Guest Post – Porchetta Di Testa by Jason Moore

Welcome to the seventh guest post!  I’m letting anyone who wants to show off an offal dish submit a post with pictures.  Want to show the world that noming on noses is okay?  Are you gun-ho for guts?  Let me know and we’ll post your hard work here!  This guest post comes from Jason Moore, and the post originally showed up on his website the power and the glory.

Thoroughly inspired by Chris Cosentino’s video and Ryan Farr’s writeup, I decided to attempt my own completely outlandish meat stunt by procuring a whole hog’s head. Aided by a couple of adventurous friends we set about to create what we hope is a delicious log of glorified lunch meat. A few things worth noting: I am not a professional by any stretch of the imagination, and the most complex assembly i’ve “butchered” is a whole chicken. Everything I know about removing the meat from the head of a pig i gleaned from Cosentino’s video. Hilarity, necessarily, ensued.

The head, fresh from the bag.

To begin with, hogs are animals and animals are a bit dirty, especially when they’ve had their heads mechanically removed in some fashion. This one was no exception – it came to me caked in mud, blood, and with a fair amount of fur and bristles still attached, necessitating removing with B razors and a blowtorch, and then a good scrubbing in the sink. I was very glad to have purchased the 10-pack of razors, as we used  six of the ten getting the bristles removed.

Once the skin was mostly clean of dirt and bristles I started cutting. I don’t think i did a terrible job but there were some really choice bits of meat left behind that Mikeal, in a fit bloodthirsty determination, hacked off after i got the jaw apart. All of the bits of meat and face were then rubbed with a dry cure (kosher salt, sugar, and sodium nitrate), 10-12 chopped cloves of garlic, thyme, and rosemary, and then placed in a bag in the fridge. There they will sit until Saturday-ish, when they will be slow-cooked under partial-vacuum (sous vide? not really.) in a giant roll.

All the meaty bits accounted for we turned our attention to the now-jaw-less skull. Cosentino recommends making stock, and I am fortunate enough to own a stockpot large enough to accommodate a whole hog’s head, so into a hot oven (~500 degrees F) went the skull, and into the pot went the celery, onions, garlic, and carrots. I don’t own a bone saw so we did not get to enjoy the brains, but there was a question as to whether the brains were even present in the skull. Once the skull was sufficiently roasted, i dumped it into the pot along with the drippings in the pan, and brought the whole assembly to a quick boil. Eight hours later, the mostly-meatless skull emerged.

Lessons learned: 

  1. I need more workspace for these sorts of shenanigans. A tiny plastic cutting board and my kitchen table aren’t sufficient space or equipment to take apart a hog’s head, much less a whole hog (coming soon, hopefully).
  2. I need better lighting in my kitchen.
  3. Butchery is messy, artful business.

Following the mostly-successful meat removal and subsequent stock-making, the meat was left to cure in the fridge for about 3 days. and it was a lot of meat – about 8.5 pounds, all told (from a 20 pound head). Finally, on Sunday, i decided it was ready to cook, and bounced out of bed around 7 AM to begin the preparations.

Chris Cosentino and Ryan Farr both cook their porchetta sous-vide, so why argue with success? Unfortunately, I lack both a chamber sealer and an immersion circulator. However, I have read that FoodSaver sealers stand in fine for the vacuum side of things, and since the cooking itself is done at a rather-warm (for sous vide) 190 degrees, I decided that a pot of water in the oven and my FoodSaver sealer would make an excellent poor-man’s sous-vide-rig.

 Porchetta, in jeans.

Wrestling the rolled head into the FoodSaver bag was no easy task – in fact, the entire head wouldn’t fit on the first go, so i made the decision to lop off one of the jowls and hang it to dry in the basement. Even with the removal of the second jowl, the head barely squeezed into the bag. Farr wraps his in cheesecloth, but i think cheesecloth is, more or less, shenanigans, and it turns out that the leg from an old pair of jeans was a perfect size to give some form and support to the porchetta while it cooked. So into the jeans it went, and into the pot and into the oven and then I waited. For 14 hours,  I monitored the temperature using a probe thermometer and it turns out that my oven, on it’s lowest setting, will maintain a pot full of water and vac-sealed porchetta at 190 degrees. Perfect!

Now, more waiting. Cosentino claims that the meat needs two days before it is unwrapped “to develop flavor”. I dutifully strung the meat up in the fridge and waited. Finally, the big day. I rush home from work, visions of lumpy, gelatnous meat spilling forth from the unsealed bag, reeking of botulism and fail – the meat is still vac-sealed and wrapped in jeans at this point, and i have NO idea what has happened since I sealed it.

The porchetta, sliced.

I cut the jeans off of the outside, and slice the vac bag open and…..glorious, porky aroma spills forth. The meat slides out in one coherent loaf, covered in a gleaming, beautiful layer of pork fat and gelatin. Slicing into the meat reveals an unctuous spiral of meat and fat punctuated by squiggles of cartilage and pockets of gelatin. I nervously shave a thin slice to sample. Amazing – subtle pork flavor, assertive but not aggressive. The fat, almost liquid at room temperture, melts in my mouth. The spice hovers in some twilight zone between salt and sweet, hot and soft.

Per Ruhlman, this really is “the power and the glory” – animal fat, salt, and the Pig – although he was referring to sausage; close enough I say.I have a meat slicer arriving Friday to serve this properly. Did i mention I have about 6 pounds of this (four of which are frozen at this point)? Please, invite yourselves over, bring some beer, and let’s grub on this. Porchetta sandwiches, porchetta-wrapped asparagus…the possibilities here are endless.

Thank you Jason!

15 thoughts on “Guest Post – Porchetta Di Testa by Jason Moore

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Guest Post – Porchetta Di Testa by Jason Moore | Nose To Tail At Home --

  2. eek! does anyone know anything about the toxicity, or lack thereof, of blue jean dyes?

  3. Great post. I sold Jason my old curing chamber when I moved from Oakland to Austin, and its obviously in great hands.

  4. I live in fear of eating a whole jean jacket, but that piggy. I’d eat him very happily blue jeans and all!

  5. Jumping in a little late to the game here, but just to clarify – the meat was vac-sealed in plastic before i wrapped it in denim, and the demin is from a pair of jeans that I have literally owned (and worn, and washed repeatedly) for years.

    Incidentally, the guanciale was lovely as well.

  6. lol – the jeans… i don’t know whether to laugh or cry! brilliant. great post. i think besides a great chef’s knife, the one other thing every home cook must have is a giant, sturdy cutting board.

  7. I am SO going to make this over the weekend. I don’t have a vacuum sealer however, but it should work fine just wrapped in cheesecloth. I wanna ask something – I think Cosentino in the video just says he brings it to 190 then cools it with ice if I’m not mistaken? Do you really need to cook it on low temp for hours or overnight?

  8. answered my own question – I guess you do, otherwise the skin won’t get soft… but I can’t believe the ancient italians had vacuumed bags and neither do I, so I’ll make it without the “vide”

  9. I am so intrigued and would love to make something like this but I’d like to make it in a more historical fashion. Does anyone have any info they can recommend? I’d love to see a recipe that doesn’t include nitrates as well.
    I love your denim innovation and the end product looks amazing!

  10. I took a butchering class today and waltzed out with the pig’s head and no idea what to do with it. Thank you very much for this post!

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