Brawn is a set terrine comprising meat picked from a boiled pig head and sometimes trotters too, which is held together by gelatinous stock – a derivative from the cooking process (the trotter helps achieve that quality). I really love it. It looks dramatic and is as tasty as any form of soft charcuterie you’ll come across; superb with some toasted sourdough and sharp pickles. It’s also cheap to make. Expect to pay around a fiver for the head, one or two more for a trotter, a pound for some herbs and onions, and that’s about it.
That said, there are a few steps to go through when making it, so it’s a bit of an effort, if not actually hands-on labourious.
Pig heads are fairly easy to get hold of, but don’t expect to just happen upon them when walking past a butcher’s – just contact your local in advance to guarantee that they’ll have one when you want it.
Admittedly, it’s quite an alarming thing to look down at a pig head that’s looking back at you. Particularly if you’ve a mild hangover. You do need to look at it though, not least because it’s necessary to give it a good wash, shave it, and clean wax and grime out of the ears. After that, find a pot that’s large enough to simmer the whole thing (we’re talking 8-10 litre volume), leave it to bubble for 3-4 hours, pick the meat from the trotter and head, mix in some chopped tarragon and leave to cool in a terrine overnight, with some stock poured over the top as a setting agent.
Glorious on toast with pickles. Alternatively you could dip cubes of it in flour, egg and breadcrumbs too, then deep fry, for dreamy (or, for some, nightmarish?) pig head nuggets.
This intro and recipe is from a post for my Borough Market column ‘The Offal Project’. To read more about cooking the less glamourous parts of animals, head over to www.boroughmarket.org.uk.
Serves 8-10, maybe more
NB. Allow at least 24 hours for the cooking, cooling and setting process – cooking time is around 3-4 hours, plus meat picking and two 8 hour chilling stages.
- 1 pig’s head (4-5kg)
- 1 pig’s trotter
- 1 large onion, halved
- 3 star anise
- 4 bay leaves
- Leaves picked from 8 sprigs of tarragon
- 2 teaspoons of red wine vinegar
- Sea salt and black pepper
First, use a cloth dampened with hot water to wipe down the pig head, taking care to wash any mud, grime and wax off. Cut the ears from the head using a sharp knife, and put these and the trotter in a bowl full of warm water and again wipe to ensure the wax and dirt is removed. Use a disposable razor to shave any whiskers and stubble from the head. Cut the flesh attaching the eyelashes away with a sharp knife.
That’s the visceral stuff done. Have a coffee or a stiff drink.
Put the head into a large stockpot and cover with cold water. Add the trotter, ears, onion, star anise and bay leaves. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer for 3-3.5 hours, when the flesh will be soft and pull away from the head if you prod it.
Remove the ears after two hours, rinse and leave to cool.
You will need to spoon scum from the surface of of the simmering water from time to time.
Once cooked, pour the stock through a colander into another large container. Carefully lift the head out and leave to cool on a platter for 20 minutes.
Tip about 2 litres of stock back into the stockpot and reduce by half. Tip into a container and leave to cool, then refrigerate overnight. This allows the stock to settle – leaving gristle at the bottom, fat on top. We want the jelly-like middle bit.
Meanwhile, return to the head and pick the meat from it. It’s best to use your hands. You’ll find plenty of meat in the cheeks, behind the jaw, in the tongue if it’s there (you’ll need to peel). Put all the meat in a container.
Chop one of the ears into very thin slices. Add to the picked meat. You can fry slices of other ear for crackling like salad toppings.
Locate the jowls (the firmer fat that was around the cheeks and has striations of meat throughout. Remove the skin and cut the fat into 1cm dice.
The snout has a kind of firmer, fleshy quality too. Include that in your meaty mix, cover and refrigerate.
The next day, scrape the fat off the top of the jelly-like stock and decant all but the bottom sediment into a saucepan. Gently warm and season with red wine vinegar and a good pinch of salt and pepper.
Chop the tarragon, stir through the pork meat, then tip this into a 2lb/900g terrine mould or loaf tin that’s been lined with clingfilm. Pour the stock over the top – so it covers the meat by about a centimetre. Leave to cool for 30 minutes, then cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.