I've worked with pig's head before, and it was a slightly traumatic experience. That time it had come skinned, and the big old eyeballs staring at me as I tried to work with it were almost more than I could handle. That was a very strange year.... nothing came to me like I ordered and all the cuts of meat were skinned, which is pretty useless if you want to cure hams. Anyway, I doublechecked all this stuff with my farmer this year (Cochrane Family Farms in Upper Stewiacke) and he assured me that all meat would come skin-on. Because... skinning pigs is dumb.
I should perhaps pause to explain just why I ask for the head when I get a side of pork from my farmer, lest I give the impression of being some kind of extreme meat aficionado. See, most folks don't want these 'gross bits' like the head and the offal with the rest of their meat and so they generally get thrown out. A head does take up a lot of space - ours was around 16 pounds - so it's pretty understandable that they can't all be stored, and small producers have a hard time selling these to anybody. So they're discarded. But in the past decade or so that I've been more involved with my food and where it comes from, it's become important to me to recognize that animals I eat were once living, breathing animals - and nothing does this quite like a head. To throw this last reminder away seems like a physical and moral waste.
Anyway - this was the first summer where I actually got my pork cut exactly the way I had requested. (Thanks, Frank!) I had also wanted all the meat unfrozen so I could deal with it immediately, and it was - aside from the head. At the time I had been planning to make guanciale from the jowls, but was actually quite glad that I couldn't really deal with it since I had enough work to do, and I focused on making bacon, ham, paté, and cutting the the rest of the pig up into manageable cuts.
So into the freezer went the head, and there it stayed until last week. I ordered 50 lbs of grassfed beef from Ironwood Farm, (the same place we've bought our CSA share for the past two years) and we had to pick it up this weekend. The pig head taking up valuable space at the bottom of the freezer had to get dealt with in order to make room for all the beef.
|Look at that rakish grin!|
I'm still in school these days, and November isn't a great time to start time-intensive food projects, so fancy pants jowl-curing or making head cheese was not going to happen. I decided to just roast up the damn thing and see what happened. Once it was thawed out, I took a good look at it for the first time.
First things first. Pig needed a shave.
|No more goatee!|
When he was all shaved up, I stuck him in the roaster, covered his nose and ears, and roasted him at around 290 degrees for the next 7 or 8 hours. When it finally came out of the oven, the internal temp was around 190 - so I knew it would be coming out pretty much like pulled pork. But.... how was I going to get through that impenetrable hide to get to the meat?
Um, this is how. After letting it rest for 20 minutes or so, I cracked open its mouth to get at the meat at the back of the jaw. Kind of gross, but quite effective. There really is not very much meat on a head - most of it is jaw muscles or tongue, and this allowed us to get at it without wading through all the fat.
We were pretty thorough with the picking out all the good chunks of meat off the bones, and this plate was all there was - probably 2 pounds of cooked meat from a 16 pound head. We also peeled the tongue and cut it up as well. I'm not the hugest tongue fan, but this was actually pretty nice.
The meat was RICH but with a nice clean, pork roast flavour - my super-tart lime tomatillo salsa was a perfect balance for the rich meat, and the heavy corn tortillas provided a good, solid base to the whole production. I'd definitely do this again.
(Oh - and the leathery ears and the rest of the skin went to a friend's dog where he'll be happily chewing for the next year!)