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Pig Head Epiphany

09.12.10

A while back, my good friend Yen told me of a dinner he and  his girlfriend had enjoyed in Boston – a confit’d pork head, finished on high heat in the oven. Melty-apart pork and crackling skin are two things I’ve grown to adore pork for, so when butchering the Nature’s Green Acres pig a couple days ago I was resolved that the heads would be put entirely to good use. I normally carve as much trim as I can out of the neck portion, and remove the sizable jowls to cure or grind. We’ve tried the odd bit other than that, but generally the rest would go into the bin. Never again.

The key part to understand is that eating pig head is not a shock-tactic-to-increase-one’s-awesomeness, nor is it a notch in a snobby-foodie-belt. If you like pulled roasted pork, you will like this – and I’d challenge anyone to say they wouldn’t to a blind tasting of slow cooked shoulder roast vs. slow cooked head roast. What’s also important here is there is a serious yield of meat in a pig’s head.  In my fridge I have a half head pulled [like you would post roasting a chicken], and it yielded 1.6 kg, or 3.5 lbs of meat. That’s 7 lbs per head, not including the edible skin crackling.

Sadly, the well-known-but-liked-by-the-minority ‘head cheese’ has given pig head a bad rap, in my opinion. I’m not a fan of aspic or jellied meat preparations, so it certainly didn’t help my cause. But forever moving forward, I will be fond of, and never again waste, the meat in the head of a pig. Personal favorite bits? I really liked the lower jaw meat, and was shocked how much I enjoyed the eye meat. I know that sounds disgusting to many, but once the inner white bit and surrounding bit is removed, the remaining meat is actually really nicely textured. Don’t knock it ’til you try it.

Method: slow roast at 150C or so for 5-8 hrs, then finish in the oven at 200C until the skin becomes brittle. Pull it apart, season, and enjoy. In this case, the head was split, and I strongly recommend skin side up. I did one skin up, and one…inside up – because it fit well in my largest roasting pan that way. Pig heads are large items. The skin down one still crisped up once flipped, but the smell of roasting bones [skull] was initially not that pleasant.

Below: what’s left post-pulling meat from the head.

13 Responses

  1. Yen says:

    You left a few pieces in the bowl. I hope you only left them there for effect! ;)

  2. Greg says:

    That’s wonderfully grisly. Kudos for the ever-greater thorough use of the animal. Reminds me I would like to get over my cultural aversion to eating insects.

  3. So what actually is in the pan if the meat is all gone… it looks like more than just the bone. It makes sense that it would be tasty. I enjoyed the youtube video of Ferbus Henderson cooking a pigs head for another famous chef – can’t recall who – but do remember him giving the pigs hairy face a shave first!
    :)

  4. Andy says:

    Wow! And to think the last pig head had I ‘only’ used to make broth. The next one gets this treatment, but I’ll skip the eyes, thanks :)

  5. Kevin says:

    Yen – touché. I’ll blame it on the wine. ;)
    Greg – I wish it wasn’t grisly, as it really doesn’t taste it! I’ll let you lead the front on insects…
    Valerie – it’d be miscellaneous bits of cartilage, fat, and meat that was missed or unused. Relative to the yield of meat, it was pretty minuscule.

  6. Kevin says:

    Andy – I don’t blame you on the eye aversion, but do take a look at the meats in it while you’re at it – it may change your mind.

  7. Carissa says:

    Wow Kevin, that actually sounds fantastic! Hard to argue with the combo of melty pork and crackling… especially if it keeps meat out of the bin. We’re doing our pig shortly and I will definitely be trying this. Thanks for the method. :)

  8. Karlynn says:

    You had me at crackling skin but lost me at eye meat ;) But I like head cheese. There, I said it. Add the fact that I like tongue as well makes me weird on most peoples freak-o-meters. But eye meat I will have to skip. The rest? No prob Bob.

  9. Kevin says:

    Carissa – do, do try it. It’s awesome, and you’ll never think twice about it again.
    Karlynn – weird indeed, good on ya! I think I tried the eye meat with the help of a half-bottle of wine in me, but will never shy away again.

  10. [...] site. What a waste. A good example of how food abounds, but just isn’t distributed properly. I’ve calculated about 5-7 lbs of meat off the head. The 10 pigs these jowls came from would have had 50-70lbs of [...]

  11. [...] [from my garden], and I think the herbs are a worthwhile addition. My conclusion simply supports my previous conclusion that jowls, and the rest of the pig head for that matter, hitting the local butcher shop bin is [...]

  12. [...] (or retrogressive?) eaters don’t have a problem with pig head, and the glands represent a very small amount of waste, maybe 100g on a side of pork. That leaves [...]

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