Friday, 16 November 2007

Pot-Roast Half Pig's Head

My first experience of pig's head was a brawn at St John Bread and Wine. Not just a faultless terrine, it was served in its element - sourdough toast, pickles and beetroot leaves. The acidity of the pickles cuts through the fatty terrine and the bitter leaves refresh. Now why didn't I think of that?

Making "head cheese" is not rocket science but to achieve the consistent elegant simplicity of the St John menu is a true feat. St John mastermind Fergus Henderson is such an inspiring man. Though best know for dealing with the rougher cuts of the pig, it his his dedication to the traditional British dining experience which makes him my food hero.

You will just have to get down to St John to see what I mean. Starters include Ox Heart, Beetroot & Pickled Walnut, Brown Shrimp & White Cabbage and perrenial favourite Roast Bone Marrow With Parsley Salad. My preference is to eat in the bar and order 3 or so starters per head. They have a great selection of draft ales and a wonderful wine list so you should plan to wobble home. Finally, if you're there in the festive season, make sure you snaffle a mince pie with a glass of Le Vitriol.

Enough chat. Introduced and lovingly penned by Fergus, here is the recipe...

I say only half a head, as it is a perfect romantic supper for two. Imagine gazing into the eyes of your loved one over a golden pig's cheek, ear and snout.


To serve two

a dollop of duck fat
8 shallots, peeled and left whole
8 cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole
½ pig's head (your butcher should have no problems supplying this) - remove any hairs with a razor
a glass of brandy
1 bundle of joy - thyme, parsley and a little rosemary
½ bottle of white wine
chicken stock
a healthy spoonful of Dijon mustard
1 bunch of watercress, trimmed, or other greens - a case of Liberty Hall
sea salt and black pepper


Dollop the duck fat into an oven tray wide and deep enough to accommodate your half a pig's head and put it on the heat. Add the shallots and garlic and leave them to do a little sweating to improve the flavour of the dish. Shuggle the tin occasionally to prevent any burning, but you do want some colour.

When happy with these, cover the ear of your demi-head with foil so that it doesn't frazzle, then rest the head in the tin. To welcome it to its new environment, pour the glass of brandy over it, nustle in your bundle of joy, add the wine and then the chicken stock. Now, I'm sure we have covered this before - the alligator-in-the-swamp theory - what we are looking for is the half pig's head to lurk in the stock in a not dissimilar fashion to an alligator in a swamp.

Season with salt and pepper, cover the tin with greaseproof paper, offering some protection but not denying the need for the rigours of the hours to come in the oven - which is where you should now put your tin, in a medium oven for 3 hours, until the head is totally giving. Check it after 2-2½ hours; you could remove the greaseproof paper at this point and get a little colour on your cheek.

When ready, remove the head to a warm place. Whisk the Dijon mustard into the pan liquor, in which you should then wilt the bunch of watercress. Finally, on the head presentation platter, make a pillow of shallots, garlic and wilted watercress, where you then rest your head. There you have it, dinner for two; open something red and delicious: Moon, June, Spoon.

Dan can hardly believe his luck

Oh. Now you've read the recipe, why not watch the video?

This recipe is taken from Beyond Nose to Tail by Fergus Henderson and Justin Piers Gellatly, Bloomsbury 2007

Notes for gluttons

Though most butchers can find you a pig's head, they may well need notice. Call the butcher a few days in advance to avoid dispair.

You will end up with a lot of cooking liqueur - far too much indeed to serve with the head. I suggest you remove two thirds of the juice towards the end of the process, reduce it over a furnace until gloopy and mix it back in with the remaining liquid.

Don't be shy about asking the butcher to half the head. However big your cleaver, you're guaranteed to make quite a mess doing this at home.