Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Everything But The Squeal

On Sunday, I got my half-a-pig delivered.  It barely all fit into the chest freezer on the porch!  Sausage, bacon, roasts, pork chops, ribs, a hock, an enormous healthy liver--all of it from one half of an enormous, happy pig raised in lovely pastures.

I also got this:

Yeah.  That's a head.

Stay with me now, folks.  A couple years ago, I would so have been going eeeewwwwww!  A freakin' head??? What the heck are you THINKING?  But since then, I've been reading.  And I've been watching documentaries about food waste.  And I've been watching cooking shows from the UK and other countries where they do, in fact, routinely eat things like...heads. So when the opportunity came up to be brave and give it a go, I took the head that was offered to me.

Now, saying sure, I'll take a head and actually doing something with said head are two different steps.  And I started thinking, after I had shoved the head into the last corner of available freezer space, that perhaps that head could just stay in the freezer for a while.  That idea was pretty attractive...but then I thought, no girl, you have GOT to just DO this thing.  So I went back downstairs, out onto the cold porch, and brought that frozen head in to defrost.

 In the morning, I started off like this:

I don't know if that is better or worse for those of you who are already howling in horror, but it is a fun fact that a pig head fits rather nicely in a standard turkey roaster.  I'll bet you didn't know that, did you?  I added sliced onion, preserved ginger, peppercorns, and a little bouquet of fresh herbs from the pots on my seed starting shelves, and topped it off with a quart or so of water.  Then it simmered, covered with a layer of foil and the roaster lid, all day long--about six hours--until it was tender, the meat was falling off the bones, and I could pull it off easily with my fingers.  There is a surprising lot of meat on a head; there is also a lot of stuff that I find completely unappetizing, so the chickens will be delighted with their breakfast in the morning.  After sorting the best bits, I wound up with a bowl filled with about two pounds of rich, dark meat.
Now, most people associate using a pig's head to make something called head cheese, or braun (similar but with a British twist).  I am not a fan of head cheese--its too smushy textured.  Bleah.  So I took my meat bits, and broke out my favorite Amish cookbook and made a batch of scrapple.  Scrapple is essentially a cornmeal pudding that you cool in a loaf pan, then slice when it is really cold and fry for breakfast.  Served with maple syrup or homemade applesauce, it is delicious.  You can even slice it into sections, and then freeze it for later (which is what I plan on doing with at least one of the two loaves I made.)

Now that I've tackled cooking a pig's head, here are my thoughts.  One, it took all day to make the end product (scrapple).  That's a pretty big time investment, and its not one that I suspect many people would undertake.  I think that's why we don't see heads for sale at the local grocery store.  Second, I'm feeling pretty proud of myself for attempting this.  These pigs had great lives, and to me, have an incredible value that goes far beyond pork chops and bacon.  So while it is a lot of work to get a few pounds of meat from a head, I'm happy to have done it.  If you like head cheese, you'd get far more meat product "stuff" than I did.  I don't mind letting my chickens feast on the remains--they've earned a treat.  And I am happy to have authentic "pudding" meat to use in one of my favorite breakfast foods.  I wound up with two one-pound loaves of scrapple, more than enough for tomorrow's breakfast with plenty to go into the freezer for a ready-made meal in the future.  I even have a cool skull to do something with.  And third, I think if more people attempted cooking a whole head, we'd all view the current food system with a more critical eye.  I mean, all those pig heads aren't solely attached to slabs of delicious bacon.  They go somewhere--and that somewhere is usually into low grade hot dogs, McRib sandwiches, commercial animal feeds, or sadly, into the landfill.  It's a sad end to a pig's life.  And if we took the time to cook down a head and deal with the willies of looking at a piece of meat that obviously looks like what it once was--the head to an intelligent, living animal--I think we'd be a little more conscious about consuming meat instead of wolfing down faceless hamburgers and chicken nuggets.

That said, it isn't a project for the faint of heart.  I admit I had a few moments where I was thinking, what the begeebers am I doing??  Let's just say, eyeballs are really really big.  And they still look like an eyeball after they've been cooked.  Shudder shudder...

I'd do it again, though.  Next time I get a half-a-pig, I'm going for that head.

Scrapple (from The Menonite and Amish Cookbook)

You'll need: 1 1/2 pounds of "pudding" pork meat (either picked off the head like I used, or you can substitute browned and drained pork sausage or ground pork); 4 cups boiling water or pork broth (the broth from cooking the head is incredibly rich and flavorful!); 1 1/2 cups cornmeal; 1/4 cup buckwheat flour; salt and pepper to taste.

Bring the broth to a boil, adding in the meat.  Return to a rolling, high boil and then slowly add the cornmeal and buckwheat flours.  Add salt and pepper.  Stir constantly until thickened.

Cover pot and reduce heat to low.  Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Turn out scrapple into prepared loaf pans.  I like to line them with waxed paper, for easy removal of the loaves.  Cool completely, then place in the refrigerator.  It is best to let them set overnight.  Once set, remove from loaf pans, slice, and then fry slices in a little butter or melted lard until golden brown on both sides.  Serve with maple syrup or homemade applesauce for a delicious breakfast.

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