There were murmurs around the room as the compère made the next announcement. To some it was heaven, to others it was a fence-sitter and to the rest it was a face-scruncher. It was going to come from one of New York’s finest, a talent that had titillated the culinary streets of New York and had stirred the innards and keyboards of the mumblers and meanderers of the gastro-critique fraternity.
The next will be bone marrow with a parsley salad, and here to show us how it’s done is Gabrielle Hamilton from Prune Restaurant in New York – Hands together if you please.
Inspired by the nose to tail genius that is Fergus Henderson, who was also in the building, Gabrielle captivated the audience no more so by the fact that amongst all the rare and expensive ingredients being manipulated by some exquisite chefs in this Master Class in Melbourne, it would be a humble piece of bone with its gelatinous and oozy marrow, and an ever so simple parsley salad with classic vinaigrette that would shine, and turn those fence sitters in to converts and the face-scrunchers to fence sitters.
It was 2008 and this was the year that I truly started to think about the wonders of offal, or the ‘other’ parts of what we carnivores have on offer to eat, but often choose not to. As the next course of fried veal sweetbreads and bacon was served I delighted at the unctuously soft deep fried pancreas, and the horrors of being faced with tripe (the lining of a cows stomach) and onions as a child began to evolve into thoughts of experience and knowledge.
I have recently been reading a book by the excellent writer and cook Jane Grigson, a beautifully written, in-depth look at ‘Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery’, first published in 1967. It has inspired me to think more about every part of the animal and the scope for some really tasty food. In conjunction with the marvellous and ‘iconic’ The Complete Nose to Tail by Fergus Henderson, I have for some while had a real desire to cook a pig’s head. And the fulfilment of such desires is aided somewhat by having access to a brilliant brilliant butcher who with a bit of luck and a fair wind can obtain virtually anything for carnivorous consumption.
Since my first enquiry of the availability, I have learnt that there are very stringent regulations on selling pigs’ heads based around the possible harmful bacteria that can sometimes be found in the pig’s mouth. As a consequence every pig’s head needs to be inspected before being released for consumption. This means that if inspectors are not present the head cannot be released. The upshot was that I had to wait about 3 weeks, but when I got the call to say it had arrived I was like a kid in a sweet shop. To do it justice, and as part of the learning process, I decided to do a slightly modified version of Fergus Henderson’s classic: Pig’s Head and Potato Pie with a Pig’s Ear, Sorrel, Spinach and Parsley Salad.
Pig's Head and Potato Pie with Pig's Ear, Sorrel, Spinach and Parsley SaladPrint
- For the Pig’s Head :
- ■ 1 whole pig’s head | Best to get your butcher to cut it in half unless you have a 20 litre stock pot. I fit mine into an 11 litre stockpot when cut in half. Remove the pig’s ears.
- ■ 2 celery sticks | Roughly chopped.
- ■ 2 large carrots | Peeled and roughly chopped.
- ■ 2 brown onions | Roughly chopped.
- ■ 1 head garlic | Cut in half along the circumference so that each clove is in half.
- ■ 5 sprigs thyme | Tied together with the Parsley stalks.
- ■ 1 bunch parsley stalks | Lop off the stalks just below the leaves. Tie together with the Thyme.
- ■ 4 bay leaves | Fresh bay leaves if you have them.
- ■ 1.5 litres chicken stock | Below is the recipe link.
- ■ 350ml white wine | I used a chardonnay as I didn’t want anything too ‘fruity’.
- ■ cold water | As much cold water as needed to cover the pig's head.
- ■ 30 black peppercorns | Tied in muslin with the white peppercorns.
- ■ 10 white peppercorns | Tied in muslin with the black peppercorns.
- For the Pie:
- ■ 375g puff pastry | Use a good quality butter puff pastry – I usually buy it unless I have time to make it.
- ■ 1kg potatoes | I used sebago, but King Edwards, desiree or Maris Pipers are great. Slice to a couple of mm thick with a sharp knife and a steady hand, or a mandolin.
- ■ ¾ bunch parsley | Leaves finely chopped. Leaves from the same bunch as the stalks above.
- ■ 9 cloves garlic | Finely sliced.
- ■ seasoning of sea salt and black pepper |
- ■ 1 egg | Beaten.
- For the Salad:
- ■ 2 pig’s ears | Assuming your pig’s head came with two ears!
- ■ 1 litre or so cooking oil | I use grapeseed or canola. This is used for frying.
- ■ bunch sorrel | Chiffonnade. This is a great zesty leaf.
- ■ 2 handfuls baby spinach | Leave whole.
- ■ ¼ bunch parsley | Picked Leaves.
- ■ 3 tbsp. capers in vinegar | Drain the capers. Small capers work better in this salad.
- For the Vinaigrette:
- ■ 1 clove garlic |
- ■ 1 tsp. sea salt |
- ■ 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard |
- ■ 1 lemon - juice of | Freshly squeezed - no pips!
- ■ 2 tsp. rice wine vinegar |
- ■ 250ml olive oil |
- ■ seasoning black pepper | Freshly cracked.
For the Pig’s head: to a large stock pot add the pig’s head, celery sticks, carrots, onions, garlic, tied thyme and parsley stalks, bay leaves, chicken stock, white wine, and black and white peppercorn pouch.
Now add cold water until the pigs head is completely covered. Place the removed pig’s ears on top, but submerged under the liquid. Now bring the liquid to the boil, and then cover the pan with a lid and reduce the heat until the pot is murmuring (a gentle simmer). Leave this for 1 hour and remove the pig’s ears and gently rinse in cool water. Simmer the pig’s head for a further 2 hours. We want the flesh to just pull away from the pig.
Now comes the funky (messy) part. Remove the Pig’s head from the broth and allow to cool until you can safely handle it. I used a pair of clean Marigolds (dishwashing gloves) to do this next bit so I can do it whilst it is hot. Pull the flesh away from the head, separating meat from fat and bone. We want to keep all the meat; especially look out for the cheek meat – it’s just sensational. With the tongue you will need to peel away the tough membrane. Underneath you will find this incredibly rich meat with the consistency of ‘pulled pork’. Put all the meat into a clean bowl. The remaining broth can be strained (with the vegetables, herbs and spices being discarded), reduced and then retained for further use. I froze mine.
Pre-heat your oven to 170 deg C (340 deg F). Now to construct the pie: take a 23 cm deep pie dish and line it with a 6-8mm thick layer of puff pastry. We are going to have three layers of pig’s head meat and 3 layers of sliced potato. Start by taking a third of the meat and evenly spread over the pie base. Now take a third of the parsley and sliced garlic and sprinkle over the meat and season with salt and pepper. Now add an overlapping layer of sliced potato. Repeat this layer process another two times. The filling may seem too much but it will shrink when cooking. Now roll out the rest of the puff pastry and cover the pie with it. Seal the edges by pushing the pastry with your thumb around the circumference. Prick the top a few times with a fork and then wash the top with the beaten egg. Put in the oven for two hours. The pie is ready when the potato surrenders to a skewer.
Now the pig’s ears have cooled, slice very thinly. Heat the oil in a deep pan until it reaches about 170 deg C (340 deg F). Now, in batches, add the sliced pig’s ear. This is the most difficult part of the dish as:
1) They will spit vehemently when added to the oil, so really take care.
2) If they are not continually agitated (stirred) they will stick together in a congealed mess and will not crisp up.
Don’t be tempted to try a big batch at once or they will stick. After a few minutes the ear slices will become crispy. Drain on paper towel.
For the vinaigrette, bash the garlic with the salt in a mortar and pestle. Add the mustard, lemon juice and vinegar and mix and grind in the mortar and pestle until consistent. Now add the mix to a large bowl and in a steady stream add the olive oil whilst whisking away. The vinaigrette should be a nice emulsion. Add the black pepper to taste.
For the Salad, add the crispy pig’s ears, sorrel, spinach, parsley and capers to a bowl and then add 3 tablespoons of the vinaigrette dressing. Mix well – hands work great. Taste and adjust the amount of dressing according to your taste.
When the pie is ready serve a slice with the salad. The variety in texture and flavour of the meat will surely wow you.
The recipe for chicken stock is here.