Dear reader. I shaved a pig's head in my kitchen.
That's not some sort of weird euphemism, let me make that perfectly clear. It was for a recipe. I wanted to show how one unfashionable item - a pig's head - can be turned into three meals.
Actually, pigs' heads aren't all that unfashionable any more. There appears to be a resurgence in nose-to-tail eating, and you're now just as likely to find pig's head terrine or fancy pork scratchings within the walls of Michelin starred restaurants as you are in hundred-year old cookery books.
There are many things, however, professional cooking spaces have that lend themselves to the preparation of a pig's head which many of us lack. Industrial size fridges in which to store items as large as an animal's head. A worktop upon which you can really get to grips with the beast, to complete the many processes that these recipes demand. However I would argue that it is just about possible to cook a pig's head should you wish to. More than that, it's possible to create both nourishing and decadent meals from one. I set the personal benchmark at being short on space: my kitchen measures 5m2. If I can have a go, anyone can.
This is not making cheese on toast. It is not Jamie Oliver's 30-minute meals. But, for the most part, there are nights that demand speedy eating and there are evenings where we can commit to cooking a dish that requires time. And for those evenings, why not attempt something that pushes us out of our comfort zone in the pursuit of less wasteful, more ethical eating?
These three recipes pushed me out of mine. There is nowhere to hide when you are removing the pockets of cheek meat from inside the jaw bones - it's not a technique that can be done with implements or at least not by me anyway. Yes, there is skin and bones and cartilage that must be discarded, but there is also education to take away. You get to see the anatomy of the animal as it is stripped of its meat. The roof of its mouth looks like the bottom of a wooden rowing boat, for example. Its teeth are the size and shape of worn-down white pencils.
It's also kind of comical, too, how the more time spent stripping the head, working out which bits go pop and which bits don't, makes it feel less scary.
Because to some extent, it is scary. It's looking your dinner right in the face before you eat it in a way that most of us have never done before. But I am glad I did it; for two reasons. One, because when meat comes from the supermarket or butchers looking all meek and homogenous it's easy to completely forget that it ever had a face, and thus what its life was like. We learned at the ultimate meat evening that this pig, my pig, had a good life. But would it have been a better life, and would its farmers have been under less pressure, if we ate less meat overall by eating more of the animal each time? Almost certainly.
The second reason is more basic. Each of the three dishes to come from the head is appealing: one is trendy, one an old-school classic and one warming and comforting, but all are relatively simple to make. A whole head costs as much as a McDonald's meal, but it's just about as far removed from fast food as it's possible to be. There are lengthy processes involved, and it will take time to finish, but therein lies the beauty of slowcooking. Any small effort invested in the beginning is returned tenfold, with enough meat for multiple meals that can be incorporated into a variety of well-known dinners. I barely need to add that it all tastes good because that is part of the promise. Pig's head burger? I'm loving it.
How to cook a pig's head three ways
1 pig's head, from Campbell's Prime Meat
1 Trim any bristles from the head with a razor.
2 Cut the ears from the pig with a small, sharp knife. Remove the very thick cartilage from the inner ears and discard. Set ears aside.
3 Cut the snout from the head. Set aside.
4 Take the head and soak in brine (water mixed with salt to cover as much as the head as possible) for 24 hours, turning midway if required
5 Rinse the head, then place in a large saucepan with carrots, leek, onion, celery, bouillon and red wine. Bring to the boil and simmer for 4 hours.
6 Remove the skin and fat from the head - this is most easily done with fingers (be brave).
7 For the meat that remains, use whatever cutlery you find easiest to remove it - I used a fish knife to get behind the bones into the cheek cavities, and forks to 'pull' the rest of the meat away from the head.
Pig's snout and split pea soup
1 pig's snout
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp tomato paste
200g split peas (dried)
1 Brown snout in olive oil. After 5 mins, add garlic and onions. When soft add tomato paste and stir.
2 Add thyme, salt.
3 Add 2 tsps of Bouillon to 200g hot water and add to pan.
4 Add split peas to pot and simmer for 45 mins.
5 Once cooked, puree sup to desired consistency.
6 Pan-fry snout off in a hot, oiled pan. Slice and serve on top of soup as garnish.
Pulled pork burgers with barbecue sauce
Pulled pork cheeks and head meat
For barbecue sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic
Can of chopped tomatoes
70g brown sugar
1 tbsp ketchup
4 tbsp malt vinegar
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
1 Fry onion and garlic in olive oil until soft and clear
2 Add remaining ingredients - the measurements are just my preferences. Season to taste.
3 Lid the saucepan and cook on a low heat for 40 mins
4 Puree if you prefer a smooth sauce
5 Take pulled pork and lay in an oven dish. Coat with a layer of barbecue sauce.
6 Bake in oven for 20 mins, then serve in brioche rolls with homemade chips and coleslaw
Salt & Pepper
1 Give ears a good scrub with hot water
2 Cut ears into thin strips
3 Deep fry ear strips until golden brown
4 If you don't have a deep fat fryer, heat sunflower oil in tall-sided saucepan and add a cube of bread to test when done (if it turns golden brown, then the oil is hot enough)
5 Add ear strips and cook until brown
6 Drain on kitchen roll, adding salt, pepper and parsley as they cool.