It’s a dish some people are afraid to order — much less make themselves. And yet, if you want to impress your foodie friends, headcheese is a sure slam dunk. Hey, what recipe calling for a pig head wouldn’t be? Just ask author and self-proclaimed meat expert Marissa Guggiana, who included this recipe for headcheese by Northern Spy Food Co.‘s Nathan Foot in her new book, Primal Cuts: Cooking With America’s Best Butchers.
“First we called it headcheese on the menu and it didn’t sell,” Foot is quoted in the book. “When we put it on as pork terrine, it started going! It may seem even more intimidating to prepare it, but this recipe is straightforward, balanced, and transcendent.”
Yield: 1 terrine
2 stalks celery (coarsely chopped)
2 carrots (coarsely chopped)
1 onion (coarsely chopped)
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 cups stock (pork or chicken)
1 bunch thyme
1 bunch rosemary
1/2 teaspoon star anise
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon peppercorns
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 pig head, about 15 to 25 pounds
1 1/2 cups green pistachios
5 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
2 cups finely chopped parsley leaves
salt and pepper
In a skillet over medium heat, heat the oil and sauté the carrots, onion, and celery until onion is translucent. In a pot large enough to roomily fit your pig head, combine the onion mixture and stock. Add the rest of the braising ingredients. Bring stock to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook about 2 hours, until flavorful. The amount of liquid needed should halfway cover the head and will depend on how large your pot is, so add water if you think it’s necessary — but don’t dilute too much, as a lot of the flavor from your terrine comes from this liquid.
In an oven heated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, toast the pistachios until lightly golden, and set aside. Strain the braising liquid. Lay the pig head, face up, in the pot, and pour liquid over head. As stated above, this should cover the head at least halfway, and can completely submerge it if your pot is deep enough. Cover with foil and braise until you can easily remove the jaw from the skull, about 3 1/2 to 4 hours. You want the meat to be soft but not completely melted; there should still be some structure. If your pig head is not completely submerged in liquid, occasionally baste it with the liquid during braising.
Transfer the braising liquid to a separate pot, strain, and remove the fat when it has cooled. Let the head cool slightly and remove the meat and fat from it before the fat sets. Use an ice bath to cool your fingers while working. Tear bite-sized pieces and set meat and fat in separate piles. Use any skin that is soft enough to be palatable. Throw away any brain, glands, inner ear, and the roof of the mouth. (“I usually exclude the ears, eyeballs, and snout, but you can include,” says Foot. “If you include the tongue, peel before adding.”) Watch out for and remove little bones.
Line terrine mold or loaf pan with plastic wrap. In a bowl, add meat and fat so you have a 90:10 ratio of meat to fat. Add enough strained braising liquid to cover meat. Add white-wine vinegar, a tablespoon at a time, to taste. Add pistachios. Mix gently, so as not break down the fat too much. Add parsley. Stir again gently, so each bite will have some parsley and pistachio. Salt and pepper to taste. Do not oversalt. The vinegar will taste stronger now than when terrine is set. Pour the meat gently into the lined terrine mold and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.
To serve, cover the terrine completely with a flat dish and flip gently to remove. Slice with a very sharp knife. Serve with a sprinkling of salt, Dijon mustard, pickled vegetables, and bread.
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