Soused Hog's Face

Soused Hog's Face

Nothing gets the NPH going in the morning like a request for an obscure recipe. He's been pulling all kinds of books down off the shelves in response to Grim's call to arms.

Our thoughts went immediately to Jack Aubrey, so we started with Lobscouse & Spotted Dog, the official cookbook of our beloved Patrick O'Brian Aubrey/Maturin series, which quotes the following exchange from Post Captain:

'It's all one, sir' said Killick. 'Miss told me to say the pig weighs twenty-seven and a half pound the quarter, and I am to set the hams to the tub the very minute I come aboard -- the souse she put aside in thicky jar, knowing you liked 'un. The white puddings is for the Doctor's breakfast.'

'Very good, Killick, very good indeed,' said Jack. "Stow 'em away.'

'To think a man's heart could break over a soused hog's face,' he reflected.
The cookbook then gives this "period" recipe:

1 pig's head, about 1 pounds, cleaned but not skinned
2 lbs. (6 cups) white cornmeal
3 cups white wine
3 cups white vinegar
1 cup water
2 bay leaves
1 T salt
12 peppercorns
1 knob fresh ginger, about 1 inch long, sliced
1 nutmeg, cut in half

Place the head in a large bucket with half the cornmeal and cold water to cover. Soak 2 hours or longer.

Remove the head from the water, rinse well, and place in a large pot with the remaining cornmeal and water to cover. Bring to a boil, covered, and simmer 3 hours. Remove from the pot. When it is just cool enough to handle, pick all meat from the bones. Reserve the tongue and ears.

Wring out a cloth in warm water. Put all the meat into the cloth and tie up as tightly as possible. Chill until firm.

Combine the wine, vinegar, 1 cup water, and the spices. Untie the cloth and pack the meat into a crock. Add the tongue and ears. Pour the wine mixture over the meat. Weight the meat to keep it submerged (a plastic bag partly filed with water works nice.). Seal the crock and store in a cool dark place for up to 2 weeks before serving. Serves 6.

(This recipe is followed by one for stewed boar with "well-tasting soft dark things" identified by the Catalan word "bolets" in Master and Commander, and translated as "porcini mushrooms" by the cookbook's authors.)

The River Cottage Meat Book I mentioned recently also has a section on "headcheese," a/k/a "brawn," that suggests adding a couple of "trotters" (pig's feet) to make sure there will be enough gelatin for the meat to set:

1 pig's head, quartered
2 pig's trotters
2 onions, peeled and quartered
A large bundle of herbs -- parsley, bay leaves, thyme, and marjoram
A cheesecloth bag of spices (1-2 t each of cloves, coriander seeds, and mixed peppercorns)
A handful of chopped parsley
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut the ears away from the head and scrubb them thoroughly under a warm tap (pigs have ear wax too). Remove any bristles with a razor or tweezers. Then place with the quartered head in brine for 24 hours. [From another page: brine should be 2 lbs of salt for every 3-4 quarters of water, cooled thoroughly after the salt is dissolved. A potato should float if the brine is salty enough.]

Place the quartered head, ears, trotters, onions, bundle of herbs, and bag of spices in a large stockpot. Cover with water and bring slowly to a gentle simmer. For the first 30 minutes of cooking, skim off any bubbly scum that rises to the surface. Cook, uncovered, at a very gentle simmer for about 4 hours altogether, until all the meat is completely tender and coming away from the bones. Top up the pan occasionally as the water level drops.

When cooked, lift out the meat and leave until cook enough to handle. Pick all the meat, skin, and fat off the head bones (it should fall off quite easily). Peel the coarse skin off the tongue and discard. Roughly chop all the bits of meat, including the fat and skin and the tongue, and toss together with the chopped parsley and the lemon juice. (Everything except the bone and bristles can go into a headcheese, but if you want to make it less fatty, just discard some of the really fatty pieces at this stage.) Season to taste with a little salt and pepper.

Remove the herbs, onions, and spices from the cooking liquor and strain it through a fine sieve or, better still, cheesecloth. Stir a few tablespoons of this gelatine-rich liquid into the chopped meat to help the headcheese set as it cools. Pile the mixture into terrine dishes (1 large, or 2 or 3 small ones), or a pudding basin. Place a weighted plate or board on top and put in the refrigerator to set.

A headcheese can be turned out of its mold on to a plate to serve. Serve cold, in slices, with pickles.

The cookbook then adds a variation: fried headcheese. "Put a couple of slices in a pan and melt gently over a low heat. Pour off a little of the excess fat, then turn up the heat so the meat begins to fry. Add a little garlic if you like. . . ." This is what I call a cookbook.

And since the recipe recommends pickles, now would be a good time to mention the success we've been having this month with kosher-style garlic dill pickles. You don't use vinegar; the souring comes from the lacto-baccilli guys that live on the surface of cucumbers fresh from the garden. Grocery-store pickles have had all that scrubbed off of them and sealed out by wax. You just pop the cukes in a crock with dill and garlic in a very strong brine and a handful of grape leaves for tannin (to keep them crisp), and sure enough a week or two later they're starting to taste like kosher dills. The recipe ways they should be thoroughly sour in one to four weeks. We've enjoying these so much that I regret the short overlap in cuke, dill, and grape-leaf seasons. We didn't start trying the recipe until the cukes were almost finished producing. We got the recipe from Wild Fermentation, an altogether inspiring cookbook.

One final pig's recipe is from The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating, and calls for more vegetables. It also recommends setting aside the ears to make Sorrel, Chicory, and Crispy Ear Salad, an "ideal accompaniment" and a dish surely destined to become a Christmas tradition in your household:

1 pig's head, rinsed thoroughly
4 pig's trotters
2 onions, peeled
2 carrots, peeled
2 leeks, cleaned
2 stalks of celery
2 heads of garlic, skin on
zero of 2 lemons
A healthy splash of red wine vinegar
a bundle of fresh herbs tied together
2 bay leaves
a scant handful of black peppercorns (tied in cheesecloth -- or you will be picking them out of the cooked meat forever)
sea salt

Place the head and trotters in a large pot, cover with water, and add all the other ingredients except salt. As soon as you have brought it up to a boil, reduce to a very gentle simmer, skimming as you go.

If using, extract the ears after about 1 hour, rinse them, and dry them carefully. When you can eel the cheek starting to come away from the bone (this should take about 2-1/2 hours), remove everything from the liquor and discard the vegetables. Return the liquor to the heat to reduce by about half, then season with salt, remembering this is served cold, which subdues flavors. While still warm, pick through the trotters and pig's head, retrieving the flesh, especially peeling the tongue. The snout is neither fat nor meat; do not be discouraged [Fear not! as the angels said], it is delicious in your brawn.

Line our terrine with plastic wrap and fill with the retrieved meats. Pour in enough of the reduced liquor just to cover, slamming the mold on the kitchen counter to shake out any air bubbles. Leave to set overnight in the fridge, and before you serve it, remove it in good time to acclimatize without being so warm it is soft and sweaty.

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