A New Take On Headcheese

I was having a discussion with a friend of mine about different foods that we have tried and he mentioned headcheese. His exact comment was, "I don't eat enough Headcheese", I completely agree. I don't think any of us eat enough headcheese.  I don't now why that is, it might be because its called Headcheese, not a very appetizing name. It might also be because not many people sell it and the versions that are available at the store aren't very good. It might also be that nobody knows  how to make it, or that it looks to complicated to make. None of those reasons are good reasons, a properly made headcheese is a thing of beauty, not just visually but from a taste stand point as well.  Most people have never even eaten it, they just know they wouldn't like it. I believe that headcheese can be a wonderful addition to any meal and is delicious, but you have to cook it right.

Headcheese is very versatile and can take on any flavor that you choose. I have eaten and made several different types and each one was unique. I had eaten a red hot headcheese at a place in Minneapolis called Haute Dish that was made with PBR and jalapenos and was fantastic. I have also made some very simple versions with lemon and parsley that were wonderful. The only downside I can think of is that is is time consuming to make and that might turn some people off.

The process for making a headcheese is really quite simple, you place a pigs head in a large pot with a couple of pigs feet, add some seasoning and water and simmer for a couple hours. Once the head has simmered the meat falls off the bone and you pick the feet and skull clean. While you are picking the head clean remove all the herbs and spices from the remaining liquid and boil the liquid until you have about 2 cups left. This liquid is mostly collagen and is used to set the meat and hold it all together. That is pretty much it, some what time consuming but very simple.

I would like to clear up a common misconception, headcheese is not brains, it is meat, it is all the muscles around the face and skull. You can use the tongue if you want to and it adds to the dish but if eating a tongue is to far out for you, you wouldn't have to use it.

If you are interested in making a headcheese the first thing you need to find is a pigs head. These are not always easy to find, but if you talk to your butcher they can usually find them for you. Specialty Meats and Gourmet in Hudson, WI can order them for you and sometimes they have them on hand. I like making headcheese so I usually order several heads ahead of time and keep them in the freezer. I also like to buy my pigs head spilt in half. This recipe only used half of a pigs head and yielded plenty of meat. Plus getting them split means they are smaller and easier to fit in your pot.

The Idea for this headcheese came a couple of weeks ago when I was watching Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. He was at some place in Portland,  and they were making a headcheese with polenta and kind of looked like a scrapple. I didn't have any polenta at the house but I did have some grits so I thought I would give it a try. The idea here is that instead of reducing the cooking liquid down and using it to hold the meat together you use the grits. After this is chilled for 6-8 hours it holds its shape really well. After slicing a couple of pieces I gave them a quick fry in a pan with a small amount of butter to give them a little color and to warm them up. I served this with a little maple syrup and whole grain mustard mixed together with a dash of Worcestershire sauce.

I was absolutely amazed at how good this was, the pigs head gave a great porky flavor with just the right amount of salt cut with the dried cherries. The grits held it all together and gave it a rich creamy texture. It was incredible, I would highly suggest that if you are the least bit on the fence about headcheese that you try this and it will make you a believer. 

Headcheese with Dried Cherries and Grits

1 half pigs head
2 pigs feet
1 lemon (cut in half)
1 bulb garlic (cut in half)
6 tablespoons salt
2 large carrots (roughly chopped)
2 stalks celery (roughly chopped)
1 medium onion (quartered)
1 small bunch of fresh thyme
1 bunch of parsley
4 bay leaves
5 whole tien tsin chillies
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon black pepper corns
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
enough water to cover the pigs head
1/2 cup dried cherries
2 cups cooked grits

1. place the head and feet in a large stock pot and cover with water by one inch.
2. add the rest of the ingredients minus the grits and cherries. If you make a small satchel with cheesecloth to hold the peppercorns and mustard seeds it will save you some time trying to pick them out late.
3. bring the water to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer, simmer for about 2 hours or until the meat is falling off the bone.
4. remove the head and feet from the stock and allow to cool. At this point if you wanted to make a more traditional headcheese you wold reserve all the cooking liquid and return it to the stock pot and reduce it down to about 2 cups. If you don't want to then you can discard all the liquid and seasonings.
5. When the head is cooled down enough to handle pluck the meat off the head and feet and set aside
6. prepare your grits and mix with the meat, taste at this point and add salt if needed
7. stir in the dried cherries and pour the mixture into a terrine mold or loaf pan, allow to cool and set up for 6-8 hours

you can eat it chilled or if you would like, sear it in a pan and serve warm.