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Making traditional English brawn

 
Leila Rich
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Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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*Warning*: if you're not comfortable with detailed descriptions of cooking animals, this thread is not for you!

I had a couple of firsts over the holidays: cooking a whole pig and sheep on spits was quite the engineering challenge, especially as the pig was longer than the spit...
And brawn. In order to fit the pig on the spit, we had to remove its head.
No way am I wasting a perfectly good head!
I think brawn's generally called 'head cheese' in the US, which has very unfortunate connotations over here. Let's call it brawn.

Brawn recipe
Approx 4 hrs cooking, plus maybe 3/4 hr finishing, and setting time

On a large square of muslin lay:
a handful of fresh thyme
some rosemary
about 1/2 a tbsp peppercorns
1 tsp coriander seed
mace or a cinnamon quill
Make the muslin into a bag shape and tie it all up.
I went "nah, it'll be fine", but the thing about brawn is it's full of natural gelatine, and everything stuck to everything else. Next time, I'd bag it.

1 whole ( I'm talking eyes, ears, nose...) clean pig's head
2 trotters
4 onions, quartered,
a few bay leaves
maybe a couple of celery sticks
Put everything in a big stainless steel stockpot and just cover with water
Put a lid on and bring to boiling point, but don't actually boil it .
I did this outside: to me, a house shouldn't smell like boiled meat
Skim off scum a few times and leave to simmer for ages, turning the head about halfway through.
When the meat's starting to fall off the bone, pull out the head/trotters.

Clarifying the stock
Not something you have to do, but it's fun, and makes it look heaps better!
This works to clear nearly any cloudy stock. It's basically for looks, but a clearish jelly is pretty important in this dish.
Beat a couple of egg whites till stiff. whisk into the stock pot to form what's called a 'raft': there should be a layer of beaten egg-white completely covering the stock.
Strain the stock through a sieve into a clean pot.
Put the pot back on the stove, but off-center, so it's hotter on one side.
Bring to boiling point, but try not to actually boil. The idea is for the raft to absorb the stock's impurities.

Dig a gap out of the 'raft' at the hot spot with a ladle and cook the stock for 1/2 an hr or so. The egg white will become gross and discoloured, with weird egg threads through the stock. It may not look like much is happening, but it is, I promise.
Dump the spices etc out of the muslin and lay it in a collander. Tip the stock through it. Don't squeeze; let it run through.
Bring it back to the boil and reduce to about four cups or so.

dealing with the cooked meat
My tolerance for meaty stuff is pretty high, but I felt a bit traumatised after this....
Pull the meat, gelatinous goo and skin off the bones and cut up. Apparently, there's a lot of meat on a pig's head!
If the tongue's there, peel, chop and add it to the mix.

Finishing the brawn

Finely cut plenty of flat leaf parsley and stir it into the meat, along with lemon juice and salt and pepper.
Add the reduced stock, check the seasoning.
Line a couple of bread tins, or terrine moulds with plastic wrap (with plenty of spare to fold over), ladle mix in, fold wrap over and weight down. Firewood, bricks....
Leave for a few hours and slice. Serve with bread and pickles


 
Judith Browning
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I haven't eatten this in years and never made any (our friends did). Your recipe sounds delicious! We only spitted the occasional party pig or goat...never any left overs.
 
Cris Bessette
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Head cheese and Souse meat are traditional here in the Appalachian mountains where I live, but I don't know anyone that still eats these.
Obviously there are some though as you can get it in the local grocery stores.


I bought some once, and tried to fry it. fell apart. tasted like bacon.

I guess the idea is you slice off a slab of congealed meat stuff, and smear it on bread?

 
K Nelfson
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Seems to be eaten cold in most cultures. If you warm it up, the gelatin goes soft and it's just meat soup.

I Romanian friend told me about preparing meat in gelatin... pigs ears were the main ingredient, if I recall correctly.
 
Robert Ray
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I was introduced to head cheese when I lived in South Carolina. As I remember it had peppers in it. The look reminded me of a Christmas fruitcake an I was a bit squeamish about it.
 
Leila Rich
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Cris Bessette wrote:
I guess the idea is you slice off a slab of congealed meat stuff, and smear it on bread?

Mmmm. Slab of congealed meat stuff. When you put it like that...
It sets into a firm jelly, so no smearing. It's eaten like a terrine: a slice, served with pickles and stuff.
The scary/ugly factor's why I bothered with the cheffyness of clarifying the stock; and the slices looked really quite pretty!
I'm not likely to have a pig's head lying about the place very often, let alone the fiddling about, but it was one of those food things I've always been curious about.
I'm Leila and I am a food nerd.

 
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