Pigface, Pigface, Roly-poly Pigface.
Pigface, Pigface, eat them up, Yum.
(apologies to Barnes and Barnes)
What can I say about the idea of cured rolled pigface that isn’t explicit in the title, or would contradict everything I said in the preamble to the Chicken Intestine recipe?
Not much really, so I won’t bother, and get straight into it:
Stage One: The Facial Peel
Excitement! Excitement! What’s in the box?
Tail a blur of frenzied motion, Daisy is keen to get stuck in.
What’s in the box is four nice fresh pig heads, beaming beatifically at the prospect of the delicious dish destiny has in store for them.
A flotilla of pig flesh atop the kitchen table. Usually we use the cheeks of the pigs for Guanciale and the rest of the heads either for brawn or as ingredients in Hurkey or other fifth quarter sausagey delights. But not this time…
This time we’re going to make cured pigface.
The first task, obviously, is to separate the face from the head. First, peel your pig.
This actually turned out to be a lot easier than I was anticipating, and the whole thing came off in one piece without any real problems
Face Off. and instantly I’m John Travolta.
And the skinned heads go in the big pot to boil down for stock.
They cooked for 24 hours, then the resulting 20 litres of stock was reduced down to one scant litre, which was so concentrated it could be a meal in itself, and so gelatinous it could have been a rival to Flubber.
Stage Two: You Killed it, now Cure it.
So, we take our tray of faces.
With the meatside inside, skinside outside, you can see just how much facial muscle a pig has. According to oft repeated legend it takes only 4 muscles to smile but 64 to frown, or some such similar nonsensical guff. I can’t imagine where you would fit 64 muscles in your face, nor have I any idea if these pigs did much frowning, but they did look quite smiley, even with their faces detached from their skulls. However many muscles there are in here, we are going to eat them all.
Each face weighs in around the two and a half kilo mark. Five and a half pounds of pure pigface. Who’da thunk it? I was expecting perhaps half that.
First off we rub the face with salt. Lots of salt. There are lots of folds and nooks and crannies on the inside of a pig’s face and it is important to get the salt worked well in to every last wrinkle. There is 1/2 tsp of saltpetre mixed in with the salt too.
Then the same thing on the outside. It’s a smoother surface, but there it needs to be worked into the ears and nose cavities and rubbed hard into the skin.
And finally the flavourings. For Pigface #1 this is just Sichuan Flower Pepper, from Jenny Song. Quite a lot of flower pepper, in fact, but it has preserving qualities of its own and I want to really get the flavour into the meat. You will see a lot more of this ingredient in coming posts. I have been truly mindblown by these. I have used Sichuan pepper many times as an ingredient, but the regular shop-bought ones from the big herb/spice companies have absolutely nothing to do with the flavour and intensity of these. When I first opened the packet, I took one (just one!) out and chewed it to see what the taste was like. And then my head exploded.
They are not hot at all, quite the reverse. The effect is like a blast of supercool anaesthetic combined with a giant firework going supernova around the inside of your skull. Do you remember that Space Candy stuff that you put on your tongue and it fizzed and careened off the roof of your mouth. This is like the crack cocaine version of that. Remember sticking your tongue across the top of a 9-volt battery for the buzz? Imagine doing that with mains voltage.
I literally drooled. My youngest child came in and looked at me very peculiarly as I sat, slack-jawed and gibbering for about five minutes.
Utterly fantastic. I can’t get enough of it.
But that was one peppercorn. See how much is in Pigface. Going to be kinda epic.
Coming down from that madness, Pigface #2 is a more traditional version with salt, saltpetre, lemon peel, fresh ginger, black pepper and thyme.
For Pigface #3 we are going a little bit off the beaten track:
Brown sugar, Star Anise, Flower Pepper, Coriander seed and Cinnamon.
Also I used Supracure instead of salt and saltpetre to see if there is a difference in the salt levels post curing.
And finally to Pigface #4. Taking a further step into the experimental:
Salt and saltpetre as before, Jenny Song’s Mala BBQ Rub – which is similar ingredients to my mix for #3, but noticeably hotter due to a high Chilli content. Ma La translates as ‘numbing and spicey’, which is as accurate a description as one can get.
With a goodly dash of Shaoxing Rice wine
And a more cautious couple of splashes of Mesquite Liquid Smoke. I emphasise the caution on the amount here, as it is very easy to overdo it with liquid smoke, and the results can be disastrous. Used sparingly it is an amazing product. For many years I was a bit sniffy about it, I will confess. I would see it in recipes and think ‘If you want thing to taste smoked, why not smoke them?’ However I picked up a bottle out of sheer curiosity while stocking up on chilli sauces one day and have been a convert ever since. Very versatile and useful. Just go easy with it.
Pigface #4 rubbed with the wonder-rub. The combination of the Mala effect with the smokiness promises to yield great things. I had to keep stopping to taste the mix off my fingers. Until I couldn’t feel my head any more. Or my fingers.
Then the pigfaces are rolled tightly up again.
Packed, secured (cable ties, as indispensable in the kitchen as everywhere else) and labelled, then left to cure for a week, turning daily.
Stage Three – Boil in the bag
After a week, the faces are taken out, brushed off and rinsed thoroughly – all those nooks and crannies we rubbed the salt into need to have the salt flushed out again, or we will end up with an extremely salty product.
The ears are cut off and sliced into thin strips. This was a lot harder than it usually is. We do a recipe with strips of pig ear coated in mustard and panko and roasted, but for that the ears are simmered for 3 hours beforehand, making them nice and soft and malleable. These ears have been curing for a week and have stiffened up considerably. It was rather like cutting up thick leather. Which, I suppose, is what it actually is. Yummy leather. Yummy Spicey Numby Leather.
Then a bit more spice is applied to the inner surface of the cured face. Just to be different, we chose to do Pigface#4 first, so it is the Mala Rub being reapplied here.
Then the julienned ears are spread over the top. Another recipe I have seen for this also includes the tongues sliced inside. Unfortunately I had already used the tongues elsewhere by this stage, but next time I shall include them. It would add another interesting texture contrast.
And the pigface is rolled up again. It is important to roll it as tightly as possible at this stage to avoid having any air pockets inside the finished article. The removal of the ears makes this a good deal easier.
Then the whole thing is wrapped in a tea towel and tied tightly, ready for immersion in the sous-vide.
The sous-vide adventure probably merits a post in its own right. It is a technique I have been interested in the potential of for quite a while. It seems to be attracting a lot of detractors at the moment: I saw an article in the Grauniad recently, entitled Sous-Vide: Sucking all the sensation out of food preparation, which boldly stated:
Sous vide cooking is effective but removes sight, sound, smell and taste from cooking.
I would contend that the writer of that piece, who shall remain nameless, but it was James Ramsden, really did not grasp the possibilities of the device. Funnily enough, the dish he chose to test it with was braised pig cheeks (his go to dish, seemingly, as it is the star feature at his ‘Highbury Supper Club’ The Secret Larder. Think about that concept for a moment. A supper club of Grauniadistas. In Highbury…
… and breathe), so it will be interesting to contrast our results with his. Will our meat be “oddly mushy”? Will our pigface be an empty husk after the sous-vie has “sucked out its soul”? Will I be forced to eat humble pie and apologise to Mr Ramsden? Who knows. We shall have to see.
Anyway, having looked into the various sous-vides available, I arrived at the conclusion that the pukka ones really start at the £800 or so mark and go up from there, whereas the budget ones between £100 and £250 all seem to have their limitations and flaws. Unfortunately I don’t have a grand to spare to invest in a piece of experimental kitchen kit, but on the other hand don’t want to spend a still not-inconsiderable sum on something that isn’t going to be up to par.
So, in the slightly DIY spirit of KaC, I decided to improvise in the first instance, and if the experience is unremittingly positive, then look into finding a proper one at auction at a later date. Effectively all a sous-vide is, is a water bath with a very precise thermostat. I found someone on Ebay selling thermostats already built into a control box with a socket on, into which I plugged our slow cooker, and voila, the KaC Sous-vide!
Oh. That is not good. The pigface only just fits in the slow cooker. The space left for water circulation is not going to remotely adequate. We are going to need a larger slow cooker in the not-too distant future.
So, unwrapped, sliced in half rewrapped, retied and finally vac-packed. Ready to go…
… or not quite. Although the demi-face now fitted easily into the slowcooker, the package floated on the surface of the water, rather than staying submerged. Although it was vac-packed as hard as possible to remove any air, what I had not taken into account was the fact that the pigface is mainly comprised of fat, and fat floats.
So out it came again, and a second bag was vac-packed around it, with the addition if 2lbs of brass weights inside.
And finally, we can start to cook.
The one flaw I have found with this system is that the slow cooker will not get above 60 degrees. My technical advisor Mr David Gouedard advises me, technically that this is because the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of water above 60 degrees is somehow exponentially greater than the energy required to get it to 60.
Which was a little problematic, given that the recipe I was basing this on suggested a temperature of 66. But, I figured, given that the pigfaces were cured already, and I was cooking them for three days, there wasn’t going to be an enormous bacteria risk. So 60.4 degrees it is. See you in 72 hours…
stayed tuned for part two of this facemunching epic.