Let’s be honest. The name doesn’t really do this dish any justice. It doesn’t even very appetizing (at least not to me). I get visions of British chef Heston Blumenthol laughing maniacally with liquid nitrogen, goggles, and a plate of his latest creation. Hog Head Cheese Medieval Style 😂
Don’t let the name fool you though. Hog head cheese is no cheese at all. Matter of fact there’s no dairy in it what so ever. In it’s most basic elements hog head cheese is simply select cuts of pork braised in a flavorful stock till the meat is extremely tender. Then that meat is placed into a mold and filled with a collagen rich stock to firm up over night. Think of it as a terrine of sorts. See, that doesn’t sound so bad…..
Here’s the kicker. The “select cuts of pork” are generally the face, the skin, and especially those tasty pig feet. These cuts are very high in collagen which is natural gelatin. This gelatin encases the meat once cooled leaving us with a unique and very tasty pork aspic.
If you are a “from the rooter to the tooter” kind of cook then this dish is right up your alley and sourcing these ingredients will be quite easy, but if you are a little on the uneasy side about cooking pig face, tongue, ears, snouts, cheeks, and feet (or if you have no idea where to get these parts) don’t fret because I will share with you a secret recipe so that you can cook your very own hogs head cheese (sans hog head). See below.
One last thing I want to mention. Unless you raise pigs, know someone who raises pigs, or live close to a true butcher’s shop, acquiring a pig head (bone in) is going to be quite challenging and will usually make a whole lot of head cheese. So, in the recipes below I’ve written out instructions for a more manageable quantity with substitutions in case you can’t find a hog head. If you want to adjust the quantities just type in the “servings” box how much you want to make in grams. 454 grams = 1 pound 😁.
Preparing the Meat
There are several basic elements to making Hog Head Cheese. The first is the preparation of the meat. If you plan on making traditional head cheese you’ll need collagen rich cuts. At least 25% of your recipe needs to be skin. This can come from the face, the pigs feet, or you can simply ask your butcher to save you the skin from the next pig he/she slaughters. The rest of the recipe will consist of various cuts of meat. Traditional head cheese will use pig tongue, jowl, cheek, even the meat from the hock or trotter. These cuts are very flavorful and become very tender when braised for several hours. Pork shoulder and pork belly are good (albeit less flavorful) substitutions.
To Cure or not To Cure
Should you cure your meat prior to cooking it? Well, I can’t answer that for you, but I can tell you that curing your meat for making hog head cheese isn’t necessary, so if you want to omit this optional step go right ahead.
The reason I like to cure my meat before cooking it is because it preserves the color (leaving you with vibrant reds and pinks in your meat), it enhances the flavor (imparting a delicious hammy element to your head cheese), and extends the shelf life of your head cheese (keeping it fresher tasting for longer). So with that being said if you want to cure your meat, simply mix Insta Cure #1 (see recipe below) with the rest of your spices and add it to the meat. Place it in a vacuum sealed bag and keep it in the refrigerator for 3 days. Voila!! It’s that easy.
Preparing the Stock
The second most important element to a good head cheese is the stock. You’ll want to jam as much flavor into this stock as possible so don’t be afraid to add some vegetables. Celery, onion, leeks, garlic, fresh parsley, and thyme all make great stock additions. Adding tomatoes and lemon juice brings a nice acidity to your stock that helps pull more collagen out of the skin and also helps break down connective tissue. This will all help in the production of a nice gelatin (which is exactly wat we want).
I like to wrap all of my vegetable in a cheese cloth to keep them together during the cooking process. It also makes the process go by much faster and it’s a lot cleaner in the end.
Just to Clarify
Once your meat has fully cooked and it fall apart tender you’ll have to make a very important decision. Should you clarify the stock? Clarifying the stock is not necessary so don’t feel obligated, but it does enhance the flavor by adding richness and removes all of the impurities which results in a cleaner crystal clear aspic which makes for a more attractive hog head cheese. In my opinion it’s worth the additional 35 – 40 minutes that it takes since I’m generally waiting for the meat to cool anyway.
The Secret to the “Headless” head cheese
If you want to make “headless” hog head cheese, I’ve got you covered. The secret is flavorless gelatin. I’ll be sure to make a recipe just for you below but all you have to do is add your flavorless gelatin to the broth then pour it in a mold over your tender meat. Allow it to set up over night and voila!! No one would be the wiser😁
Regardless of how you make this extremely versatile recipe have fun preparing it and enjoy your creation with friends and family (or by yourself as a midnight snack 😀)
Enjoy the video and the recipe. If you have any questions feel free to ask away. If you make this at home I’d love to hear about how it came out!!
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