Ta-dah! Here’s your blackened pig head.
A couple of nights ago, Mayur, Jessica, and I went down on a pig head …
It’s a sometime special at Fatty ‘Cue, under the bridge in Williamsburg: the head of the pig left over from Sunday’s pig roast, blackened from long smoking, but with a gleeful expression on its face. The head has been cut in half, so that it makes two portions, at $40 apiece. You may wish it hadn’t been cut in half, because when you turn it over, you see clots of brain annealed to the inside of the brain pan, and a blackened tongue grotesquely twisted and distended.
The half-head comes accompanied by planks of fresh green papaya, cilantro, Thai basil, radish slices, miniature plum tomatoes, and delicate pickled red chiles — they’re so good that, if you have some remaining after downing as much of the pig head as you can, you’ll pick them up with your chopsticks and eat every last one. The dish also comes with an unlimited supply of steamed bao — buns that can be used to make little sandwiches. Note well the grease-absorbing properties of the bao!
Who, other than a large-animal veterinarian, can say how to assay a pig head? You’re always conscious of the thing smiling up at you, as you take the blunt knife and begin to saw away. Step one is removing the blackened skin — which is largely inedible. Remembering that you love the cured hog jowl called guanciale, you begin by attacking the line of the jaw, working your way up the cheek.
Don the gloves, because first you have to pull off the skin.
Note the predominance of fat under the skin, and the glaring eyeball. Don’t be deterred!
All you get for the first few cuts is layer upon layer of steaming fat. The waiter — who quotes Yeats throughout — has given you surgeon’s gloves, and now you know why: In the next half-hour or so, you will be bodily immersed in gallons of porcine fat, fragrant with hardwood smoke, but as sticky as flypaper.
Eventually, you begin to find globs of meat. But you have to dig deep in various facial recesses, including cavelike sinuses, eyeball sockets, and other fleshly terrain usually hidden under the skin. Of course, the cholesterol-fearless will actually eat the fat itself, but after a bite or two, you realize it’s too rich, even for you.
Stopping for occasional deep draughts of beer — the only alcohol capable of cutting through such lipids — we worked our way around the head, nervously laughing from time to time, and daring each other to eat the most arcane bits. In general it was delicious, but I’m not sure I’m ready to do it again for another year or so.
Clowning around with the skin.