Whole Roasted Pig’s Head
Jonathon Sawyer was the inspiration for this recipe. He’s the chef at the Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland and is completely dedicated to zero-waste cooking. I invited Jonathon to do a dinner with me at Osteria in Philadelphia. Jonathon saw me cutting off a pig’s head and throwing it out (we roast a small pig almost every day at the restaurant). “What the hell are you doing?” he screamed. “You’re throwing away good food there!” He kept the head and roasted it whole with a Coca-Cola glaze. Since that day, I started roasting all our pig’s heads. But now I use beer cooked down with some orange juice and chili flakes to make an agro dolce (sweet-and-sour) glaze. It’s become a cult classic. At Osteria, we only have so many heads a week, so people call in advance to order it. When it comes to the table, the whole roasted pig’s head looks kind of macabre. But it tastes 100 percent awesome.
MAKES 2 TO 4 SERVINGS
1 small pig’s head (4 to 5 pounds/1.75 to 2.25 kg)
3 quarts (2.75 L) 3-2-1 Brine (page 280)
1 tablespoon (6 g) ground fennel seeds
1 medium-size yellow onion, chopped (1 1⁄2 cups/240 g)
2 large carrots, chopped (1 1⁄2 cups/185 g)
3 medium-size ribs celery, chopped (1 1⁄2 cups/150 g)
1 sachet of 1 sprig rosemary, 3 sprigs thyme, 1 bay leaf, 5 black peppercorns, and 1 garlic clove (see page 277)
1 quart (1 L) Chicken Stock (page 279)
Beer Agro Dolce:
12 ounces (375 ml) beer (I like pale ale, but almost any beer will do; in the fall I use a chestnut beer from Baladin called Noël)
1⁄2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
1⁄4 cup (60 ml) sherry vinegar
Juice of 1 orange
Big pinch of chili flakes
1⁄2 teaspoon (1 g) black peppercorns
5 thick slices rustic bread
Olive oil, for brushing
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Raspberry, apple, or another seasonal jam of your choice
For the pig’s head: Rinse the head and set aside. Make the brine and stir in the ground fennel seeds. Submerge the head in the brine, and refrigerate for 4 days.
Put the head in a large Dutch oven or other pot that will hold it comfortably. Add the onion, carrots, celery, and sachet to the pot. Pour in the stock and just enough water to come about halfway up the head. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat.
Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). When the liquid comes to a boil, transfer the pot to the oven, and cook, covered, until the head is tender, 4 to 5 hours. The skin on top of the head should start to split and the cheeks should feel soft to the touch. When the head is done, carefully remove it from the pot (heatproof silicone gloves work well), put it on a rimmed baking sheet, cover, and refrigerate. When the head is cool, use a knife to remove the skin from the cheeks and snout, peeling away the skin but leaving the meat and fat. Score the fat around the cheeks. Leave the skin on the top of the head so the ears remain attached. Remove the tongue, and remove and discard the skin from the tongue.
For the beer agro dolce: Combine the beer, sugar, vinegar, orange juice, chili flakes, and peppercorns in a pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil until the liquid reduces in volume to about 2⁄3 cup (150 ml) and becomes a thin syrup, 10 to 15 minutes. Strain and set aside.
For the bruschetta: Heat a grill or broiler to medium-high heat. Brush both sides of the bread with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill or broil the bread until toasted, 1 to 2 minutes per side.
Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C). Put the pig’s head and the tongue in a roasting pan or on a rimmed baking sheet and pour the agro dolce evenly over the head and tongue, brushing it to cover completely.
Transfer to the oven and roast for 5 minutes. Pull out the pan and turn the head onto one cheek, spooning the sauce from the pan evenly over the head and tongue. Roast for another 5 minutes.
Remove again from the oven and turn the head on the other cheek, spooning the sauce all over the head and tongue. If the sauce gets too thick, add a little water to the pan to thin it enough to be pourable.
Roast for another 5 minutes. The total roasting time will be 15 to 20 minutes. Put the head right side up on a large plate or platter, with the tongue alongside it. Spoon the remaining sauce over the head.
Serve with the bruschetta and jam. Invite guests to pick meat from the head (the cheeks are especially rich and delicious). The tongue can be sliced into serving pieces.
(* Recipe reprinted with permission from EATING ITALY © 2013 by Jeff Michaud with David Joachim, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group)