1 pig’s head
2 pig’s trotters
3 star anise
1 large onion
5 bay leaves
2tsps red wine vinegar
Tarragon (ideally fresh)
6 sage leaves
As the lockdown progresses and the days merge in to one I decided to have a go at a few recipes. My Jamaican Ox Tail Stew doesn’t lend itself to warmer days, and my pork terrine being a massive hit with those of my children who are at home I decided to go nuclear and try making Froamge de Tete, or brawn as it is known in the UK.
Where to start? I looked at a couple of recipe books, since The Unseen Path is rather light on cooking recipes (this is the only thing that prevents me giving it a 5-star review). My well-thumbed copy of “Offal, the Fifth Quarter” by Anissa Helou has a Corsican Brawn recipe in it but I decided to go with a Borough Market recipe found online.
Sourcing the ingredients needed some planning, as obviously my butcher doesn’t stock pig’s heads on the off chance someone wants to buy one. They have similar problems with tripe these days as well, as it only comes in 10kg blocks and butchers won’t order it in for one customer. I wandered down to my trusty local butcher who didn’t blink an eye when I asked for the head. Stupidly I should have asked for a couple of trotters at the same time but I forgot. Maybe next time.
Ideally I wanted to get the cooking done and dusted before bin day, as I didn’t want the remains of a pig’s head hanging around in my waste for too long. My pig’s head cost me the princely sum of £10 from the butcher. I suspect the trotters would not have been too pricey either. Now a pig’s head is quite large, so I fortunately asked the butcher to saw the head in two before I left. The cheeks had been removed already as these delicacies are sold separately. I named the left side Pinky and the right side Perky.
As I trundled up the hill a trio of policemen (well one might have been female) crossed my path. Fortunately they didn’t stop and search me as I suspect they wouldn’t have entertained the idea that a shopping bag containing a single pig’s head (albeit in two halves) constituted “necessary” supplies. Having escaped the rozzers I snuck into the house. To say that Mrs Black was unhappy about me cooking brawn was an understatement, but my inner hunter-gatherer had kicked in and there you go.
The first thing to do was shave Pinky and Perky of their stubble and whiskers. The butcher hadn’t done a bad job but there were still the odd patches to get rid of. My recipe suggested that a disposable razor, so I crept up to my daughter’s bathroom and borrowed one. The pink colour of the razor matched the skin of my new playmates perfectly, and I soon managed to remove the excess hair from their cheeks, chins and ears.
I now faced my next challenge. What on earth was I going to cook them in. My fish kettle was not deep enough and neither was our trusty casserole dish. Mercifully we had bought a large pan from IKEA last time we were there, and this just (but only just) did the job. The pan was 8” deep with an 11” diameter. I still had to cut the ears off Pinky and Perky to make them both fit, and Perky’s snout was still poking up above the pan. A deeper pan would have been ideal for this.
The pan was then brimmed with water, and I added a large onion cut in half, three star anise and the bay leaves. All set, the pan was on the hob, the extractor fan was set to max and my witches brew was lit. The first job is to get the broth to boil. During this process a rather horrible grey foam starts forming and this needed to be skimmed off and binned. Once the broth was boiling I managed to cram the lid onto the pan and left the potion to simmer for three-and-a-half hours. After about two hours the flesh had softened enough for me to be able to properly push Perky’s nose under the liquid. By this time Perky’s nose had assumed a somewhat leathery complexion.
After the cooking was done I reserved the stock into a different pan through a sieve, and the stock was set to boil in order to reduce it by about a half. The remains of Pinky and Perky were allowed to cool and the onions and star anise discarded, their job was done. Once Pinky and Perky had cooled it was now time to remove the meat from them. There is a surprising amount of meat on a pig’s head, even without the cheeks. The best way to remove it is really to use your fingers to prod out the various bits.
The skin and underlying fat fell cleanly away from the bone, but since you really don’t want all the skin you need to get a sharp knife and gently separate the underlying fat from the outer membrane. I didn’t add all the fat to the brawn, but there are a few places where there is meat striated thought the fat, so carefully picking this out is well worth it. Once you’ve picked out all the meat (I chucked the eyeballs in the bin, but the brain was kept) and the stock is reduced it’s time to call it a day. The stock and meat were both put into the fridge for the night and I cleaned up the kitchen. I binned one of the ears but the other I cut into thin gelatinous strips to add to the mix. The skin just fell away from the gristle.
Come morning the stock had set into a reassuringly solid gel. Perhaps I had over reduced it, but never mind. The top of the gel had a thin layer of fat on top so I scraped this off with a spoon and binned it. The gel was now put into a pan on a very gentle heat just so that it would melt again. I added salt and pepper to the broth to taste, and also a small amount of vinegar and white wine vinegar for some acidity. The recipe called for red wine vinegar but there was none to be found in my search of the local supermarkets and delicatessens, so red wine and white wine vinegar was deemed a good proxy. I passed the broth through a cheese cloth to remove any bits left over.
I chopped the meat into cubes and mixed in some dried tarragon. Again the recipe called for fresh tarragon but I’ve not seen any for months, even the seed merchants have sold out of Russian tarragon seeds, let alone the superior French tarragon.
The meat mix was then put into a couple of cling film-lined terrine moulds (well, one is a loaf tin) and the broth poured on top. Ideally the broth needs to cover the meat by about a half inch or so, but as the meat floated a little it was as good as I could get.
I popped some fresh sage leaves on top of the gel for decoration and left the moulds to cool down. After they’d cooled to room temperature I covered the two moulds over with cling film and popped them in the ‘fridge to chill for a few hours.
Finally we were ready. With a rustic loaf, a little salad we tried the fromage. I’ll score it a 7 out of 10. The brawn itself was the right consistency and the jelly formed by the stock around the meat held the terrine in place rather than falling apart. I let myself down by not tasting the broth and seasoning it properly. I’d not put enough vinegar in to it as there was little to no “bite” of acidity as a result. I also needed to have seasoned the broth a little more. A bit more salt and pepper whilst I was reducing the stock would have given it a little more flavour.
© images and text Captain Black 2020
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