Not to mince words, but a terrine featuring pork parts cooked down and chopped fine, seasoned with a perfect herb and spice balance, bound in a gelatinous cloak and served cold is a thing of ceremonious beauty. Ok, so it’s hog’s head cheese. But, before you bolt for the door, please read on, and you just may learn to appreciate this spunky, funky and just plain tasty Cajun Creole delicacy.
I don’t know exactly why Americans have an aversion to forcemeat preparations that envelop the bits and pieces of familiar animals we consume every day into savory wonders. Traveling through France has always been a culinary adventure of sorts, and it was in the Loire Valley that I first tasted a terrine of wild game. That livery, meaty pâté scooped up on toast points and paired with an elegant champagne was a revelation of how such a bold flavor can be tamed.
South Louisiana meat markets have been serving up terrines of pork alongside other smoked meat fare for generations. Hog’s head cheese is as basic a Cajun dish as boudin. Combining the ground pieces and parts of the pig along with a healthy dose of spice and heat all held together with a binder is a classic terrine.
Unlike many classic French terrines, this is not technically a forcemeat preparation as it uses cooked meat rather than raw. Also, my version omits the gelatin and opts for pig’s feet to do the binding. This recipe is more akin to a meat loaf and can be prepared in either a terrine-style dish or a common loaf pan.
With a freezer full of pork and pork parts, I set out to connect with the terroir and create an earthy terrine of pork, more commonly referred to as, oh well, you know.
Hog’s Head Cheese
Prep time: 45 minutes + 2 hours
Cooking time: 2 hours
Serves: 4 – 8
Tips: Here in Acadiana most butchers can provide you with all the pig parts you need. If you have a Latin grocery, they are also a great source for pork pieces. And, if adventurous, find the whole pig’s head and braise it for 2 hours to get the good stuff. I will be most proud of you.
2 pig’s jowls, butchered and cleaned
1 pig’s tail, butchered and cleaned
4 pig’s feet, butchered and cleaned
1 pig’s leg, butchered and cleaned
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup ground pork
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup yellow onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup carrots, diced
1 cup green bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup yellow bell pepper, diced
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 cup white wine
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
1 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 cup green onion tops, diced
1 tablespoon Louisiana hot sauce
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon white pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
1 envelope clear gelatin, if needed
Preheat oven to 375ºF.
In a bowl under running cold water, place the cleaned and butchered pork jowls, tail, feet, and leg portions. Rinse them and inspect to see that they are cleaned and free of any blood. Dry the pieces on paper towel, place them on a large baking sheet and cover with aluminum foil. Place the tray into the oven and roast for 1 hour covered. Uncover and roast for 1/2 hour more.
Remove the tray from the oven and let cool. With a paring knife, remove the parts and pieces of pork meat from the bones. Remove any large fatty pieces and discard. You should have at least 2 cups of pork meat. Dice the meat into small pieces. Cover and refrigerate.
In a medium size pot, add the water along with all of the pork bones and pig’s feet. Bring the water to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook until about half of the water reduces, about 1 hour. Strain the stock and discard the bones and any other pieces. Skim any fat from the stock, cover and keep at room temperature.
In a large skillet on medium high heat, add the oil. Once the oil is hot, add the ground pork and cook until browned and fully cooked. Remove the pork to a bowl, cover and refrigerate.
Pour off all but one tablespoon of grease from the pan and add the butter. Turn the heat to medium high and when the butter begins to sizzle, add the onions, celery, carrots, and bell peppers. Lower the heat to medium and cook the vegetables until the onions turn translucent. Add the garlic and white wine, then cook until the wine evaporates.
Turn off the heat and add the chopped rosemary, thyme, parsley and green onion tops. Season with hot sauce, cayenne and white pepper. Stir to incorporate and taste the mixture. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Cover the mixture and refrigerate.
In a large mixing bowl, add the vegetable and herb mixture. Add the chopped pork pieces along with the ground pork. Stir the mixture to incorporate, making sure to break up any clumps of meat or vegetables.
In a large loaf pan coated with non-stick spray, add enough of the mixture to come to the top of the pan. Press down on the mixture to compact it into the pan and add more of the mixture if needed to fill the pan. Add the pork stock to the loaf pan until it comes to the top of the pan. Shake the pan gently to make sure the stock is surrounding all of the meat and vegetable mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
For serving, remove the loaf pan and uncover. Check to see that the gelatinous stock has set firmly. (Note: If the stock did not develop enough gelatin from the pig’s feet and did not set properly, you should pour off the stock into a bowl and add 1 envelope of clear gelatin. Then add the stock back to the loaf pan and refrigerate once again.) Once the stock has set, slide a thin knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the mixture.
Place the platter on the table and serve with crackers or toasted bread rounds along with grainy Creole mustard. Ice-cold beer is a must.
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