Monday, May 24, 2010

"Head To Toe": Pig's Head with Gribiche Sauce

Last week, I made the "Head To Toe" recipe in the French Laundry Cookbook. It's a two-part recipe, one part which involves a pig's head, and the other which involves the feet. I opted to do the head part first: "Head To Toe": Pig's Head. The recipe takes several days and is extremely grueling to prepare. I told you it was a doozy.

The first step was finding a good place to buy a whole pig's head (not an easy task, by any means). Esposito's on 9th Avenue did the trick, and it was inexpensive (only $25). I also went to a hardware store to buy a hacksaw so I could cut the skull open to get all the good cuts of meat. The store manager and I had a great exchange that day:

Cashier: "What kind of material are you cutting through?"
Me: "Skull, skin, meat"
Me: "Oh don't worry. It's just for food."

Anyway, here it is in all its glory:

I was a little afraid of manning a hacksaw by myself, for fear that I would cut off several fingers. So I called Dylan up and asked him to saw open the head for me.

Here Dylan is posing with the head:

First, I cut off the ears and reserved. They were rather hairless, which is always a good thing.

Next, we started to saw open the head. This proved quite difficult as the hacksaw was only so large, and the head was much much larger. Me first:

Then Dylan:

Dylan seemed to be experiencing a lot of pain while doing this. He put his body into it and was making loud primate noises while sawing the head open.

After a lot of arduous cutting and rotating of the head, we put a cleaver strategically in the cut line and cleaved the head in two.

The next step was to braise the tongue for four hours with a mirepoix of vegetables. I removed the tongue from both sides of the head and put them in a large pot filled with stock and water.

I cut up a mirepoix of thyme, garlic, vinegar, seasonings, onions, carrots, and other aromatics.

I brought the mixture to a simmer, covered it in foil, and put it in the oven for four hours to cook slowly...

I made Parmesan crisps in the meantime to hold everyone over.

Meanwhile, Dylan helped remove the meat from the skull. This was a time-consuming process that TFLC compares to skinning a fish fillet.

Here we have the completed face meat -- Yum Yum!

I diced up the pig's ear and some of the other meat from the head.

Four hours later, I removed the tongue from the oven, discarded the vegetables and stock, and cut the meat into manageable and well-sized pieces. My house smelled pretty delicious right about now.

I prepared a long length of cheesecloth and saran wrap to roll the head cheese in.

I first put the face meat on the bottom, pounded flat. Then, I added chopped tongue, chopped ear, cheek meat, and extra meat from inside the head. I also added a little sweetbreads as per their suggestion.

I rolled this up into a roll and discarded the saran wrap. I tied the ends tightly and airlessly, so it was a long cylindrical roll that went into another pot. I then cooked it for six hours in the oven (same style as before, mirepoix, water, stock)...

I woke up the next morning and removed it from the oven. It smelled heavenly! Most of the stock was gone and in its place was a thick layer of oil, presumably from the rendered fat. And boy, these was a lot of fat to render in those cuts of meat.

I discarded the liquid and aromatics, cut open the cheesecloth, and transported the meat to a brand new cheesecloth. This I rolled very tightly, tied the ends, and bound the whole thing with string. I attempted to hang this in my fridge which was an impossibly difficult endeavor, simply because my refrigerator space is extremely limited (living in NYC, that is the norm). I had to move around a dozen things to create the space I needed for the new package to drip dry, and I also had to put a plate and a bowl to catch the dripping oil and to prevent the whole roll from collapsing.

I let it drip dry in my cooler for about a day and a half (the book recommends a day, but I was worried that it would be too greasy or fall apart -- my fridge is not cold enough when there are too many items inside it). Then I took it out:

I was very very VERY worried about it, worried that it was going to blow up and not stay together, just like Carol Blymire. But it worked! Here, we can see a beautiful cross-section.

I cut two beautiful medallions -- one for me and one for Dylan (who helped me saw open the head). You can see the amazing textures in the meat all mixed together, each texture corresponding to a different cut of the meat from the face. I was sooooo eager to try it at this point. I salivated uncontrollably like a Pavlovian mongrel.

I brushed the medallions with Dijon mustard and dredged them with a lot of fresh bread crumbs. Then I cooked them in canola oil.

I cooked one side for a few minutes until it was golden-brown then flipped it to cook the reverse side.

Let me talk about the sauce now. It's called gribiche, and it's a sauce commonly used for head cheese. It is a French mayonnaise-style cold egg sauce made from chopped egg white, chopped egg yolk, minced cornichons, minced shallots, minced chives, parsley, tarragon, white wine vinegar, carpers, and olive oil. The picture from Wikipedia is much less appetizing than my own rendition.

Plating: First, the gribiche sauce (look how pretty it is!):

Then the medallion:

Finally, some fresh tarragon.

What a dramatic change in appearance, right?

Alberto, Jorge, Dylan, and I have tasted this and we all loved it. Even Alberto.

The meat was so rich and tender and fatty, and the different textures present in the meat contrasted with each other and excited my mouth with every bite. The crunch on the exterior provided a subtle contrast with the tender and fatty inside. The sauce gave the dish some zing and acidity, which was cut by the olive oil.

One head cheese makes enough medallions for twelve to sixteen people (depending on how thick you make the medallions). If you prepare the head cheese and gribiche ahead of time, you can make this recipe in a few minutes - very easy.

All in all, not a bad recipe!

Pig's head, Sweetbreads from Esposito's
Produce from Whole Foods

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