One of the more difficult challenges posed by the Momofuku Cookbook is obtaining the proper ingredients. The Asian markets may be challenging at first, but the ingredients are there, you just need to find them, or ask the prettiest lady in the store for assistance. Some of the other rare ingredients may be tracked down in a specialty shop such as sheet gelatin or ordered through the mail. Every now and than, there is an ingredient that is not on a mailing list or available special order such as half a pigs head.
The pigs head proved elusive for quite some time. Butchers do not carry them, some could not special order them, and some thought I was crazy for asking. Perhaps they had visions of the choirboys putting the head on stake waiting for the fateful conversation with Piggy. It took some time to track one down.
Projects has a funny way of coming full circle. It’s been a while since I’ve ventured down to the Union Square Greenmarket, but thinking about it during my pickling posts was the aha moment, it started back in December with the first dish of pork belly, a trial run photo that did not make the blog.the beginning of Momofuku At Home. Check out the label.
Located in Shushan, NY, Flying Pigs Farms, is about a three hour drive (200 miles) north of NYC, past Albany near the border of Vermont. I called them and went through a rather awkward introduction.
“Hello, Flying Pig’s Farm, this is Erin.”
“Hi Erin, this is Chris, from New York” pause “well, I guess you’re from New York as well, I live in New York City and I’m looking for a pig’s head”.
In retrospect, this may have been the first time in the past few weeks I asked this question that the person on the other end of the line thought it was completely normal. I arranged to pick up the pigs head at the Union Square Greenmarket on Friday, April 2nd, no special delivery or shipping charge. Erin was kind enough to provide some tips working with the head and wished me luck…
The pig’s head made a nice travel companion on NJ Transit, a Facebook mobile upload, and an interesting conversation piece for the elderly lady sitting next to me.
In a welcome break from convention, I prefer to play with my food. Most of us, while growing up, are taught not to play with our food. While that may be appropriate when it’s on the plate, any activity that demystifies food or makes it more interesting for kids is fair game.
The head was placed carefully in the garage fridge with eye and snout looking out, right next to the soda. When the kids came over, “hey Zoey, could you please get your uncles a diet Root Beer?”. Like a good kid, off she went. Thirty seconds later she had a soda can in her hand and placed it on the counter next to me. Nothing. Oblivious.
Twenty minutes later, a scream erupts from the garage, Brielle. The head has been spotted… The adults were giggling like Muttley, from Stop that Pigeon fame…
Once we settled down, had some dinner (Coming Soon: mussels with OS), and I had the opportunity to chase the teenage vegetarian around the house with the head, I recruited some partners in crime to get to work.
[Photos by Zoey, age 12 (i think)]
Yeah, he cracks me up. I love the shirt too: Sister for Sale. Readers probably remember Colin from the butcher block video. He wanted to help out, and the thought of shaving a pig was too much to resist.
They got a real kick out of this, and were stunned to learn pigs get cavities.
I’m hoping this reinforces the need to brush and floss, but I won’t let my hopes get too high. But moving this post along, it’s into the pot for a long simmer…
The pig was snorkeling…
I had to get that bad boy down.
I can’t lie here, a discomforting feeling percolates the guy while trying to keep a creatures nose below the water with a lifelessly eye peering from six inches below the water line. While this post has been light and fun, to this point, working with an entire pig’s head has a transformative effect, mainly, respect.
We’ve become detached from our food sources. The topic has been covered in great detail by others, so I won’t get on the pedestal, nevertheless, working directly with the head brings a deeper respect for the animal and food source reinforcing the obligation to reduce waste. Nose to tail eating at it’s heart…
Pig’s Head Torchon
Removing the head from the pot was quite cumbersome, and, unsurprisingly, impossible to photograph by yourself. The meat peals back from the bones. You can still see the steam rising on the plate.
Does it remind you of a bald football player on a cold Sunday in December?
It’s all getting ready for a very Dexter moment…
Flipping the head over:
and separate into piles: meat, fat, all the other stuff (bones, snout, eye, etc.)
a close up of the nasty bits ( just lost half the readers…)
The meat gets separated by itself. “Are those brains?”, my mother asked.
“it’s browned garlic”.
The mechanics of putting this all together sound simple enough. Put down some fat and some meat and roll it tight, however, rolling a torchon correctly proves slightly more difficult.
When I was in college, my house mates and I were hosting a party along with the girls who shared the other half of the house. The parties were always pretty good and usually features the women’s track team, members of the band (one time, not at camp), and all the cheerleaders. One of my house mates, Ron, just received some venison and deer meat from his father. He cooked it up and served it as a passed hors d’oeuvres.
Ron possessed some talent in the kitchen and experience with game meats. He tenderized, seasoned, and cooked the meat simply and perfectly. He stabbed the bear with toothpicks and placed it on the table without announcing what it was. Off it went to the delight of the party. One of the girls, happily enjoying asked, “this is good, what is this?”
“Bear meat”, he replied.
“No, seriously, what is it?”
“Seriously, it’s bear meat”.
Her reaction was completely unexpected. She covered her mouth and managed to suppress a gag reflex until making it outside where she lost her cookies (and the bear meat). My first experience with a purely psycho/physiological reaction…
So, here’s a joke you can play on some kids (or adults for that matter). Describe this dish and a fair number of people sound grossed out, won’t try it. The thought of eating a dish not rendered anonymous through processing convinces the senses it will not be good. The face displays disgust, with the upper lip crinkling up towards the nose, a reaction seen for cannibalism and dead road carcasses.
“What will it look like?”, is a common question.
“It will look like a Chicken McNugget…”
No one wants to believe you. Either way, as part of the deal, I asked them to try it if it looked like a chicken McNugget, and they agreed. The joke would be to make these and serve them at a party without telling your guests what they are. Is that irresponsible? I’m sure it’s a gray line in someone’s book.
So, here you go. Breading and frying station.
The torchon gets sliced in one inch pieces, breaded, fried and plated:
It looks like a chicken McNugget.
How did it taste?
Here’s a shot of the little warrior not enjoying it…
After spitting out the first bite, which turned out to be a hunk of fat, he bravely went in for another try. Making sure to slice off a piece with mostly meat, it didn’t fair much better…
Oh well. All in all, the dish was a bit of a disappointment.
The dish needed the kewpie mayonnaise and mustard sauce to taste decent. Also, not only was the torchon rolled too thick, but also the fat and meat was not distributed properly. Some pieces had huge chunks of fat and others mostly pure meat. I’m welcome to suggestions and methods to improve on this. I might be tempted to run a knife through the fat and meat before combining just to achieve a consistent and small distribution.
Additionally, the torchon was not sufficiently seasoned. I tasted and seasoned liberally before wrapping the torchon, but the final dish still lacked the proper amount of salt. Friends, chefs, and garde managers claims seasoning torchons, terrines, etc. are difficult and challenging.
The result was disappointing, but definitely part of the learning process. I’ll revisit this recipe again and attempt a head cheese at some point.
Still work the fun time with the little ones…
I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for school that Monday, when the teacher asked, “So what did the class do this weekend?”
“My uncle chased me around the grandma’s house with a pigs head, than we shaved it and made McNuggets…”