Apologies to anyone who (a) is a bit squeamish, or (b) thinks that Chefette wastes far too much space droning on about offal. But it’s not every day that you get to cook a pig’s head.
C and I spent an afternoon in the kitchen last week, each transforming a pig’s head into something fabulous. She made “brawn” with hers, a type of pig’s head terrine, with green peppercorns. I made mine into ravioli, with a red wine sauce (method recapped below for anyone who is interested).
If you're thinking about getting a pig's head, be aware that it's not exactly convenience food. The cooking wasn't particularly difficult, but there was a lot of time involved. It took me around 3-4 hours to cook the head, and another 2 hours to make the ravioli. The good news is that the results were spectacularly tasty, both for the brawn and the ravioli. After a long, slow cooking time, the meat from a pig's head is rich and flavourful, and the braising juices are full of body.
But it was the economics of the exercise that really made an impression on me. Each pig’s head cost £2.50 from the butcher. C got around 10 starter portions of terrine (which we put on the menu at £4.50), and I got around 25 starter portions of ravioli (which we put on as a special at £5.00). We sold all the terrine and 7 portions of the ravioli in two days, for a cash take of £80. And we were able to freeze all the remaining portions of ravioli, so when those sell it’ll bring an extra £90. All in, that’s a cash take of £170 on ingredients worth well under £10!
Off to Paris tomorrow with one of the Husband’s glamorous cousins for a girlie break. Will be eating at Bistro Paul Bert on Wednesday night. I seem to recall they have brawn on the menu – perhaps a comparative taste test is in order?
Method for pig’s head ravioli
For the ravioli:
Cover the pig’s ears with tinfoil to prevent burning. Roast the pig’s head whole on a bed of onions until it turns a dark golden colour on the outside (around an hour).
Then put the roasted head into a braising pan with onions, carrots, celery, a pint of chicken or veal stock and about half a bottle of red wine. Cover and seal with aluminium foil. Braise until the meat around the cheeks is very tender and falling off the bone, around 2-3 hours.
Allow the head to cool slightly after you take it out of the oven. Then, using your fingers, pull the meat off the head, taking care to remove all fat/skin/sinew. Shred the meat with your fingers into small pieces, and put into a bowl.
Ladle a couple of spoonfuls of the braising liquor over the shredded meat. Taste carefully and adjust seasoning as necessary. The finished mixture should be well flavoured, but still fairly dry – too much steam when cooking may cause your ravioli to explode.
(NB: the cooked brain can also be incorporated into the meat mixture. It should be moist, soft and springy when cooked. The flavour is extremely mild, and it adds a smooth texture to the mixture. The tongue meat is firmer and stronger tasting. I would reserve it for another use.)
Roll out some homemade pasta dough into thin sheets for the ravioli, and fill with spoonfuls of the shredded, braised meat. Take care when sealing the ravioli to press out any excess air pockets.
For the sauce:
Degrease the remaining pan juices as best as possible, then reduce them down until they are dark and fairly concentrated. Taste the mixture at regular intervals, until you reach the desired concentration. Then add a couple of ladles full of homemade tomato sauce (or simply some chopped tinned tomatoes and some sweated garlic), and cook for a further 15 minutes. Season as necessary with salt and pepper. A pinch or two of sugar can also help to bring out the tomato flavour.
Serve the ravioli with a small amount of the concentrated sauce, and some freshly grated parmesan.