Sunday, February 26, 2012

Porchetta di Testa....what to do with a pig head

Pig skull. This one from two years ago,
 rests peacefully in the garden.

This is a documentation of my third time making Porchetta di Testa, back in December.  If you should stumble upon this entry, you probably already know what it is.  But for those uninitiated it is an Italian, sort of "pig head roulade", that, through a long process of deboning, seasoning, rolling, tying and poaching becomes a delicious bit of charcuterie.

The finished Porchetta
sliced open on Christmas day '11

Here, in photos, is how Porchetta di Testa is done.  For more detailed instruction and also to give credit, you can learn from charcuterie expert, Chris Constantino, here.

You start, of course, with the head in it's minimally processed state.  This one, as with the other two from past years, came from the half or whole hogs we have purchased from Deck Family Farm.  They raise wonderful, pastured pork on their farm near Eugene, Oregon.

Deboning a pig head is kind of tricky, not to mention a very sobering experience that really, for me, brings home the reality of meat eating--in where it comes from, that it was a life....this is a long, long way from opening a plastic wrapped pork chop from Safeway.
Once you do the deboning it is much easier the second go.  Please be warned that the next few images are rather graphic and disturbing to some.

 Fully deboned, "pig mask"
flesh side and.....

Skin side

Next you take your "mask" and, along with the tongue that you also remove, you season liberally with salt, rosemary, pepper, garlic, paprika (not original to the recipe) and lemon zest (next time I'm omitting the lemon zest--I don't care for it).  It then rests in the fridge for a day.

Below are the next steps.  The head is rolled up with the tongue tucked, meaty end inside the snout.  Then tied (this time I used meat netting).  

The next step, cooking,  is where I took the greatest departure from Chris Constantino's method.  First of all, he cryovacs his porchetta in plastic.  I really don't like cooking in plastic.  He then just barely cooks the porchetta in a sous vide.  I don't own a sous vide and cooking something at a really low temp bothers me.  So, after rummaging through all my heat proof bowls I found a pyrex and a Heath Pottery bowl that was just the right size to cram the porchetta tightly into.  then I sealed the edges with lard and put it inside another piece of elasticized netting to hold it all together.  Then, into my "sous vide" (slow cooker) in as much water as it will hold for about 12 hours on high, which, ends up being a little over 200 degrees.

After 12 hours you just take it out of it's bath and lest it rest again in the fridge for about 2-3 days.

The finished porchetta.  Note all the gelatin.

Porchetta interior.  The white lines are ear.  Wrapped between the ears you can see a section of tongue.  all around is marbling of fat and meat with little bits of gelatin pockets.

Served, sliced thin with capers, radish, young mustard greens and grainy mustard.

I almost forgot.  You can take the skull, make a mirepoix (carrots, celery, onion) and then roast it for about an hour.  I always cover they eye with a slice of lemon--seems more dignified.  Put all of it in a stock pot with water to cover and maybe some white wine and cook for several hours.  You end up with about 3-4 quarts of really great stock to use at a later time.

So there it is.  Porchetta di testa.  It's a lot of work, yes, but I find satisfaction in making this in different ways.  There is a relation to family culinary roots.  My maternal grandparents, of Swiss descent,  butchered and used most of the parts of the hogs they used to raise (I have memories of grandma making head cheese).  There is also, related to the above, a thriftiness to it in that you are utilizing a part that every day in this country is usually thrown away.  Finally, there is what I touched on earlier, it's  kind of like a "meat epiphany", where you really start to understand what it is to eat meat.