Thursday, March 27, 2014

Carmel Valley Berkshire Pig Headcheese

Almost two years ago, a few weeks after I came back to Post Ranch, I brought in two whole pigs from Carmel Valley.  For me, the most important thing about whole animal butchery is respecting the animal and using as much of it as possible.  After meticulously breaking it down and setting aside separate projects, I instructed someone on the next steps.  When I returned a day later I was horrified to see the meat thrown haphazardly into the freezer because the person was "too busy" to complete the task.  What should have been treated with respect had instead been destroyed, discarded into a frozen pile of failure.  The incident was so traumatizing that I refused to order any more whole pigs, until now.  Every portion of the pig has a use.   For these particular pigs we did the following:
  • Loins and Tenderloins -  Pan Roasted for dinner - lightly brined with white soy and ginger
  • Front Legs and Scraps - Fresh sausage for breakfast with pineapple sage and pink peppercorns from the North ridge
  • Back Legs (Big Sur Hams) - Cured with wild black sage and redwood then smoked with eucalyptus, oak and mushrooms
  • Bones - Smoked for four hours then made into stock
  • Heads - Cooked in stock then cleaned and turned into a "head cheese"
Head Cheese has gotten a bad reputation, probably largely due to its unfortunate name.  For me it is the culmination of the butchery process, taking the last remaining scraps and creating something truly exceptional out of pieces normally discarded. One of our cooks, Kyle Cobb, was excited about the project, so he worked on this batch - and putting the head in the smoker was his idea (which turned out great)  The concept is simple - simmer the whole smoked pig head in stock until it is soft, remove the cheeks, tongue and other meat and shred, remove the brain and crumble - set the meat aside and allow the stock to reduce.  While the stock is reducing cook some green garlic in the rendered pork fat until aromatic.  Add the green garlic to the shredded meat, then add chopped thyme and parsley.  Season liberally with sea salt and black pepper.  Once the stock starts to form large bubbles and becomes viscous remove it from the heat.  At this point there should be enough gelatin for the stock to be very firm when cooled.  Slowly add the meat back into the highly reduce stock.  A ratio of 30% stock to 70% meat should work.  Season this mixture and set in a container to chill (when seasoning remember that it should taste slightly over-seasoned because when cooled the seasoning will be more muted).

For the final presentation of this dish Elizabeth made a red banyuls aioli and pickled mustard seeds to pair with toasted country bread and tiny root vegetables.  I was really happy with the way the dish came out- because it elevates a dish from something people might turn their noses up at, to a refined presentation with juxtaposing textures and flavors that harmonize
perfectly with the rich headcheese.

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