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.