For roasting, a pig’s head should be halved down the middle and thoroughly cleaned. That’s how they come when ordered off the internet from suppliers such as Heritage Foods USA (http://heritagefoodsusa.com). In large cities you will find pig’s head in ethnic butcher shops, particularly in Chinatown. The roasted head yields quantities of crunchy skin, and generous amounts of rich meat from the cheek. Fergus suggests serving the roasted head at room temperature on a bed of tart seasonal greens such as watercress or arugula. On a chilly day it is also delicious hot with braised fava or kidney beans.
- A half pig’s head (8-9 pounds)
- 2 teaspoons salt, more to taste
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, more to taste
- 6 medium shallots, trimmed and peeled
- 2 heads garlic, divided into cloves with peel
- Large bouquet garni of 6 parsley sprigs, 6 thyme sprigs and 3 bay leaves
- 2 cups Chardonnay or medium dry white wine
- ½ cup brandy
- 2 quarts water, more if needed
- ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1. Heat oven to 300°F/150°C. Rinse pig’s head and thoroughly dry it with paper towel. Set it, cut side down, in a roasting pan. Rub a teaspoon of the salt into skin. Tuck shallots, garlic, and bouquet garni around head and sprinkle with pepper and remaining salt. Pour over wine, brandy and water, adding enough water to half cover head – the cheek should remain above water so it steams. Wrap a piece of foil tightly around the ear. Cover pan with foil.
2. Bring the liquid to a boil on the stove top, then transfer pan to the oven. Slow roast pig’s head in the oven until it is partially cooked, about 2 hours. Remove foil, leaving ear covered. Continue roasting until most of water has evaporated, pig skin is a deep mahogany color, and meat is almost falling from bones when poked with a fork, about 4 hours longer. If ear is still soft, discard the foil 20 minutes before the end of cooking.
3. Let pig’s head rest, loosely covered with foil, at least 15 minutes before serving. While waiting, strain juices into a small saucepan, discarding bouquet garni and vegetables. If necessary boil juices on top of the stove to a concentrated gravy. Skim fat and whisk in Dijon mustard. Taste gravy for seasoning.
4. Rest the pig’s head on a bed of greens on a warm platter. To serve, cut off the ear and set it aside. With the help of a sharp knife and a large spoon, lift off the crisp skin in one piece. Cut the skin, including the ear, into approachable pieces using a heavy knife or cleaver. Scoop meat off the bones with the spoon.
Photo Credit: Christine Matsuda