Every week I buy some pigs’ heads to cure the cheeks to make guanciale, and I have been sad at discarding so many good bits of the head. Then I started thinking: most of my Italian friends get a pig every year, and the day becomes a family affair, with the whole pig being used and everyone assigned a job. Are there methods from the production day that could be adapted to the pig’s head?
In the family kitchen, the table is scrubbed clean and the pig is laid out on the table with a bucket underneath to collect the blood. To make blood sausage, into the blood is mixed some of the back fat, some grain and a bit of cinnamon. The pigs’ intestines are cleaned inside and out, the blood sausage mixture is spooned in, then they are poached in hot water and left to hang. The rest of the intestines will be used to make sausages. The trotters can be dried to use in a soup or left on the legs to cure to make prosciutto. The bellies are used to make pancetta, the loin is cured or eaten as a roast, the back fat becomes lardo, and the forequarter will be boned and skinned and made into sausages, along with all the trimmings (see box). Some will be salsiccia secca and some will be fresh. And the head will be made into brawn or the cheeks will be cut out to cure as guanciale.
I do not care for brawn, but I was interested in exploring different approaches to guanciale. I tried boning out the whole head, peeling off the cheeks from below the ear to the snout, keeping the cheeks held together by the snout, cutting the tongue out and feeding it back into the inside of the snout and filling the spaces with some of the pork forequarter I had minced for sausage making, adding lemon zest and herbs. I wrapped it up tight in muslin and poached it for six hours, left it to rest overnight, then cut it into patties to grill and serve as a sandwich. This is the recipe I offer.
1 pig’s head, tongue included / 500g minced pork forequarter / Zest of 2 lemons / 4 cloves garlic / Salt and freshly ground pepper / Bunch of parsley / 30ml extra-virgin olive oil / 1 tsp chili flakes / 100ml white wine / 1 onion / 2 stalks celery / 1 leek / Peppercorns
Start by boning out the cheeks all the way to the snout. The aim is to keep everything attached. Starting just below the ear, make an incision to the chin, keeping the tip of the knife as close to the bone as possible.
Grate the zest off the lemons, chop the parsley, and peel and slice the garlic. Mix into the pork mince with the extra-virgin olive oil, wine, salt, pepper and chili flakes.
Season the inside and out of the pigs’ head and the small pieces and tongue with salt and pepper. Starting with one cheek down, place half the minced pork mix on top, followed by the tongue and other muscles, the rest of the pork mince mix, followed by the other cheek. The head will now be rolled up. Now wrap the rolled pig’s head with a large piece of muslin and tie tightly with string as you would a joint of meat for roasting.
Place in a large heavy-based pot and cover with cold water. Throw in an onion, cut in half, leaving the skin on, 2 sticks of celery with leaves removed, a small handful of peppercorns and a leek cut in half down the middle. Throw in a good handful of salt, bring to the boil and simmer for 6 hours. Top up with cold water when needed.
Remove from heat and let sit in the cooking liquor for 30 minutes. Remove carefully and leave to rest for a few minutes until it is no longer too hot to touch. Wrap tightly with cling film, stretching it tightly around the mixture to shape into a firm log. Prick with small holes to allow the liquid to escape and cool the log in the fridge overnight.
Peel off the cling film and remove the string and muslin. From the snout end, cut into 4cm slices. Serve as an antipasto on its own or with other things such as pork pate and ham. Alternatively, it can be sliced wafer-thin and served on a bed of rocket, drizzled with a Dijon vinaigrette.
Another way of enjoying this is to serve it as a pig-face patty sandwich: slice the log into 2.5cm rounds, heat up a pan and brown on both sides, heating all the way through. Serves two as a sandwich with rocket leaves and some mustard vinaigrette in the middle. Throw in some torn sun-dried tomatoes in extra-virgin olive oil and some pitted olives.