Thursday, March 02, 2006

Check it out

More info shortly, but I thought I'd at least show you the pic while I'm eating my dinner! First impression is that the flavor is amazing and the texture is a little odd. I'm eating a slice of it over lentils and celery in a mustard vinaigrette. Mmm.

A half pig head makes a lot of this stuff.


Okay, I'm back. So here's the deal.

As you recall, yesterday I started soaking the pig head quarters in a brine. The brine, in this case, was an all-purpose one: Two kilos of plain salt dissolved over heat in 7 or 8 liters of water, then chilled with ice packs. Additional ice packs kept the mixture cold while the meat soaked for 24 hours.

Today I drained the brine off, sprayed down the meat with cold clear water, then drained it again. Then I covered it with fresh water and chucked in a quartered peeled onion, a halved trotter, a teaspoon each of whole cloves, coriander, and peppercorns, and some herbs--bay leaf, parsley, marjoram, thyme, and oregano. I brought it to a tremulous simmer and left it for 4 hours, moving the pieces every so often and making sure the water level was sufficient.

At the end of this time, the meat was falling-off-the-bone tender. The half of the brain that was in the skull cavity (which I hadn't even noticed before the cooking started, because there was, er, too much else going on visually) was neatly poached. I screwed up my courage and tried some, and so did the s.o. Pork brain tastes like ever-so-slightly fishy scrambled eggs, which maybe doesn't sound very appealing, but it actually was quite nice. The texture is very unctuous and smooth. It's considered a delicacy, I guess, but there wasn't much of it and it had soaked up a disproportionate amount of salt, so it ended up in the brawn with everything else.

I lifted out the head quarters and let them cool for a few minutes, then started picking the meat off. Technically, anything that's not bone or bristle can go into a brawn, but I left out quite a bit of the fat because our pig was a very chubby gal. I did, however, make sure to include some skin because I had read that that's what gives the brawn a lot of its texture.

There was a lot of meat. The very best meat--stuff that reminded me of the very savory dark-meat part of a rack of ribs--was inside the skull cavity, under the eye and in the area of the palate. Some of it might have been tongue. I very consciously tried not to think too much about this while I was doing it, because, well, urgh! Also, there was some very nice white meat around the neck, trickily sandwiched between hefty layers of fat. Everything got chopped fairly finely and thrown into a large bowl.

Once the meat, fat, skin, and whatnot was all in the bowl, I mixed in the juice of half a lemon and a handful of fresh chopped parsley. I then drizzled it with a couple of small ladles of the liquid the meat was cooked in. The recipe explained that the bones in the head, with the help of the halved trotter, had released a lot of gelatin into the water. This would set the brawn into a solid terrine.

I pressed everything down firmly into the bowl, laid a small plate on top, and weighted it with a large can of tomatoes. Into the fridge it went, and...


... set!

It is delicious, but it's a bit on the heavy side. A small slab'll do ya. We plan on quartering what's left and freezing it, because it is said to freeze well. It's yet another way in which our very bountiful half pig will support us through the coming months.