Pigs have heads. Every one of them does. Farmers do not raise walkìng pork chops. If you’re serious about your meat, you’ve got to grasp that concept. And if you’re serìous about sustainability and about honestly raised good meat—which is something that we’re dead serious about at Momofuku and we try to get more in touch with every day—you’ve got to embrace the whole pig.
-Chef David Chang
Warning: This is a rather graphic entry. Please make sure you’re okay with seeing the titular item before clicking past the cut.
Whole-animal cooking is something I’ve long admired. I gravitate toward the offal cuts on menus, and more often than not they’re delicious. I figure they wouldn’t be on there if the chef didn’t know how to prepare them well.
Of course, eating offal and preparing offal are two very different things. A while back I came across a copy of David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook and noticed a recipe for Pig’s Head Torchon. I made a mental note that it would be “fun to try sometime” (this is how I think) and left it at that
I visited Butcher and Larder recently with the intention of introducing my family to sustainable, humanely raised meat. That, and maybe picking up a good chicken to roast. I On a small chalkboard on the counter, I noticed that they supply whole and half pig heads upon request. I had a ride, and the half head (about 10-12 pounds) only cost about 10 dollars, so I figured, why not?
I got home, feeling pretty good about things. It was only after unwrapping it that I realized what I intended to cook was looking me straight in the eye. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t completely unnerved; it felt like I had the wind knocked out of me. I talk a lot about knowing and being comfortable with where meat comes from, but at this point I almost felt like a hypocrite. If I wasn’t comfortable cooking this, why should I be comfortable cooking a steak or a roast?
After a good five minutes of reflection, I decided to get going with the cooking. I should mention that I had to buy a new stock pot for this. I thought my current one would work but it turns out that a pig head is pretty large.
As intimidating as this was, the cooking process was really simple.
3.5 hours later and it’s ready to come out
things were about to get real
It’s about here that I realize I’m about to get very familiar with this thing. The goal is to separate the head into fat (including skin), meat, and everything else. I’ll spare most of the gory details, but I will say that I am very glad I heeded the recommendation to use rubber gloves for this process.
The next step was to lay down a pile of fat, top it with the meat, and roll it into a tube with plastic wrap.
ready to roll
This was probably the most difficult part of the entire process. I had a heck of a time getting it to roll tightly enough for everything to be compact. After about twenty minutes of battling with and swearing at the plastic wrap, I managed to get it into something resembling a cylinder and set in the fridge to set overnight. It wasn’t nearly as well-rolled as the one in the book, and I was nearly positive that it wouldn’t hold together when I tried to slice it.
gelatin is a miraculous thing
So much to my surprise the next day I found it had firmed up far beyond my expectations. I was embarrassingly excited about this, but I understand this is a weird thing to be excited about. I sliced the torchon into one-inch pucks and placed all but two in the freezer for storage.
The rest of the cooking was a pretty simple breading and frying procedure, not unlike making fried chicken.
The final plating:
come on, tell me that doesn’t look good
The fried torchon was served with a vinaigrette consisting of kewpie mayonnaise, rice wine vinegar, and japanese mustard. The bits of fruit on the right are pickled sour cherries I made last summer. This was flat-out delicious. The crunchy panko breading was a great contrast to the luxuriously tender and rich torchon. It was like an extremely rich deep-fried pulled pork.
This definitely isn’t an everyday meal and I don’t think I’ll make it again for a long time. That said, I’m proud that I did it and I don’t think I’ll ever be intimidated by an ingredient again.
Who wants leftovers?