As the old adage goes, you learn something new everyday.
Yesterday I learnt three things. Did you know, for instance, that the greyhound accelerates to 45 miles per hour in a single second from a standing start? Zero to forty five in a second? Amazing. It is the second fastest land mammal on earth.
The other two factoids I gleaned through empirical, hands-on research and part of me wishes I was still in a happy cloud of blissful ignorance. Here we go: the brain of a pig is surprisingly small. Tiny, in fact. About the size of a duck’s egg.
['Two squeaks, or not two squeaks? That is the question']
The second? There is a wonderful nugget of meat that sits just below the eye socket behind the cheek bone, only accessible with an adventurous finger after the head of a pig has been simmered long and slow. It falls away in a rather satisfactory fashion, a neat little piece of tasty pork.
I know this because of Project Napoleon.
Project Napoleon, named after the Stalin-esque character in Animal Farm, began quite by accident.
I’d had a request to cook (and eat) brain for the Nose to Tail Tuesday feature (thanks for that). With calves’ and lambs’ brain still illegal, it was up to the reliable old porker to provide the means by which this terrifying prospect could be realised.
I put in a reluctant request with my butcher and received a phone call on Wednesday: ‘I’ve got a pig’s head here for you? Do you want the whole thing or just the brain?’
The question was a no-brainer (ha ha ha – sorry). The head is a culinary challenge I’ve been keen to take on for quite some time: a real test that separates those who merely profess a predilection for the holistic approach and those with genuine gastronomic fortitude.
Why does the head divide the cooking fraternity so? It’s about emoting. As humans we have evolved to read faces, to try and glean as much information as possible from them. The slightest movement can give away a secret, a feeling or an emotion.
Presented with the head of an animal, there is a near certainty that we will lean towards anthropomorphosis. And pigs, even deceased and decapitated ones, look like they are smiling. They look content. Happy even. So turning it into food is difficult.
Once this hurdle has been leapt over, the rest is easy.
One option for turning this insanely cheap meat (this one cost just under three pounds) into a viable foodstuff is to make a tête de fromage, not a uniquely male medical condition but a rustic pâté also known as brawn.
Here the entire head is simmered gently for three hours in water and stock vegetables. Once cooled, the meat, fat and skin is stripped from the skull, the stock strained, reduced and turned into a jelly into which the meat is set.
I wanted something more refined. I’ve always believed that true culinary skill lies in turning the ridiculous into the sublime. The drab into the delicious. Here was a challenge.
Driving home from the butcher’s I started putting a menu together, one that would showcase this unusual ingredient to its full potential.
Head Over Heels
So, here is the plan – to be served to adventurous dinner guests, just as soon as we find some. Any takers?
Pre dinner drinks with pork scratchings and ears Ste Menehould
Deep fried brain on toast with champagne
Sour Apple amuse
Pea & Bacon Soup made with ‘head stock’ with homemade bread
Refined brawn pâté with sage
Confit cheek with apple jelly, candied bacon and summer leaves
Cheese and port
Let’s see just what this head can do…