Thursday, 21 February 2013

If pork could talk - Brawn

I have a recipe for a rather nice Vietnamese salad, which uses pig's ears. This has given rise to a little joke I have with the man who runs the meat counter at the Chinese supermarket. Every time I see him I shout out, 'Oi, mate, have you got pig's ears?' He laughs, I laugh, then I get on with my shopping and he makes a 'wanker' sign behind my back. I think he enjoys the joke more than I do, which is evidenced by the way he always mouths the word 'twat' whenever I walk through the doors!

The other day I was in the local butcher's shop. Jimmy the Meat wasn't out front, but his fat-headed assistant was. We've had words in the past, so as soon as he saw me he muttered, 'I'll get him' and headed out the back. I couldn't help myself, so I shouted out, 'Oi mate, have you got a pig's head?'

'Yes', he shouted back; 'I'll get Jimmy to bring it out to you.'

In the days before the Father was sectioned under the Mental Health Act, he used to make brawn. It was good, porky fare, heavily spiced and set in a rich gelatine. Now I had a pig's head, it seemed rude not to have a go!

Part one of the job revolved around making a brine. The head took 12 liters to cover it, along with six trotters and a tail that Jimmy the Meat threw in for good measure. Into the water I chucked 700g of coarse salt, 400g of brown muscavado sugar, a handful of juniper berries, a fistful of bay leaves off the bay tree in the garden, and a dozen sprigs of rosemary from the herb bed. Some folks in the know suggest using Prague Powder #1, some don't. For safety's sake, I added 150g.

The brine, head, trotters and tail were then placed in a food-grade plastic bucket and dumped in a cold shed for 24 hours. After that the meat bits were removed, rinsed and chucked into a large stock pot with shallots, garlic, black pepper, cloves, mace, thyme, a litre of rough cider and a splash of cider vinegar. The pot was topped up with water until everything was submerged, and it went on to simmer for around four hours.

After the four hours had flown by (I used the time to rattle up a batch of oatmeal stout - more about that another time if anyone cares), the head came out along with the trotters, and the liquid was strained, before being put back on the heat, which was whacked up. This further reduced as I picked over my pork.

I will make an admission here. I don't remember brawn as being greasy, but the meat certainly was. As such, I concentrated on the big chunks of pig meat and shunned much of the tendons and fatty bits. I probably could have got twice as much meat, but I figured it was better to have something good than something greasy.

The meat went into a polymer loaf tin, the reduced liquid was poured on, and it sat to cool. Once done, I topped it off with clingfilm and stuck it in the fridge for 48 hours.

The brawn was, quite frankly superb. It wasn't in the slightest bit greasy or fatty, and it certainly could have benefited from some more of the fatty bits of meat. Next time I will include them. I'm typically a bit heavy handed with seasoning, but it could have stood a bit more. I might also include apple and a splash of calvados, as the cider background worked well.

There was a fair amount of gelatine left, so I bagged it up and froze it. I don't know why; it's got to be useful for something! If anyone has any ideas...

So why the reference in the title to pork talking? Easy. I showed someone the picture at the top of this post, and they muttered, 'Why spend the time preparing artisan food, if you're not going to present it properly. If that pork could talk, it would cry out for a delicate touch and to be rid of the pickled onions.'

My reply was simple. 'If that pork could talk, it would tell you that it's a chuffing pig's head that has been boiled up with its feet and tail, and quite frankly it loves nestling up to a pile of pickled onions. If anything, it might question the sanity of the Idiot who put cottage cheese on the plate!'

Brawn; lovely stuff!


  1. Hmm this is interesting. In about three days time I will have, if I want them (and I think I do even though I have been scratching them and talking sweet nothings to them for some months now) two pigs heads, currently attached to two alive pigs who are due to be offed on Monday. I had always thought of brawn of a kind of necessary evil for olden poor folk and not particularly nice foodstuff. I've never had it myself, mind. Just not heard particularly glowing reports. But now I dunno. Seems a shame not to give it a whirl really. I was planning smoked bath chaps for my piggies' faces. Not had that either, mind. Also planning to air dry a goodly chunk of the rest of the meat, by the by..... and make salami etc. And black pudding if I can bare to hang around on Monday. Also really like the sound of oatmeal stout.

    1. Whatever you do, don't confuse poorly made brawn of the 1960s and 1970s with homemade brawn! Like any meat that doesn't get used a lot, the head meat and jowls are very tender, but can also be a bit bland, so make sure you season well.

      I'm jealous; I'd sell the Mother's artificial body parts to get access to a couple of buckets of pig blood!

    2. Didn't get the blood in the end... apparently a lot of abattoirs count it (and offal) as waste and won't let you have it though to be honest I didn't have time to hang around on Monday so didn't even ask. I will ask before hand next time (and there will be a next time). But I am definitely asking for the heads and trotters...

  2. oHw much is a pig's head these days?

    When I was a butcher I could skin 2 heads in one minute...

    1. Don't know what they'd sell for; as a meataholic with a heavy habit, my butcher recognises me as a veritable source of funding and so gives me the various bits that don't sell to the general public. It's amazing how many bits and pieces people just won't buy today, but they'll go bleeding crazy for those crispy bastarding pancakes with reconstituted bollocks in them!