Friday, July 29, 2011

Head Cheese: An Initiation Rite

Head cheese made in loaf pan

I feel like I've been through an initiation rite, and at first, I wasn't even sure into what I had been initiated.  Charcutepalooza's Sensible Worlds, aka Brad Weiss, writes about The Fetishism of Charcuterie and the Meatiness Thereof and I think he pretty much tagged this fascination correctly.  But having spent the last six months salting, brining, smoking, grinding, stuffing, and emulsifying, in other words, indulging this fetishism, why now did I feel "initiated"?  After looking over the "binding" challenge Charcutepalooza Facebook photos available, and at my own photos, and thinking about it for several days, I now know it was the pig's head.  I can't believe that I actually cooked the animal part that even Mrs. Wheelbarrow avoided.

And as I thought more about it, I realized it wasn't the head, per se, because, after all, I couldn't even see the nasty bits like the brains.  No, it was the eyeballs.  And they probably wouldn't have bothered me so much if I hadn't watched  the video of Chef Chris Cosentino removing the meat from the pig's head in order to make porchetta di testa.  During the video he says " be really careful not to puncture [the eye]," so the whole time my pig's head was cooking, I kept worrying about accidentally puncturing an eye.  I had no idea what would happen and why I shouldn't do it.  So when my stock began to reduce and I needed to turn the head a bit to keep it submerged, my stomach turned with it.  And suddenly I felt very liminal, between one state and another, just as occurs in an initiation ritual.

Nothing about charcuterie had really bothered me so far, so buying and cooking a pig's head really made me feel like a member of this charcuterie community.  Being a Charcutepaloozer was one thing, but working with a part of an animal in which you have to overcome hesitant thoughts, like dissolving brains and delicate eyes, really made me feel like I had entered a new stage of charcuterie.  For me, it was the biggest challenge so far, but I did it.  Wow!  Does that feel good!  What an initiation....

Simmering the meat
So, in my giant stockpot are simmering six hocks and one head.  Following the Charcuterie directions, I added the proper herbs and spices, including the nutmeg and allspice, and the aroma was, well, "heady."  After draining the stock back into the pot to reduce more, it was pretty easy picking out all of the meat, although it was also really, really greasy.  The leeks had absorbed all that fat and just clung to my fingers.  But when I finally finished my hands felt so soft.  Because I chose to use the pink salt, my meat remained pink, something I don't think I would do next time.  I don't own a terrine (yet), so I stuffed the meat into a loaf pan.  I think I packed it in a bit too tightly because the gelatin/stock didn't really spread as much as I would have liked.

Head cheese
I also saved the leftover stock/gelatin in 1/2 pint canning jars so I could freeze it and then use it in soups and braises.

Head cheese stock/gelatin
And after finishing the whole process, having taken up something that was a real, personal challenge, I sat down and had lunch.

Head cheese sandwich
A head cheese sandwich with homemade roll, my own canned dill pickle, and some Dijon mustard.  How much better can it get?  I love Charcutepalooza!


MrsWheelbarrow said...

I bow to you. Nice work!

Linda/IdahoRocks said...

Thank you, Mrs. Wheelbarrow! Such a compliment from you is almost as good as winning the grand prize!

You wouldn't know why Chef Cosentino warned against puncturing the eyeball?

MrsWheelbarrow said...

No idea why... except it sounds yucky. Ha!

Jake said...

Really nice stuff. I too avoided cooking the whole pigs head this month. In part because I didn't know what I'd do with that much headcheese.

I would definitely agree that this month was one of those "initiation" months... another word for it may have been hazing.

Thanks for the great read!