boared?

Trigger warning:  my wifey thinks this is gross

I’m hope you’ve had half as much fun this Christmas as I have playing with a pig part.

I haven’t had this much fun with a boar’s head since Joe Shook’s pig roast half a hundred years ago.  After eating, we took the head of the beast and stuck it on a pitchfork, finding a way to wrap somebody’s coat around its “shoulders”.  We put our creation in the back of Joe’s pickup and paraded it through the streets of Vicksburg.  Fun like you just can’t have in the big city.

I became aware of my need for another pig’s head during my recent trip to Santa Fe.  It was there many years ago I first learned about posole, a scrumptious soup/stew of dried corn and pork that I now whip up every year about this time.  In Mexico, where the dish originated, it’s called pozole.  Eating it is said to confer good luck for the coming year.  I’ve been making posole this time of year for several years using pork shoulder, and it’s been delicious. I’m sure it’s accounted for some good luck in the year to follow.  Here’s the recipe I worked up.

It was a communication with a lady of Latvian descent living in Kalamazoo that pointed me to another way to provide the pork.  Somehow, it came up in our e-mails that she and her friends were about to make up their own batch, this after I told her about the lovely multicolored posole I’d just bought in the SF farmers’ market.

Posole is a name also given to the dried corn that goes into the dish.  Its proper name is maiz Cacahuazintle, and is one of the favorite types of corn in Mexico (1). It has giant kernels that are whiter, softer, thicker, with rounder tops, than the regular white or yellow corn. It also has a deep, mealy bite.  North of the border its called hominy. 

The recipe at the end of the link my Latvian friend gave me (2) used a pig’s head rather than the chunks of pork shoulder I use.  Gotta have it!  Wifey wasn’t too enthused, probably thinking about checking the pot and seeing someone looking back at her.  Farmer Mark, who’s getting me the head, said the head meat is by far the tastiest part of the pig and that the posole he made with one last year was fantastic.

But of course, there’s always a problem.  I thought I’d only need half a head for my recipe and Mark can only get them whole.  So what do you do with leftover pig head?  My memory harkened to a treat that’s been lost for generations: head cheese.  You can still get it at some better delis.  There’s not a speck of coagulated casein in it.  Contents are entirely those from the boiled pig: chunks of whatever falls off the skull sitting in the congealed juice of whatever other stuff was extracted.  I don’t think I’ve had it since I was a little kid, when my one-time farmer grandparents made it and loved it.

Making headcheese is butt simple (3).  You just need a big pot and some patience.  All you muscle physiologists out there know that the more a muscle is worked, the tougher it will be.  How much work does Mr. Piggy smiling and chewing put through his head muscles?  So there they land in that gel ready for our ecstatic nibbling.  The only problem is consuming the product in time.  I think it can be frozen.

There are recipes that let you cheat (4), but how can you call it “head cheese” if there’s no head involved?! 

So I was geeked for head cheese, too.  When I picked up my head from Mark, I asked about cutting it in two.  He pointed out that pigs use the tops of their heads to “communicate” and thus the skull there was quite thick.  A dedicated bone saw like you’d find in a butcher’s shop would do it, with a home remedy being something like a Sawzall with a large enough blade.  I had one of those!   Visions of brains, blood, and gore flying though my garage got me to realize maybe one pig’s head recipe per season was enough.  I could feel Kathy’s relief as she stood behind me as I went through my logical progressions.  I also got to ask Mark about brains and eyeballs, which he said don’t factor into culinary uses of the modern-day pig’s head.  Kathy signed relief with that news, too.

The pig’s head, all 7 ½ pounds of it, came home frozen solid.

Of course, it had to thaw out first.  I put it into our smaller kitchen sink face down so it wouldn’t be looking at us the next 2 days.  More kudos from the missus.  At the end of the afternoon, some of his parts were already getting soft.  I moved him from the sink to atop the freezer in the garage.  Plenty cold out there these days.  Out of sight out of mind, even more kudos from the missus.

While the pig sits, there’s the posole itself to take care of (excuse me, ” maiz Cacahuazintle“).  You’d think that coming from a school with colors “maize and blue”, I’d respect maize.  Several steps to getting those kernels ready, the first being an overnight soak.   They emerged looking much fuller and prettier.

Displaying your soaked kernels in a glass bowl is totally optional to this recipe.

Next comes the chemistry experiment.  The soaked kernels have to be cooked in a basic (high pH) solution to be edible.  When the first few recipes I came across called for “slaked lime”, I panicked.  No store around here had such a thing, even when I checked for “calcium hydroxide”, what was what it was.  Fortunately, there’s nothing magic about this particular base. The same can be accomplished by good old baking soda (sodium bicarbonate).  Ya cook the soaked beans in enough of this till you can bite through ‘em, then let ‘em sit overnight.  Tomorrow I rinse ‘em, slide off the slimy coat from each kernel, then take and snip the tip from each kerne!  It was at this point in reading the recipe that I knew it was the Mexican women who cooked this.  The tipos probably slaughtered the pig and cut its head off, but sat back and drank beer while their ladies did the rest.  The snipping of each kernel tip produces a flower-like appearance so of course I thought to myself  I’m going to do it.  The modern male anal-retentive chef steps in to do what Mexican men wouldn’t.  But when I saw how many kernels I had the next day, I nixed this step.  I doubt the Mexican men appreciated the little flowerettes anyway, except maybe the gay ones.

The pause allowed for a photo shoot.  The star of the show here – Mr. Pig (or at least his head) – looks kinda like a nondescript chunk of meat in his previous shot as he came home in a bag from the farm.   I thought he should be displayed properly, so here he is on a silver platter, which I believe is the standard for displaying severed heads.

The platter was a wedding gift from my good friend and Barnes buddy Rajiv, who’s a strict vegetarian.

I’ve had some friends with that angular sort of face, but I won’t be making comparisons here.

Tomorrow, he goes in the pot with the coddled corn, some garlic and oregano, and a paste made with a bunch of soaked dried peppers.  Then just wait till meat falls off the bone.  I suppose the skull comes out then.  Like lots of stews, the longer it sets, the better it tastes.  I’m not sure how long we’ll be able to wait. 

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.  First comes a simmering of that corn for about an hour.  Then it’s time to lower the pig’s head in.

After an hour or two of simmering, enough to cook up some broth, comes the step with the peppers.  You can’t make a Mexican dish without some dried chilis.  My recipe called for 6 guajillos, 6 anchos, and 4 regular chilis.  Alas, I only had the regulars. As it was Christmas eve at this point, I wasn’t going to run out to the Mexican grocery.  My stash included some souvenirs from Santa Fe and finds from Bombay Grocers, another culture that loves hot peppers.  So I used 6 New Mexicos, 12 sambars, and 8 kashmirii.  They still looked nice at the ready.

In my past attempt at posole, I just threw the dried peppers in.  My current operating instructions call for a little more manipulation.  You put the peppers in a bowl, ladle over some of that broth from the pot, let it sit for a half hour or so, then buzz everything in a blender.  That slurry mixes right in with the soup, enhances the color, and gives the flavor a nice punch.  Peppers in posole are more for the flavor than for the heat.  Fortunately, some people are            very serious about dried chilis, and measures of the heat level – indicated in Scoville Heat Units (SHU) – of chili varieties are available (5).  Here’s how my substitutes measured up to the intendeds

varietySHUsvarietySHUs
guajillo2500-5000New Mexico800-1400
ancho1000-1500sambars (?nora)500
“regular’ (?puja)5000-10000kashmiri1500-2000

So it looks like I shortchanged the recipe on the heat side, although I used more of the substitute peppers than called for in the original.

I let the pot simmer till bedtime, then carried it out to the cold garage.   Sometime Christmas morning, pick away at any meat still left on the head, chop that up, heat it back up, and it’ll be ready!

That’s quite the task. While the pig’s head should yield 3-4 pound of meat, ya hafta go get it. It doesn’t just fall off into the pot like I expected. It’s just a matter of taking your kitchen knife to anything soft and digging away. I felt like I was earning the “…and surgeon” as it reads on my medical license. When I opened the beast’s jaws looking for even more soft stuff, I even felt like a porcine dentist. But the meat just keeps on coming. I think my pig would give the young Rob Reiner a run for his money (6).

That’s done.  Now who needs a fresh pig skull?  I’m thinking of throwing it over the back wall to spook the animals.  Probably still some good pickin’s on it, like the brain and eyeballs.  But I’m about to pick some posole out of a big bowl.  I’ve never doctored up the posole I made before, but what I read says Mexicans like to sprinkle on stuff liked sliced onions, radishes, and avocados, even broken up tortilla chips.  I’ve got ‘em all in the house, so Kathy and I will give ‘em a try, too.  Plus, any meal goes better with musical accompaniment, and I just realized John, Paul, George, and Ringo sang the perfect tune (7).

Have fun with this dish however you make it, and buen provecho!

P.S.  It wouldn’t be fair to leave you without the recipe:

References

1. Pat Jinich.  Corn.  Hominy, Maíz Cachuacintle, Mote, or Giant Corn.  https://patijinich.com/hominy_maiz_cacahuacintle_mote_or_giant_corn/

2. Rancho Gordo.  Classic Red Pork Pozole.  https://www.ranchogordo.com/blogs/recipes/classic-red-pork-pozole?_pos=8&_sid=a4238dd59&_ss=r

3. Homemade  Headcheese. The Elliott Homestead 12/8/14.  https://theelliotthomestead.com/2014/12/homemade-headcheese/

4. Pittman B.  Homemade headcheese.   The Cookful.  https://thecookful.com/homemade-headcheese/

5. Spices Inc.  How Hot are Dried Chile Peppers.  https://spicesinc.com/blogs/how-hot-are-dried-chile-peppers

6. All In the Family TV Show Wiki. Rob Reiner. https://all-in-the-family-tv-show.fandom.com/wiki/Rob_Reiner

7. el perro beatle.  Piggies – The Beatles (LYRICS/LETRA) [Original] (+Video).  YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3bCtx7SNAE

Published by rike52

I retired from the Rheumatology division of Michigan Medicine end of June '19 after 36 years there. Upon hitting Ann Arbor for the second time (I went to school here) it took me almost 8 months to meet Kathy, 17 months to buy her a house (on Harbal, where we still live), and 37 months to marry her. Kids never came, but we've been blessed with a crowd of colleagues, friends, neighbors and family that continues to grow. Lots of them are going to show up in this log eventually. Stay tuned.

4 thoughts on “boared?

  1. Living Graves by Bernard Shaw

    We are the living graves of murdered beasts,
    Slaughtered to satisfy our appetites.
    We never pause to wonder at our feasts,
    If animals, like men, can possibly have rights.
    We pray on Sundays that we may have light,
    To guide our footsteps on the path we tread.
    We’re sick of war, we do not want to fight –
    The thought of it now fills our hearts with dread,
    And yet – we gorge ourselves upon the dead.

    Like carrion crows we live and feed on meat,
    Regardless of the suffering and the pain
    we cause by doing so, if thus we treat
    defenceless animals for sport or gain,
    how can we hope in this world to attain,
    the PEACE we say we are so anxious for.
    We pray for it o’er hecatombs of slain,
    to God, while outraging the moral law,
    thus cruelty begets its offspring – WAR.

    Like

  2. These beasts wouldn’t exist if not for us to eat their flesh. They’re not very good pets. And about that warry thing, Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian dontcha know. Pass the pork! Did you recognize your silver platter?

    Like

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