooker with them and the obligatory onion, carrot, celery dice commonly used in stock. I poured over water to cover and set it on low. Due to timing and convenience, this cooked away for about 24hrs. Probably overkill but it was beautifully caramelled and smelled rich and hearty.

Everything was turned into a colander over a stockpot to strain the liquid and then this was vigorously simmered to reduce by a half to intensify the flavour of the stock. I must admit though I ladled off a lot of the fat that rose to the surface.

After discarding all the bones and some of the less edible looking matter (read something that may have been gums or somesuch...), I chopped the meat into a fine mince and placed it in a mixing bowl to which I added some additional spices and deviated slightly from the recipe. I think Chinese Five Spice is sublime with pork with it's clove and star anise flavours. I also added more Tas Pepper Berries and Coriander seed to the mortar and pestle. After mixing this mix through I ladled in a couple of scoops of the reduced stock to give the mass a just wet texture.


This was then pushed into a paper lined loaf tin (for ease of removal more than anything else because this recipe is certainly non-stick!) and then....


Foil was placed on top and then a common brick on top of that to weight the mixture and compress it and ensure there are no air pockets. This is then placed in the fridge and left for 24hrs (roughly). The leftover stock I have stored in the freezer.


To remove from the mould, turn the tin upside down on a board or plate and then lay a warm cloth over the upturned tin. Rewarm the cloth a couple of times until you have melted the outer fat that is holding it in the tin. The combination of fat and gelatine combine to create a firm loaf and apparently it can last in the fridge for up to a month.

The result is something that is a cross between a rillette, pate and terrine. It has a fine texture that is quite spreadable and quite delicious. For lunch today we simply spread it on toast and dressed it with salad leaf from the garden.

Would I make it again given all the work involved?
Absolutely!
Definitely worth the effort and I would love to try this with say slivered almonds and juniper berries, or fennel seeds.
Frugality wise this is a huge winner. Pork rillette sells for about $9-$10 for a 100g tub in delicatessens. This whole loaf couldn't have cost more than a few dollars.
To compare;
the prepared delicatessen variety $100/kg
the home variety approx $5/kg
I would have no qualms serving this as a wedding hors d'ouvres as the Paupered Chef did.

5 comments:

  1. Wow, it looks delicious but I did cringe a bit when I saw the eyes! M x

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  2. When I was a kid one of our meals (in Summer, when Mum couldn't be bothered) was salad and cold meat...ham, salami, polony (yuk!) and always brawn. I NEVER ate it, as a child it looked like sick on a plate. Your pork rilette looks much nicer Tanya and if it's in any way inspired by Mathew Evans it must be good. I love that guy!

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  3. Hey Tanya, I have to say the end result looks pretty jolly tasty and I would happily scoff it if down if you served it up to me...........
    In a very ladylike manner of course!!

    I remember my mum used to cook ox tongue when I was a child and I think that put me off offal for the rest of my life. Seeing that huge tongue curled up in a bowl and being weighted down.........hmmm, better not think about it too much.

    Interesting post though.......

    Claire :}

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  4. Well, I certainly learned a lot in this post. And I've been sitting here thinking about how positively irrational it is to find this whole business -- the heads, the feet, the eyeballs -- so... well, so unsavory. It's irrational because I eat sausage and even an occasional hot dog and I'm quite sure they contain all of those things. And more. I admire you for your adventurous spirit! But I shall not be following your lead. I'll let someone else cook up my pigs' heads.

    (And oh my, what an unfortunate name: head cheese. Fromage de tete sounds so much better.)

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  5. I have four pig's trotters in the freezer. We had a pig cut up and the butcher asked if we wanted the trotters, I thought "why not?", but I haven't decided what to do with them yet (I wasn't offered the head though!). Its so funny having the whole animal instead of buying bits from the butcher, you have to work out what to do with every piece of meat, and some things like pork belly, i've been a little unsure of, I'm used to just buying chops, steak and roasts. Its been fun to try new recipes though, I think its a good way to live.

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