Monday, 23 November 2009

Just One More Hit...

Sometimes things don’t always go right in the kitchen.

There is a wonderful book called ‘Don’t Try This At Home’ where fifty highly skilled chefs share their own personal culinary horror stories. It as an affirming read: to know that such artistes as Adria, Batali and Henderson can mess up gives us mere mortals reason not to hang up the sauté pan just yet.

Last week I attempted a rather adventurous process with my ingredient of the year, a pig’s head.

After removing the jowels, they were seasoned with salt, pepper, lemon and rosemary and cooked sous vide for about 8 hours. Once cool, the meat was shredded and fat removed from the skin. The shredded meat was then spiced and packed back into the skin, the whole thing rolled up into a crude sausage.

The inspiration was a Tom Kitchin recipe I saw in Coco – crispy on the outside with a hint of teeth sticking crackling and soft within, exactly the way pork should be.

Except it didn’t quite work. As the sausage hit the hot metal of the pan it split quite enthusiastically, the skin popping and sending the filling flying out onto the hob.

The cats ate well for three days.

And I declared that I’d had my fill of porcine head – that it was fun but I’d proved my point and, what’s more, belly is far, far tastier. ‘I can’t be arsed to cook one of these again,’ I uttered as I tipped the last of the snout into the rubbish and waved it goodbye, a piggy little eye looking up at me from the depths of the bin.

Like a true junkie, 48 hours was all it took to renege on my promise.

Brawns and braises and crispy fried ears are all well and good (and sometimes not so good) but it was a tiny transparent slice of charcuterie that convinced me it was worth obtaining just one more head from my butcher.

Guanciale is the perfect halfway point between pancetta – made from belly pork – and lardo, the cured back fat of a particularly chubby variety of pig. It is the cured jowl cut, the name coming from the Italian word guancia, meaning cheek. And it is delicious.

Some say the reason behind the popularity of chocolate is that it melts at body temperature – pop a piece in your mouth and you can feel it gently spreading across the palate as it transforms slowly into a liquid.

For me, charcuterie has the same effect. The fat in top quality cured meats should be near translucent at room temperature and should slowly dissipate once in the mouth leaving just a tiny morsel of intensely flavoured meat to chew on.

Guanciale did just that. It fluttered around the mouth like a delicate angel’s wing but then settled into tasty, porky goodness of the sort I’ve only tasted with the finest and ethereally thin slices of prosciutto.

What’s more, it convinced me that now is the perfect time to attempt some proper meat preservation. It should be ready by Christmas…


The Larder Lout said...

Well put, as ever. I think due to the likes of aforementioned Fergus Henderson we have started to romanticise about nose to tail eating (everything except the oink etc). It takes immense skill and patience to deal with something like a pig's head, but when it's good, my is it good.

Have you read 'Heat' by Bill Buford? Great story about Mario Batali making his guests all receive a slice of lardo on the tongue, like some porky communion.

Good luck with the curing - look forward to reading about it.

matt said...

Fantastic stuff. Sorry that sausage of yours burst - sounds like a lot of work for that bad boy too!

I am sure you will love the cured jowl. I started one about two weeks ago myself actually! Cannot wait to pull it out and try it - hopefully in a month.