I know. You’re super-sad that you couldn’t make it out to the cafe this past weekend to enjoy our headcheese special. But…what luck! Your neighbors just happened to have a spare pig head they’d like to give to you! Well, now you can make your own…
Okay, this is a big project. But it isn’t that difficult, it simply requires some direct kitchen time with a smiling pig’s face. Take a deep breath and go for it. You can do this, and the rewards are worth the effort. And the squeamishness will fade. Cold sandwich meat can include so much more than just bologna and ham! Headcheese is rich in proteinaceous gelatin, easy to digest, and a convenient treat to have in your refrigerator. Serve it on crackers or crusty bread, topped with olive oil and salt (Louisiana folks prefer hot sauce), toss it in with red beans and rice or scrambled eggs, or serve it as part of a cold lunch buffet surrounded by pickles and potato salad, and garnished with a hearty helping of brown mustard and sauerkraut. My favorite way to eat it is diced up and scattered over field greens, then tossed with a lemon vinaigrette and some coarse salt. The trotters or uncured ham hocks are optional, but they do help to add a little extra meat and to put extra gelatin in the stock.
1 pig’s head or calf’s head or 2 lamb’s heads, quartered (whole is okay, if you have a pot big enough)
4 pig trotters (feet) or 2 fresh (uncured) ham hocks (optional)
2 whole onions, peeled
3 whole carrots, halved
3 stalks of celery, halved
1 bouquet garni made with a sprig each of rosemary, oregano and parsley
6 cloves of garlic, whole, peeled
2 bay leaves
1 cup red wine or apple cider vinegar
Coarse salt and ground black pepper, to taste
If it hasn’t been done already, remove the brains and eyes. If the head is fresh, the brains can be cooked separately (see Sally Fallon’s wonderful cookbook, Nourishing Traditions). If you are working with a pig head, leave the ears on for the time being.
Place all the ingredients except for the salt and pepper in a large pot. Cover with cold water, and let it rest for about 30 minutes.
Put the pot over a medium-high flame. As it approaches a boil, skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Once it has come to a full boil, lower the flame and simmer gently for an hour. If using a pork head, remove the ears. Dice and refrigerate them to be cooked separately.
Continue simmering for another 1-2 hours, until the meat pulls easily off the bone.
Remove the head and trotters to a platter and, let them rest until cool enough to handle. Meanwhile, strain the broth, return it to the pot, and boil until it is reduced at least by half (2/3 is better, if you have the patience). Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Once the meat is cool enough to handle, remove it from the bones and coarsely chop it. Peel the skin from the tongue and chop the tongue as well. Don’t be afraid of the snout if you are working with a pig head. That can be diced and added to the mix, too.
Toss all the diced meat into a terrine or stainless steel bowl. Completely cover it with the reduced broth (you may not need all of it), stirring to eliminate any bubbles, then cover and chill overnight. If you have some broth left over, simply pour it into a glass storage container, cover, and refrigerate for another use.
When ready to serve, invert the terrine onto a cutting board. If the headcheese doesn’t come out easily, loosen it by briefly by setting the terrine a pan of hot water.
Let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes prior to serving.
While the headcheese comes to room temperature, remove the pig ears from the refrigerator. Add enough lard to fill a cast iron skillet ½ inch deep when melted. Place skillet over medium high heat. When hot but not smoking, add the pig’s ears and fry, stirring often to prevent them from sticking together, until crispy. Remove and drain them on brown paper. Season with salt to taste, and serve as an accompaniment to the headcheese, alone, or over a bed of fresh greens dressed with a vinaigrette. A pig’s ear salad is a perfect accompaniment for cold sliced headcheese.