Terrine de Tête de Cochon

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A pig’s head, or half of one as I have here, is not a pretty thing. No matter what the great Fergus Henderson says a whole roasted half of a pig head is not a romantic meal for two. Most find it unappetizing and gnarly. I get it. It is however delicious. To get to that deliciousness and remove the ugliness we make a lovely terrine with it and if I was serving this at a restaurant, I’d give it a cool French-y name like the title of this post, Terrine de Tete de Cochon as opposed to jellied pig head (or worse, Headcheese!). Everyone ate this at my house from Diana to the kids and enjoyed it.

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I have several recipes for a pig head terrine in my books. It also goes by Brawn in the UK and Headcheese. The process is similar no matter what the recipe is. The main variation is in the spicing and flavoring. The process involves boiling the head in flavored liquid, removing and chopping the meat/skin and packing the seasoned mixture into a loaf or terrine pan to set. I decided to follow the instructions in Jennifer McLagan’s book Odd Bits. She includes two recipes in the book, one she calls for the uninitiated and includes carrots in it with very little “challenging bits” like skin and snout. The other is the more hardcore, or “advanced”, one with those bits and no carrots.

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The picture for the one with carrots looked very cool and I figured the vegetables will make this rich terrine even more appealing. So, I went somewhere in the middle and used a combination of both recipes. I included plenty of skin and such but also made sure to cut up the carrots from the cooking stock and include them.

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The first step here is to brine the pig’s head in a spiced brine for three of days. It is then cooked it in a big pot of water along with split pork trotters, herbs, spices, lemon, aromatics and peeled carrots. The stock is saved for the next step and the meat gets picked off the bone. I cut up all the meat, skin, ear and set it aside.

I clarified the reserved stock the traditional way following McLagan’s instructions as opposed to using Agar. It’s good to practice the classic techniques every so often and I believe the classic method reserves more of the gelatin in the stock and that’s essential to ensuring the dish sets properly. So I stirred the stock with egg whites and minced vegetables and brought the mixture to a gentle simmer. As the protein in the egg white coagulate it glues together all the minced vegetables and forms a raft on the surface that filters any impurities from the liquid and clarifies it. The liquid is then gently strained through cheesecloth. It is pretty much crystal clear and has an awesome full flavor.

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I mixed the meat with the carrots, tarragon, chives, parsley, red wine vinegar and the clear bouillon. After adjusting the seasoning with salt and pepper I packed the meat in a plastic wrap lined terrine pan.After an overnight rest in the fridge, the terrine is ready to go. It is set and very firm.

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I sliced it up and plated it with mustard, pickled okra and cornichons. The bright carrots really are a nice touch for both color and flavor. The meat was balanced and had a terrific texture. I will cut the the meat into much smaller pieces next time around to get better and more compact slices from the terrine. We snacked on this for several days and I vacuum packed and froze a piece. I’m curious how it holds up, especially if I am to bread it and pan fry it.

 

Historic Heston: The Chicken Liver Parfait

Chicken Liver Parfait6I hesitate to call anything perfect or the ultimate or the best, but really this chicken liver parfait is it…at least for now. I have made rich and decadent chicken liver mousse before but this recipe (itself part of another recipe) uses a couple of techniques that result in the most luxurious pink hued chicken liver parfait ever. The flavor is superb with the strong liver minerality working in perfect harmony with the wine, butter, shallots and herbs.

The main problem with chicken liver dishes is the texture – well, at least for me it is. That grainy sometimes chalky chopped liver texture is loved by some but I find it very off-putting. This is usually due to the liver being overcooked at too high of a heat. When making chicken liver mousse or parfait it’s very important to cook the meat properly. Most recipes will just have us puree the liver with the rest of the ingredients and cook in a ramekin or maybe saute the liver and then puree it with aromatics and such. Blumenthal goes through an extra step or two that are very much worth their effort.

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The primary ingredients of the parfait are cleaned and de-veined chicken livers (free range ones from Yonder Way Farm), eggs mixed with a flavorful liquid reduction (port, wine, brandy along with shallots and herbs) and a whole lot of butter. The butter weight is actually almost equal to the meat weight! The livers (seasoned with salt and curing salt), egg mixture and butter all go in separate bags and are placed in a water bath heated to 50 C with an immersion circulator. The bags stay in the water for about 20 minutes. This temperature and time are obviously not long enough to cook anything. The purpose is to bring everything to the same warm temperature. This helps insure that when I blend the three mixtures together the parfait mix does not split. Mixing cold butter with cool chicken livers and room temperature eggs can really end up hurting the texture.

Chicken Liver Parfait

This is where top level chefs separate themselves from the rest. Attention to the crazy minute details. Maybe making sure that the components of the chicken liver parfait are at the same warm 50 C temperature is a little thing. Maybe it does not make THAT much of a difference. These little things though do add up and make something that is very good great. The other step to really get that texture just right is to pass the blended liver mixture through a very fine sieve. Now the parfait is ready to cook. The mixture goes into a terrine pan that sits in a pan of very hot water (a bain marie ). The parfait is a custard that needs to cook gently like any flan or creme caramel. This one cooks for about 35 minutes in a 212 F oven until the center registers about 147 F on a thermometer.

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Another issue with preparations like this is that the cooked parfait gets an unattractive greenish dark layer on the surface due to oxidation. Even with the Sodium Nitrite (the curing salt added to the livers) this discoloration will still happen). This only gets worse after the parfait sits in the fridge for 24 hours to set. That ugly layer also has a strong flavor. So it messes up all the hard work we’ve been through so far to make a beautiful creamy dark pink chicken liver parfait. The solution? Well, very easy really. Just scrape it off before transferring the cooled parfait into another container.

 

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I put the parfait into a piping bag and piped most of it into small silicon half sphere molds (more about that in the next post) and the rest went into a couple of small ramekins. If I leave the the ramekins like that with the surface of the parfait exposed the will develop the oxidized nasty top layer again. So, I quickly made a vinegar gelèe with apple cider vinegar and little sugar and gelatin. It’s the same idea as the one I made before  for the “Faux Gras” but this time I left the vinegar mixture totally clear instead of mixing it with parsley. The gelèe both protects the parfait and makes a delicious tart condiment for the liver. The parfait topped with the gelèe like that can sit covered in the fridge for a couple weeks with no problem. We ate the contents of the two small ramekins smeared on toasted brioche with a glass of crisp white wine. This really is the best chicken liver parfait we’ve ever had. It is luxurious, rich, creamy, smooth and has a marvelous flavor.