Ugly bits up top.

I know some of you gagged at the tongue. If you did, stop reading. Today I’m going to make something in particular, and I’ve had people let their imaginations empty their stomachs from a standing start.

I’m using the head, but only to make head cheese. (Only, he says.)

Head cheese is a rich aspic that’s heavily loaded with meat and which can also have a number of spices and vegetables added as well. In many cultures the aspic and/or vegetables are vinegary and/or ‘spicy hot’.

Do we use the brain? We can, and I will in this case, but no we do not have to. Does it have to be pork? No, though that’s the type of which you most frequently hear. I’ve had beef and chicken and see no reason you couldn’t make mutton/lamb or venison or, well, just about any critter.

Look, here’s the basic deal. To make broth you boil bones. If you also include meat, and particularly if you use meat with lots of connective tissue, the broth becomes very rich and will if chilled form into a gelatin. The skull is a big bone. The meat on and around the skull is plentiful but fiddly to get to and very full of connective tissues. Well, there is also the meat that causes folk to run screaming for the vomitorium – things like the brain and eyeballs.

The first thing you do is you clean your skull. If it’s a pig you scrub off the bristles. If it’s a cow or sheep it’s just easier to skin the darn thing. If you’re going to use a bunch of fowl it depends how handy you are at burning off the feathers – me, I skin them, but if there are combs and wattles I’ll keep those.

If it is pig you’re going to remove the ears as they’re a separate delicacy. No, I am not kidding. If the animal is large enough clean out the ear-wax.

Now I like a ‘clean’ head, so I soak the head (or in the case of fowl, heads) in cold, salty water for three or four hours (brining it). Beef and Pig skulls get split so they fit easier. Since I’m using the brain I’ll ease it out of the skull and remove the membrane (tough, not good eating) and any blood clots I may see (not in every brain but enough to make the effort worthwhile). After the hour or two I move everything to a pot large enough to hold everything, cover it by an inch or two of water, and start boiling. While it’s still warming toss in some chopped onion, some garlic if that’s your preference, salt, paprika, chili peppers, … ok, I’m getting ahead of myself. For this first batch keep it simple. Salt and a chopped onion, chopped celery, and maybe some carrots is plenty – exactly what you’d put in a stock you’re planning to eat.. You will boil this till the meat is literally falling off the bone. At that point pull it off the fire and pull out all the bones. Take out the brain and cut it into small chunks. Since the eyeballs will give a lot of people the willies pull them out and cut them into smallish dices. (Alternately get rid of them in the first place.) Cut up or shred any other largish chunks of meat you may see. Make sure you get all the meat from the skull.

Now it is time to pause and take stock. Sorry, bad pun. Take a moment to determine how much stock and meat you have. What you’re going to do is line containers to hold it, fill those with the meat,and fill with stock. They’ll gel (best done in refrigerator) after which you remove them and serve slices. As a rule, a pig’s head will give me four bread loaf pans but I am NOT going to tell you that’s what you will get.

You can cheat the stock a bit so it’ll be more certain to set up – not a problem with the pork, but risky with the others. Add another nasty bit or two that is very full of connective tissue during the initial boil. In pigs, not that they need help, this often includes the feet and tail. For sheep, cows and fowl the neck is a good choice. Feet of the fowl are great as are the wing tips. Tails and knuckles (portion between shanks and hooves) of the other critters can be very useful as well. If you’re still not sure, feel free to slip in a little powdered gelatin.

Like I said, once it’s finished you slice it to serve. The next time you make it you can pickle some of the meat first and/or add some pickled veggies at the terrine stage, and my grandparents (in Colorado) liked to toss in some tobasco sauce at the beginning of the boil.

If you’ve made it this far I’ve a bit of a reward. You can make a faux pork head cheese that has none of the ugly bits but which is almost as good. Use a ham instead of a head, and cook as normal. You WILL have to add gelatin before forming in terrines or loaf pans or bundt pans.

On the other hand, if you’re read this far you may never be able to eat an aspic again – regardless how fine and fancy the servers may make it. Ain’t food wonderful? (grin)

Seriously, it’s very good if you can get past the ‘ugly bits’ reaction. Enjoy yourself.

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