All of the pig, that’s the idea. As in this 17th century Dutch still life with head, sausage and trotters, nose to tail eating utilizes the whole animal. A still life focuses our eyes upon the things of this world we value, that to a great extent, make our world. Movement and time slow down, and we consider the value of a vase of flowers, skull, coins, a violin. The head and feet of a pig portray how we transform living creatures into the dead parts we cook and eat. The items in this painting make a particular argument about how to use the animal. All of it. As Fergus Henderson puts it in The Complete Nose To Tail,
‘Nose to Tail Eating’ means it would be disingenuous to the animal not to make the most of the whole beast; there is a set of delights, textural and flavorsome, which lie beyond the fillet. (5)
Henderson’s books comprise my essential approach to cooking, whether brains, eel, fennel twigs, potatoes, prunes, or trotters. A directness to the product, an honoring of all residing inside and outside, instills each recipe. I’m using his directions for Pot-Roast Half Pig’s Head with slight variations. A local Fiesta supplied the head (they have all the parts) and I brought a bottle of brandy to the dinner. First things first,
Henderson calls for duck fat, of which inexplicably I could not find any near by, so I substituted beef bone marrow and pancetta–broiling the marrow then pouring the juice in a roasting pan where I’m already melting fat. To whole garlic and shallots in the recipe, I add mushrooms, squash, zucchini. Time for brandy and wine.
He’s looking at me as I pour more than a glass of brandy and a half a bottle of sauvignon blanc over him. A bath I would also appreciate be me living or cooked. Now it’s time for the stock and a bouquet garni–holy blessing of basil, parsley, rosemary and thyme.
My stock has been bubbling for days–a combination of a rich broth left after cooking pork shoulder, including celery, garlic, leeks, olives, onions, and yellow peppers. A toss of salt and pepper and I’m ready. Henderson uses watercress, I choose dandelions which I’ll wilt and then use as a bed for the head and vegetables.
I put the roasting pan in the oven, cover and then put on a low broil for a couple hours, removing the lid and kicking up to a high broil for another half hour.
This results in a succulent pig head with skin turned to crackling. As we cut in and taste, fat comes off in thick, protein-rich slices and meat in the cheek and behind the eye chews moist and delicious. All herbs and vegetables supply a rich, earthy taste. I’m saving tongue and brains for later. Wine pairing?
A delicious wine from Château Mongravey in the Margaux region of Bordeaux with floral, blackcurrant, oak notes and a certain taste and texture of minerals, gravel if you will. Perfect balance to all the roasted sweetness of the pig. Time to dig in. Bon Appétit!