“Piggy want a shave?” I nervously joked, guiding a yellow disposable razor around the spongy snout, the cheap blade quickly gumming with whiskers and ribbons of leathery flesh. (Hungry yet?)
I was nervous because though I’ve unabashedly eaten ears, snout, brain, cheek, and even eyes, I’ve never stared directly into the vacant face of a displaced 22-pound pig’s head. And not surprisingly, it was a bit unsettling.
The event I called PigHead13 was devised as an exercise in gratuitous masculinity–cigars, whiskey, beer, and a heaping mound of bone-on meat. But in the weeks leading up to the event, as I started to research how to actually prepare a pig’s head, I stopped envisioning delicious piles of pork and began instead to see only the decapitated heads of highly social and intelligent animals often compared to dogs. That’s when a bit of dread started to creep in. Was I actually going to go buy the freshly severed head of a pig, toss it in the trunk of my car, plop it down on my kitchen counter, shave it’s fuzzy face, clean out its ears, douse it in boiling water, rub it down with oil and salt, throw it in the oven for 10 hours, and then attack it’s face with greedy, drunken hands? Well yes, of course I was. But that didn’t mean it was going to be emotionally easy.
Fortunately, the dread was fleeting, eventually evolving into some sort of first-world sense of moral obligation. You see, for years I’ve gleefully consumed meat from the heads of pigs — in the form of guanciale, head cheese, braised pork cheeks, and deep-fried pig ears — but I’d never really confronted the reality of those preparations (you know, the fact that they come from the actual head of an animal). Sure, intellectually I knew that pork comes from pigs — and cheeks from a head — but as a willing participant in the disconnected 21st century food chain, I had really never engaged in the blood-and-guts aspects of meat consumption.
As I’ve grown older, though, I’ve tried to become more mindful of what I consume, how it has come to arrive at my plate, and what it’s consumption means for me and the world around me. And without digressing any further into an ethical discussion on meat, I will say that I think it’s important for people to confront the reality and effect of their decision to eat meat. It’s why I totally understand and appreciate a vegetarian’s decision to eschew meat (so long as they’re not obnoxious and pushy about the whole thing). And it’s the reason I have a bit of a problem with people who mindlessly eat meat, consuming pounds of chicken, beef, and pork throughout the week but pretending it’s not actually the flesh of once-living animals. Someone who will exuberantly gnaw on a boneless ribeye, but is sickened to glimpse a side of beef at the butcher. Thrilled to gnaw on a baby back rib, but freaked out by a pig’s foot.
But ultimately, this moral obligation is my own t-bone to bear. And that’s how I found myself face to face with a 22-pound pig’s head — a blowtorch in one hand, a toothbrush in the other — uncomfortable and slightly disgusted. Not surprisingly, 12 hours and several glasses of whisky later, I felt wonderfully satiated, filled to the brim with fatty pork and self-satisfaction.
Recipe: Roasted Pig’s Head
There are dozens of different preparations for pig’s head, but as a beginner, I chose the most simple: a long, slow roast. Pretty much the only way to screw this up is to not give it sufficient time. If you’re serving for dinner, start this process at least 12 hours ahead of time.
Total Time: 12 hours
1 head of pig
1 bottle of whiskey
1 mess of rosemary
salt and pepper
Step 1: Buy a pig’s head. I bought mine at Bichelmeyer’s in KCK. They usually have them in stock, but call ahead just to make sure. This one was 22 pounds, which is quite large. Next time, I would try to get something in the 10-12 pound range. Assume 2 pounds of total pre-cooked weight for each person being served.
Step 2: Pigscape. Even though most heads you buy will come somewhat prepped, you’ll still need to do some grooming. You can try shaving the facial hair with a disposable razor, though I found it much easier to just singe it off with a blow torch. After removing the hair, you’ll want to brush off (I used an old toothbrush) any remaining burned hair (sounding delicious already, right?), clean out the ears, and then finally douse the entire head in boiling water. Pat dry.
Step 3: Put it to bed. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Line a big-ass roasting pan with rosemary and lay the head, snout up, on the rosemary.
Step 4: Get it drunk. At this point, the pig will be staring straight up at you. The whole thing was kind of somber, so I doused the head in half a bottle of whisky. I like to think it made the pig happy, or at least drunk enough to endure the latter-day debauchery.
Step 5: Get its bronze on. Place roasting pan in oven and roast for about 10 hours, or until the internal temperature hits 195-ish. Meanwhile, get drunk on whisky.
Step 6: Pre-dinner Nap. For you and the pig. The pig will retain its heat for at least a few hours after it leaves the oven. Give it at least one full hour at room temp before carving into its face.
Step 7: Go Medieval. There’s no delicate way to eat a pig’s head. Grab a big sharp knife and start hacking. You can easily slice off the cheeks, where the money meat resides. But some of the most magical nuggets are tucked up in the face cavities, so don’t be shy with those fingers.
Step 8: Pass out in a pool of stale beer and self-satisfaction.