Vanilla and Paprika Pig’s Head

“She’s dead. Wrapped in plastic.” I kissed Laura Palmer on the snout and started rubbing her down. She was from Berkshire, killed that morning, I estimated, and still had bright, sparkling eyes and a hint of blue lipstick across her lower mandible. Thanks to the National Pork Board, I watched her swift dissection, photographed it in Hall’s Market, and went home to cook my prize, a twenty-pound head labeled ‘dinner.’ The remaining 140lbs. fit in my freezer, which now contains pork, beer, and hot sauce, thus making me the most amazing date on the planet.DSC_9555But let me back up. I was approached by the Board a few months back, asking me what was on my pork bucket list. Little did they know there were many things- I wouldn’t have minded a pet pygmy pig like Honey Boo Boo, or a trip to Iberico to see jamon Iberico being made and pet the pigs I would later eat. I also asked to butcher a pig. And last Thursday, they let me butcher a pig, minus the immense liability that comes with letting an untrained journalist enter a two-hour apprenticeship and play with bone saws. But I executed the butchery, in essence, I became…butcher. It started at ten in the morning. The marvelous staff from Hall’s Market invited us to watch them cut the pig, and allowed me to orchestrate most of it. How do I want it cut? Triple-cut chops, save the hocks. Do I want the head split? Hell no, keep that sucker whole. Roasts? Saint Louis ribs, whole racks, fatty sides of bacon with the hair torched off, cryovacced, and packed in the back of my Honda. And the head. That was the crowning glory, more tender than the ham, more gamy than lamb. It was a romance meant to be severed, it was a simmering, smoldering affair at 100 degrees for sixteen hours of piggy delight.DSC_9539I singed off the hairs, shaved her a little bit with an old Bic I had around. What can I say? No woman is perfect. She needed beautification, pampering before the spa. A sugar scrub was essential, a little paprika rouge on the plump cheeks and agape jaw. I loosened the tendons so I could work bay leaves and thyme into her mouth, and I poured Nielsen-Massey sugar onto her and worked it into the tender skin, the ears, the nostrils and underneath the eyes, followed by a glug of truffle oil, the real deal, to gild the hog. And off she went, with a sprinkle of caramelized garlic, into the oven for sixteen hours.DSC_9579Perhaps naming her Laura Palmer was a little preemptive. When she came out, she looked a little more like Harvey Dent, thanks to the cranked 450 for the last 45 minutes, the skin stretched crispy and tender and split on top. I decided to break her down like Marky Mark. DSC_9580The ears came off easily. Tossed in buffalo sauce and ricotta salata, they made for a fine appetizer in advance of the real deal. I simmered cannelini beans with fresh horseradish and garlic on the stove while I pulled the pig apart.DSC_9590With the whole skull, the extraction was difficult. The tongue came out easily and the skin peeled off to be roasted as a garnish. The fat was still somewhat gelatinous and hot, but easily scraped off to reveal the tender, sweet cheeks underneath. Those were placed aside and chopped. I messed around with the rest, sourcing meat wherever possible- brain steamed inside the skull, the tender dark shreds at the bottom of the jaw and at the base of the head. It was an exercise in excavation and creativity, and resulted in a sweet, fatty, rank dish swimming in flavor and bracketed by beans. It was a culinary cum art project, the final step lying in the boiling of the skull for future display in memory of Ms. Palmer and my pighead project. Special thanks to Hall’s Market and the National Pork Board for butchering and giving me the beast, and hosting my questions for an afternoon. If no law firms hire me, I’m going to apprentice as a butcher and learn how to cut up animals thanks to you.

5 comments

  1. Kevin

    After reading this I wonder if my vegetarian soul will be spared when the aliens arrive to devour humans or will my diet just make me easier prey.

  2. Kevin

    Well, alright, if that is the case, Jess, I am humbled. Maybe after we share a “grass-fed” / “grass-smoked” session I can take you up on it!

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