Pig’s Head Torchon: Day 1

The pig’s head torchon recipe doesn’t look particularly difficult, but for me, it’s the most intimidating recipe in the book. I’ll take baby octopus or fingerling potatoes over pig’s head any day.

I’ve been worried about the pig’s head ever since I read the words “farmers do not raise walking pork chops”. Intellectually I know that farmers don’t raise walking pork chops (how cute would that be?!), but living in the city, I don’t have a lot of experience with livestock and most of the meat I’ve cooked comes packaged in plastic and styrofoam. I’m sure if I did live on a farm, raising and butchering my own livestock, I’d appreciate meat more.

In some ways, I’m grateful that I cooked the pig’s head. It made me really think about meat and appreciate cultures that take advantage of the whole animal. If you’re going to kill an animal for nourishment, then you should eat everything it offers you. Still, my appreciation for whole-animal-eating didn’t stop my squeamishness.

It took a while to psych myself up for the pig’s head, so of course when I was good and ready, it took me a while to get my hands on one. I guess I didn’t really want to make the pig’s head, or maybe the universe didn’t, because when I got to the butcher, it was closed. The next day, I called them up to make sure they’d have some, which they did, but frozen. Luckily (unluckily?) they said that they had some fresh heads coming in the next day, so I could pick one up then. The next day, bright and early, I headed to the butcher, where they informed me: the heads hadn’t arrived yet. They told me to come back after 12, but I was feeling a cold coming on, so I decided to leave the pig head buying to the next day.

The next day, I was still feeling under the weather, but after 4 days of trying to get my hands on a pig head, I was going to do it, sickness be damned! I decided that half a pig’s head would be entirely too much food for two people, so I asked if we could just take home some of the head. At first the butchers didn’t want to sell us a quarter pig head even though we kept insisting that we’d pay for the whole thing and leave three-quarters behind. I guess they didn’t know what to do with the heads either! Mike did some fast-talking negotiation with the butcher and we ended up with a small 2 and half pound chunk of head for $2.

Finally triumphant, I carried the pig’s head upstairs, took a peek into the bag and freaked out a little. Pig’s heads look, well, like pigs. Even dead, they look like they’re smiling a little. There was no way I could burn off the little pig’s eyelashes with a torch like Chang suggested. Thankfully, Mike agreed graciously to burn off the pig’s lovely lashes and put the head in our biggest pot. I think our pig must’ve been rather small, but if he was any bigger, he wouldn’t have fit in our pot. Pigs are really, really big and have enormous heads.

The head goes in a pot with green onions, carrots, an onion and loads of salt. It’s boiled for 3 and a half hours or until tender. You’d think that boiling a pig’s head would make your entire house smell like pig, but with the exhaust fans on and my stuffy nose, I smelt nothing.

After the head is cooked, you put it in a bowl to let it cook down a bit while you cook up some garlic. While the head was cooling I did smell a bit of porkiness, but the delicious smell of cooking garlic soon overpowered it.

I found that if I kept the head facing a certain way, it didn’t freak me out as much, so I kept it in that position while I separated the head into three bowls of fat, meat and discard. The discard pile is not pretty, especially the teeth. It was horrible seeing the pig’s teeth. I’d talk about it more, but it’s making me shudder right now.

I thought the 2 and half pound chunk of pig’s head wouldn’t have enough meat or fat to make a torchon, but I was pleasantly surprised. The torchon’s made by creating a carpet of fat using whole pieces of skin supplemented with chunks of fat, but because my pieces of skin wouldn’t make a rectangular shape, I chopped the skin up so I could arrange it into a rectangle. The rectangle’s topped with the meat, which is seasoned with salt and the garlic.

With everything all laid out, it was time to roll. Rolling the torchon is kind of like rolling a sushi roll or Vietnamese salad roll. If you have a lot of experience rolling, you won’t have a problem. You want the torchon rolled up nice and tight so the meat and fat can coagulate into a firm log.

Tomorrow: The unveiling! Will the torchon hold together? Plus, deep-frying and the taste test.

25 Comments add yours

  1. I’m so glad you’ve done it! Can’t wait for tomorrow to see results.

    I’m so glad I’m done with it! Hopefully it’s smooth sailing from here!

    steph on April 24th, 2010 at 1:50 pm
  2. You are such a brave, brave woman. I just can’t stand cooking things with a face, much less the FACE ITSELF. I am so impressed. And a little freaked out. :)

    Thanks! I didn’t feel brave and if you look at the photos closely, you’ll notice that my face is scrunched up in disgust in every one! Hahaha

    steph on April 24th, 2010 at 1:51 pm
  3. People also use the pig’s head to make head cheese and scrapple.
    Scrapple is actually a nice part of breakfast.
    I think on pigs, cows, and fish the cheeks are considered a delicacy.

    While it is nice to have skills, I can say that actually butchering a whole pig is more than I ever want to do. It involves a pulley and some tools.
    So I definitely am thankful that other people make a living doing this for me.

    Think of cute walking pork chops when you eat this. It is a funny thought.

    I’ve never had scrapple before, but I do like fish and pork cheeks.

    I would never want to butcher a whole pig. I just wouldn’t be able to do this. Walking pork chops for life!

    steph on April 26th, 2010 at 9:10 am
  4. Wow props for actually doing this! So much flavor is inside all the “nasty” bits of animals but its a shame more people won’t go for them! That being said, the head is a little bit freaky to me as well…

    Can’t wait to see how it turns out tomorrow. And i love the idea of this blog! Once all the recipes in the books are done what will happen!

    The nasty bits do tend to taste good, just not look good!

    steph on April 26th, 2010 at 9:10 am
  5. And I thought I was doing good with feet and cheeks. You rock! Can’t wait to see how it turns out.

    Thanks Vicki! I haven’t done feet, so props to you!

    steph on April 26th, 2010 at 9:11 am
  6. Glad you took up the courage to do this recipe. Most people are so squeamish about seeing how their food looks before they eat it. If it isn’t in Styrofoam and plastic wrapped they get scared.

    It’s important for all home cooks and eaters to realize that our food comes from living and breathing animals that give up their lives in order so we can eat. The least we can do it use every part of it and not let its sacrifice go to waste. That is my opinion and I do fully believe in “whole animal” philosophy.

    The whole idea that some people are scared to see that animals have eyes or teeth like them is ridiculous, especially that they will scarf down a pork chop or steak with no forethought.

    Hope it goes well for you! I’ve been planning on trying this recipe myself for quite some time but I’m trying to cut down on fat so I may hold off for some time so I’m just going to see what troubles you may encounter. Cheers!

    Hope you get a chance to try making the torchon yourself, if you do, let me know how yours goes!

    steph on April 26th, 2010 at 9:12 am
  7. Oh I so want to do this. You are an inspiration! Can’t wait to see the results.

    Hahaha, I didn’t feel inspired cooking it!

    steph on April 26th, 2010 at 9:12 am
  8. I actually had a dream about buying a pig’s head last night. i can’t wait to see the results!

    Dreams about pig’s heads are pretty common: I invited one of my friends over to cook the head with me and they had a nightmare about it the next day. After that she didn’t want to help anymore.

    actually mine wasn’t a nightmare at all. i was kind of disappointed when i woke up and realised, that there was no pig’s head waiting to be cooked.

    Ben / letsstartsimple.com on April 26th, 2010 at 9:16 am
    steph on April 26th, 2010 at 9:13 am
  9. Brave, brave girl. I freak out making whole fish since it has a face. This thing is all face!

    Thanks! It was hard for me though. If my husband wasn’t here to hold my hand along the way, I totally would have freaked out!

    steph on April 26th, 2010 at 9:19 am
  10. Wow that head looks pretty gnarly. I don’t know if I would’ve been able to do it. I’m usually good with chicken/duck heads, underwater creatures, etc. But a pig’s head seems a little scary to me. Good job.

    Thanks! It was pretty scary. I was so happy I didn’t have to bring home a whole head in one piece. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do that!

    steph on April 26th, 2010 at 9:20 am
  11. I’ve been away from the internet for a few days, and come back and found you’ve done it! Massive bravo! You rock. Off to read the rest…

    It scared me, but I did it!

    steph on May 3rd, 2010 at 11:39 am
  12. That’s amazing. . .I love that you tackled this pig’s head thing head on (okay, bad pun!) :)

    Heehee, bad pun, but still funny!

    steph on May 6th, 2010 at 10:08 am
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