Making Brawn

There are myriad versions of brawn, or head cheese, fromage de tête, whatever you want to call it. This version is from Fergus Henderson’s “Nose to tail”. It’s basically a jellied meat terrine.

I’ve been unable to find anyone willing (or able) to supply me with a pig’s head, until last week. I’ve asked in various butchers and each time I’ve been given a blank look. I guess no one makes this anymore. I found that the organic farm shop a few miles from home can supply heads, trotters and back fat! Huzzah! Back fat is almost as tricky to get hold of as a pig’s head, because no one likes fat these days apparently, the fools.

Ingredients for making brawn

Ingredients for making brawn

So to make this Brawn recipe I needed:

  • A pig’s head
  • 2 pig’s trotters
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 celery ribs
  • 2 onions
  • Parsley, bay leaves, sprigs of thyme, rosemary, sage, plus about 2 tablespoons of cracked black peppercorns, all wrapped up and tied in muslin
  • Bunch of curly leafed parsley
  • A good slug of red wine vinegar
  • Sea salt
  • Sugar
  • Water
  • A VERY large stockpot
  • A couple of loaf tins or terrine moulds, plus some clingfilm
  • A packet of disposable razors
  • Patience

First of all you need to prep the head. Wash it all really well (don’t forget to clean the ears!) and give it a good shave with the disposable razors (you’ll need a few – I got through half a dozen) – doing that feels a bit odd to be quite honest. Give the trotters a good going over too – make sure you check between the toes!

Pig's head for brawn

Pig’s head for brawn – give it all a good wash and shave

You can imagine my girlfriend’s face when she wandered into the kitchen half asleep on Sunday morning to find me shaving a pig’s head with a bic razor 🙂

So, depending on how large the head is, and how large your pot is, you might need to saw it in half, or even into quarters in order to get it in there. Mine just fitted in the pot, albeit with the nose a little higher than I would have hoped for. If you’re sawing the head apart you’ll need a bone saw or a clean hacksaw with a new blade. Scoop out the brain and work out how you’re gonna cook it, if you are. Deep fried? On toast? Up to you. Mine came without the brain. I found out later that it was also missing the tongue, which was a real shame.

Some brawn recipes call for the head to be brined for 24 hours before cooking, but not this one, so I skipped the brining.

Once you’re happy with your shaved head, wash and peel the veg, then put everything apart from the sea salt into your huge stockpot, fill it with cold water, and bring it slowly up to a simmer.

Adding the veg and herbs to the pot

Add the veg and herbs to the pot

Adding the head to the pot

Add the head to the pot – this one only just fits!

snorkeling

snorkeling

Simmer very gently for about 3-4 hours, or until the meat is really soft and coming away from the head. Make sure it never fully boils!

Simmer and skim, simmer and skim

Simmer and skim, simmer and skim

Periodically scrape off any scum which floats to the top. I did this about 8 times during the simmer.

Then lift all the pig bits out of the broth (it’ll be falling apart by this stage – so be careful) and let it all cool down enough to be able to handle the meat.

After 4 hours on a really slow simmer

After 4 hours on a really slow simmer

Take all the meat off the head, shred it with your fingers and set aside. Pull the tongue out, peel the skin off it and dice it. Put this in with the other meat. If there’s any meat on the trotters pull that off, or simply discard them, they’ve done their job by now.

Mix the chopped parsely in with the diced and shredded meat.

Strain the stock into a clean pan through some muslin to get rid of all the bits, then cook this over a high heat until reduced by about half. Your house will smell very piggy by this point.

Get your loaf tins or terrine moulds ready – line them with clingfilm and arrange the meaty bits in them.

Check the seasoning of your reduced stock (It’s worthwhile seasoning heavily as this will be served cold, reducing the final flavour), then gently pour your stock over the meat and parsley, cover and pop into the fridge to set. It’s worth trying to get any remaining bubbles of air out while it’s still warm, you can bang it on the worksurface or or poke it with a spoon handle, etc to do this.

Assembling the brawn in the terrine

Assembling the brawn in the terrine

I didn’t get anywhere near the yield I was expecting but that’s because I took both jowls off for Guanciale, and because the tongue was missing!

Still, I only paid £6 for the head, trotters and about a kilo of back fat, so I can’t complain – according to the receipt the head was free, and it’s not every day you can say that you got free head 😛

Once it’s all properly set (overnight in the fridge is best), put a plate on top and invert it. Remove the clingfilm, cut a slice off and marvel at the porky wonder that is your brawn!

Tip it out of the terrine

Tip it out of the terrine

Slice a piece off, grab a home pickled gherkin or some cornichons from the jar, butter some some crunchy bread and potato salad and you’re set. And pour yourself a beer.

Plated up

Plated up

To be honest it tastes good but it needs really heavy seasoning – a lot more than I added – and it’s a bit too jelly-heavy, but it wobbles nicely 🙂 It needed about double the amount of meat, if I’d only kept one jowl back and the tongue there!

If you put some hard boiled eggs in it before it sets it would be like a jellied Gala pie. mmmm. Next time I’ll do that and make Fergus’ Crispy ear and sorrel salad to go with it.

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How to make a shooter’s sandwich

Shooter's sandwich - the perfect picnic food?

Shooter’s sandwich – the perfect picnic food?

I went fishing yesterday so I thought I’d make a shooter’s sandwich to take with me. Traditional fare for Edwardian hunters, it’s perfect to take with you when you’re hunting or fishing or just having a picnic. And it’s dead easy to make, like most things it just needs a  little time.

It needs:

  • A nice round crusty loaf
  • A couple of steaks
  • Shallots
  • Mushrooms (about twice the amount of shallots you have)
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Mustard and horseradish
  • A bunch of chopped parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • A clove of garlic (optional)
  • Butter (definitely not optional)
  • Greaseproof paper
  • Tinfoil
  • String

To make it:

  • Finely dice all the mushrooms and shallots (and garlic, if using), add a big knob of butter and gently fry in a large pan, until the mushrooms have lost most of their moisture.
  • Season the mixture with salt, loads of black pepper and the Worcestershire sauce. Add the chopped parsley, mix it up nicely and set aside for now.
  • Cut the top off the loaf to make a lid, and scoop out most of the inside (save the rest to make breadcrumbs, or just nibble on it as you do the rest, or take it fishing)
  • Season and fry the steaks until (at most) medium rare (if you like your steaks well done you can show yourself out now).
  • Tuck one freshly cooked steak into the bottom of the hollowed out loaf, and cover it with the mushroom mixture.
  • Put the other steak on top of this.
  • Spread loads of mustard (I use Dijon) and horseradish onto the top steak and on the inside of the lid.
  • Pop the lid back onto the loaf,
  • Wrap the loaf up in the grease proof paper and tie it up tightly with string.
  • Wrap it all in tinfoil
  • Get a chopping board, or a baking tray (basically something flat), put that on top of the filled loaf and weigh it down with lots of weight. Food tins, books, whatever you can find.
  • Put it somewhere cool and leave it for about 4 or 5 hours, or preferably overnight, until it’s compressed.
  • Unwrap from the foil, and cut through the grease proof paper.
  • Tuck in!

Is it the best sandwich in the world? I have no idea, but it’s one of my favourite foods to take fishing. I could live off one of these for a weekend 🙂

Shooter's sandwich mise en place

Shooter’s sandwich mise en place

Frying the mushroom and shallot mixture

Frying the mushroom and shallot mixture

Hollowing out the loaf

Hollowing out the loaf

With the first steak and the mushroom mixture in

With the first steak and the mushroom mixture in

Smearing horseradish on the second steak, mustard on the inside of the lid

Smearing horseradish on the second steak, mustard on the inside of the lid

Wrapped in paper and tied

Wrapped in paper and tied

Added the weights

Added the weights

After pressing

After pressing

Shooter's sandwich - the perfect picnic food?

Results!

Making demiglace

Demiglace ingredients

Demiglace ingredients

I love making stock.

So much so that I’m currently banned from making any more as I’ve run out of room. I tend to have a fairly decent stash of various types in the “overflow” freezer. Lamb, Beef, Pork, LOTS of chicken, duck, fish, and of course a nice stash of demi glace. That is something I can’t be without now, demiglace transforms lacklustre sauces into something else entirely, adding lots of depth of flavour. It’s a silver bullet for sauces and gravy. That, and butter of course.  It’s probably why restaurant sauces taste so good compared to home cooked versions, even if you follow the recipe to the letter.

But it takes a long time to make demi glace, and lots of room, and patience. I make it about twice a year. I like having something cooking slowly all weekend, plus it makes the house smell great. Nice and Beefy.

I got this recipe from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles cookbook. You will need some BIG stockpots for this. I bought a huge one precisely for this purpose from a shop in Leicester (Melton road to be precise) – it’s like an Aladdin’s cave – go down the stairs and it’s full of all sorts of wonderful stuff. More on that another time.

  • I order veal shin (or marrow bones) from JTBeedham butchers in Sherwood, Nottingham. I’ll call up a few days beforehand and ask him to keep some aside for me when he breaks down the cows. I get him to saw them up into more manageable pieces for me too.
  • Then I buy a shedload of carrots, onions and celery. And some tomato puree.
  • I smear the bones in tomato puree, sprinkle on some flour and swizz them all about to cover them in it.
  • Then I peel the veg, which totals about 30% volume of the bones, made up of 50% white onion, 25% carrot and 25% celery.
  • Roast the bones in a 180C (ish) oven, jiggle them about from time to time to get them nicely covered. Don’t burn them otherwise you’ve lost.
  • Pop the chopped and peeled veg into another oiled roasting pan (or two). Roast that lot until it’s nicely browned on the edges, but not burnt.
  • Once that’s done – your house should smell very beefy. Nice. Put everything into a huge stockpot (or two) and fill it with cold water. Add some Thyme sprigs, black peppercorns and a few bay leaves. Bring that lot up to a simmer, but DON’T LET IT BOIL.
  • Simmer it as slowly as you can lot for 10 or so hours. TEN HOURS. Occasionally skim off any scum from the top.
  • Then strain it all through a chinois, or through some muslin in a seive, as many times as you can be bothered. The more the better. Let it cool down. You now have a basic brown beef (or veal) stock. I tend to keep some of this back and freeze it. You never know when you need some beef stock. Mmm, beefy.
  • Then put red wine equal to about a quarter of the volume of stock there is into another stockpot, add a few finely chopped shallots and reduce it over high heat by half. Then add the stock you have left to it. bring it up to a simmer, again – don’t boil it!
  • Let that reduce down slowly for a few hours, until it’s super-reduced, but not really sticky. It’s normally Sunday afternoon by this point for me, if I start on a Saturday morning.
  • Once it’s nice and reduced, take it off the heat and run it through the chinois (or muslin) again a few times. Then store it. I put it into ice cube bags and freeze it. That way I can pop a beefy ice cube out of the freezer at any time.

I know it takes a while to make, but this stuff is great.

Here’s what I end up with after a weekend’s worth of reduction. Essence of beef. All those bones and veg (less about a pint or so of “normal stock” I pinched for the freezer) got me a litre of demi. Totally worth it.

 

Demiglace yield

Demiglace yield