I recently managed to purchase half a pig from a local farmer – the head was used in this recipe for brawn. A pig’s head isn’t really something you’re going to be able to pick up at the butcher’s counter at your local supermarket but – if you do have a decent enough proper butcher’s shop, it’s always worth asking what else they have going. You may find trotters and pig’s heads are available at little or no cost provided you ask for them alongside some other purchases.

Once you’ve sourced half a head and 3 or 4 trotters, the rest of the ingredients shouldn’t cause you any bother.

The process of creating brawn goes something like this: Burn or shave off any hairs (the pig’s, not your own), clean the pig’s head, brine the head for a few days, boil it for a few hours, pick out the decent meat (of which there will be plenty) and set in the stock created from boiling everything up.

Those are the basic set of steps you’ll be following.

Let’s start with all the ingredients.

For the brine

  • 10 litres of water brought to a simmer and into it goes:
  • 700 grams of salt – you can buy specialist salt for this but rock salt should be fine (just make sure it’s pure salt – with no anti-caking agents. I used Himalayan rock salt – not to be flash but because it was going cheap and I know it’s a pure ingredient).
  • Pickling spices – (not essential but a handful of fennel and coriander seeds won’t do you any harm).

For the brawn

  • Half a pig’s head
  • 3 pigs trotters
  • 1 large onion, chopped in half
  • 2 carrots chopped into 1 inch chunks
  • 2 sticks of celery chopped into 1 inch chunks
  • 1 leek chopped into 1 inch chunks
  • A handful of sage, bay & thyme tied together
  • 1 head of garlic
  • A tablespoon of red wine vinegar
  • Flat leaf parsley
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • Salt & pepper.

If you have a blowtorch, burn away the pig’s hairs. You can also hold the head over the flame of your cooker – just be careful doing this. Using a sharp knife, scrape  away the remaining singed hairs and anything else that looks like it shouldn’t be there. Thoroughly clean the head under cold, running water. Make the brine as above making sure the salt is fully dissolved in the water. Allow to cool, pour into a non-reactive food container and add the head. Leave in a cool place (a fridge) for 2 or 3 days. Remove the head from the brine and wash again under clean water.

(If you intend to eat the brain, remove this before brining the head – the brain won’t be in a happy state after a few days of brining).

Place the head in a large bowl with the other brawn ingredients (other than the orange, parsley and seasoning), cover with water and simmer over a low heat for 3 hours. Keep an eye on it – remove any scum that forms on the surface of the water.

Remove the head and allow to cool a little.

Pour the cooking liquid through a sieve into a pan and reduce over a low heat for half an hour or so. This will give you time to pick through the head meat. The cheeks and meat around the eye socket are particularly good but anything else that looks or feels edible can, and should, go in. The snout can be diced and there should be good meat at the back of the head. Once you have a removed every bit of usable meat from the head, chop it up into a 1cm cube.

A layer of scum will have formed on top of the stock by now – this can be removed. To further clarify the stock you can pass it through a fine cloth or even add a couple of beaten egg whites, take the stock off the heat and allow the whites to collect sediment from the stock and float to the surface. Lift the egg-white ‘raft’ from the stock taking the sediment with it. I used both methods of cleaning the stock as I wanted a clean, almost clear finish to the brawn.

This is really important – taste both the meat and the stock now. You need to make sure you’re happy with the seasoning but keep in mind that, as the meat and stock will be warm, the flavours will be more pronounced than when you eventually serve the brawn. So – season to taste and then season further – don’t be scared of too much pepper – pig jelly needs a decent hit of pepper I think.

Add some chopped parsley and the orange zest to the meat and place in a small loaf tin lined with cling film. (I added a layer of parsley leaves to the base of the tin first just for a bit of detail to the finished brawn).

Pour over the stock until it just covers the meat and allow to set in the fridge overnight.

When you’re ready to eat the brawn, remove from the fridge early to allow it to warm up slightly – you don’t want to serve the brawn with a chill to it otherwise the flavours could be lost.

I served mine with a simple salad of peppery salad leaves, sliced apple and a Dijon mustard, walnut oil and olive oil dressing.