Friday, March 20, 2015

The Pig Head Party
Yes, that is a pig being stuck. 
Today we kill them first.
WARNING: Some content may be disturbing to some readers... others may find it "OMG that is sooo cooool!".  If you don't want to look at the face of a dead pig, you can read down for the recipe and instructions then stop when I start singing; though if you don't want to see the face of a dead pig I can't imagine why you would want to know how to stuff one... in any case, the pictures are after the song.

While this was not intended as a Historical Food Fortnightly challenge, it fits a missed challenge to a T, so I'll toss #18 in and check it off the list.  "Descriptive Food January 25 - February 7
We all know those recipes that come attached to interesting and imaginative names - slumps, crumbles, buckles, trifles, flummery. Pick a historic recipe that has a descriptive title."  Boar's Head isn't a funny name, but you know exactly what you are getting.

The Boar's Head feast was a traditional dish served around Christmas in Medieval Europe, Elizabethan times and later centuries, predominantly in France and England, but also America.  Usually sometime during the 12 days of Christmas, which are December 25th to January 5th, for those of you who don't know.  Advent is what comes before, from Nov 29th to Dec 24th.  There seems to be a modern confusion of those blocks of time.
I didn't make it for Christmas as we had originally planned.  This and that delayed the project and it actually ended up being a week into Lent.  Oops.

Also, what I had originally planned as being a full Christmas dinner turned into a dish-to-pass party, which worked out very well; but no king cake, or plum pudding or gingerbread.  I did what I had the time and resources for.

There are a few redactions and original recipes that I pulled information from, and some things I'd do differently next time (har), but it turned out OK.  The main thing I regret, aside from forgetting the ears (oops), was not having sprigs of rosemary to surround Miss Piggy.  That was a major oversight, but again, I did what I could with the resources I had.  Mistakes aside, I'm insanely pleased with how things turned out.*  It's a rich meat and fruit pudding/stuffing, and it certainly made a statement.   
*I cackled.

"Take a head, large or small. Boil it in water and wine, and when it is boiled make sure that the bones all stay together next to one another. And remove all the meat from the bones of the head. Strip the skin carefully, the white part from the meat and chop the other meat from the boar’s head very small. Put it in a pan. Spice it well with pepper, ginger, and a little cloves, nutmeg, saffron, and let it get very hot over the fire in the broth in which the head was boiled. Next take the boiled head and lay it in a white cloth and lay the skin under it on the cloth. Then spread the chopped meat all around on the head and cover it with the flayed skin. And if you have too little meat from one head, then take it from two and cover the head entirely as if it were whole. Next, pull the snout and the ears out through the cloth. Also, pull the teeth together again with the cloth, so the head is held together while it is still warm, and let it lie overnight. In the morning cut the cloth from around the head. In that way it will stay whole. Then serve it with a cold farce made with apples, almonds, raisins. Thus you have a lordly dish."
Marianne Hansen. “And Thus You Have a Lordly Dish: Fancy and Showpiece Cookery in an Augsberg Patrician Kitchen.” Medieval Food and Drink, Acta, vol. xxi. 1995. (Many thanks to for posting several recipes & redactions)

This is the one I was going to do to the letter, but disliked the way some of her teeth looked, and didn't want to chance that she had an abscess* so I did not boil the bones or use them as a base to re-dress the head.  I pickled the skin in a wine mixture
1 c. salt
1 c. apple cider vinegar
3 c. cheap sherry (bottom shelf)
water to cover.
Heated this and let the skin sit for 3 days in the cool basement (about 40F). 
Then proceeded as stated above, but without bones, so the face skin ended up being a sack.  I left much of the facial muscle structure intact so that she had some character without the bones.  On the down-side, I had to buy A LOT more meat to fill this.  I served it hot due to time constraints, so it was more like stuffing than pudding. 

*(rotten teeth, abscesses & enlarged livers happen due to high grain & dairy diet in pigs, the diet is common in American feeder pigs, which usually don't live long enough to suffer the ill effects; but is not so good for a keeper who is expected to breed, and my guess is that this pregnancy didn't take due to a dietary imbalance & her enlarged liver.  Fine to eat the meat, but if she had been human her doctor would have put her on medicine and told her she needed a change in lifestyle and diet).

OK, I've dithered long enough, if you haven't figured it out, the gore is about to appear.  So, if you don't want to see it, bail now.  You've been warned.


It all starts with a pig.  A B-I-G pig.  Much bigger than I had anticipated.  She was 700 live weight, and packaged out at 550.  So, between our two families we each got 275 lbs of monster pig.
BIG pig
skinning the hog

The guys skinned her out and I took my piggy head away. 

Pretty Miss Piggy
Hairless pig face
 I burned the hair off of it with a torch (weep/sob, she was so pretty!) and this took about 5 passes.  A hog's winter coat is THICK.   What I should have done was scour and scrape it, but so it goes, right?  You learn after making mistakes.
Slit the chin all the way down, leaving about 1" at the end whole.
Skinning the face.  Take care around ears and eyes, that skin is delicate where the rest is not.

Miss Piggy all set for her new facial.
Next I slit the chin and skinned the head.  This took a while because I didn't do it in the same day and it was frozen.
Skinning a pig is not like skinning a deer.  You actually have to cut the skin off every inch of the way vs. just getting it started & pulling.  Pigs like their skin & don't want to give it up.  Coming down the face and nose was the easiest part of this whole thing untill I got to the end of the nose & had to swear a lot to get those tendons to release.  There is a reason pigs can root up a garden in one night.
Heater, pot, water, knife,
thermometer, timer and razor
removing the epidermis
These are scouring tools.  After Miss Week's Worth Of Stubble grossed me out, I decided to do what I should have done to begin with, which is scour and scrape the skin.  She had so much burned hair stuck to the inside that a bath was not going to hurt. 
Water heated to 145F (I hate the New Wave induction thingie, it doesn't work worth beans... took nearly 3 hours to get the water up to temp and it started out hot.  Yes, I checked that it was the right kind of pan.  It also wrecked the pan.  Not happy).  Now, in all that waiting, I decided to do a dry scrape, and while it was more work, it filled the time and got the job mostly done.  To finish I soaked Miss Piggy for 5 minutes in the water and then scrape, scrape, scrape.  I dunked the bits back in a few times and pretty much got things clean.
Bic is a piggy's best friend
Little worse for wear,
but she's showered, shaved & shorn.
Yes, I shaved a pig's face.  Even scouring & scraping left a 5:00 shadow that my husband would be proud of.  There was still some hair left, but it wasn't as bad as all that.  Not something I'd want to munch on, but not gag-worthy either.
After this she went into the pickling brine for several days.  It was amazing how that solution cleaned everything up.  Places where lividity had discolored the skin, the singe marks from where I got a little carried away with the torch and the darker skin that I missed scraping all evened out quite nicely.  I still had to trim a lot of the fat and meat from the back to get rid of clinging hairs, but it was not horrible when I pulled it out.

I also fleshed the skull at this point.  It was MUCH easier than I anticipated.  No pictures due to a very hands-on process and just needing to get it done.  I took the cheeks and jowls, the muscle that goes from eye to snout, the neck and tongue.  Again, I chose not to boil the skull because her teeth did not look so good.

Next up, I boiled the face meat and tongue for a few hours.  Just water and meat to "make a rich broth."  I was unsure about this part, but it turned out to be the right thing to do.  The meat cooked away from the fats and the fats and connective tissues dissolved (a little) to create oil/lard and gelatin.  It is the gelatin that you want to help form the pudding later on. 

At this point, things get less gross for a while.  I pulled the face meat out and chopped it into small pieces, separating out the meat from the fat.  This was a fiddly step that was not much fun, but I was amazed at how much meat is actually on a pig's face. 

I'm going to continue the rest of this in a separate post.  The first bit with all of the food prep will be visible, the stuffing of the pig's head and final presentation will again be hidden behind a link.

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