It takes brawn to get ahead – A head to get great brawn.

Pigs head terrineMy butcher friend James takes some pleasure out of things that make others a bit squeamish. He regaled me with tales of tying a piece of string to the ear of a pig’s head, displayed in their shop window. The grown men behind the counter, taking great sport out of frightening both young and old with a wiggling ear. While chatting, I regaled James with tales of my recent pigs trotter adventures. He asked me if I had ever cooked a pig’s head.

I hadn’t. But, now I have. The thought of preparing some lovely brawn got me over my natural squeamishness about such things and I collected a free range pig’s head to get things underway.

Side note on squeamishness: If by any chance you have wandered in here to get out of the rain or if you think that there isn’t going to be any gory stuff on a blog called ‘One Man’s Meat’, you need to steel yourself for the food preparation shots. It’s pretty extreme by modern, sanitised standards. You have been warned.

It looks like something one should have hanging on the wall in the trophy room.

It looks like something one should have hanging on the wall in the trophy room.

First, get a pig’s head and pop it into a large (very large) saucepan. Cover it with water and bring it to the boil.

He looks like he is sleeping. Yes, he is sleeping....

He looks like he is sleeping. Yes, he is sleeping…. (with the fishes).

Pour off the resulting scummy water and replace with fresh water. Prepare a tray of aromatics.

This lot went in with the pig's head. Think flavour. Think aromatics.

This lot went in with the pig’s head. Think flavour. Think aromatics.

When the aromatics have been added, return the pot to a boil and reduce to a gentle simmer. Let it simmer for a good three to four hours.

Three to four hours of gentle simmering will bring out the flavours.

Three to four hours of gentle simmering will bring out the flavours. Yes, that is his nose and tongue.

Second warning on the gruesome stuff: I just thought you should be notified a second time. It gets a lot worse from here. Read on at your own discretion.

Let the head cool in the pot until it is OK to handle. Then lift it out and take the knife to it.

At this stage, there are less of you reading. Do you feel exclusive?

At this stage, there are less of you reading. Do you feel exclusive?

Next, peel off the skin and separate the lean meat from the fat. There really is no way of doing this but by hand. I wore gloves.

The most meat comes from the cheeks. There's more in the snout and tongue.

The most meat comes from the cheeks. There’s more in the snout and tongue.

In the end, I had just shy of a kilo of useable meat. Everything else, bar the skull went back into the pot.

A big bowl full of delicious, tasty pork meat. Well worth the effort....

A big bowl full of delicious, tasty pork meat. Well worth the effort….

I simmered this for another couple of hours before removing the gory bits and the remaining vegetables. Next, I strained the stock through a sieve and then through muslin.

I then reduced the stock by about two-thirds until I had a rich, pork smelling, gelatinous liquid. I strained this once more through muslin.

This is so thick, that it is more like a glue than a stock.

This is so thick, that it is more like a glue than a stock.

The stock needs to be kept warm, to prevent it setting.

Next, I cut some fresh herbs from the garden and got a mango from the fruit bowl.

The gruesome shots are all behind us now. It's clean, family friendly stuff from here.

The gruesome shots are all behind us now. It’s clean, family friendly, stuff from here.

I sliced the herbs nice and small. I sliced the mango into slivers and placed enough of them to cover the bottom of a loaf tin, lined with cling film.

Lovely mango covered by lovely pork. Truly lovely.

Lovely mango covered by lovely pork. Truly lovely.

Next I seasoned the pork with lots of black pepper. I then added another layer of mango, a layer of meat, a layer of black pepper and a layer of parsley. I finished it off with another layer of pork and parsley.

The terrine is pulled together by the addition of the glue (stock).

The terrine is pulled together by the addition of the glue (stock).

I did something similar to a second loaf tin, substituting chives and sage for the mango and parsley. Both tins were placed in the fridge overnight. The next day, we enjoyed some truly delicious terrine for our lunch. (The addition of the mango makes it a terrine, a fancy version of traditional Irish brawn). There was enough to feed half the crew at the office (the half who weren’t grossed out by the prep shots).

Terrine or brawn? Who cares? It was delicious.

Terrine or brawn? Who cares? It was delicious.

The Wife favoured the more traditional herb and pork brawn. I went with the more exotic mango version.

Lovely mango and pork terrine. Well worth the gore to get this result.

Lovely mango and pork terrine. Well worth the gore to get this result.

It would be churlish of me to not show a plated shot of a traditional brawn, on a rustic plate, with some old cutlery, on some sacking. All to create a nice traditional feel.

It may be old fashioned, but, it was very very tasty.

It may be old-fashioned, but, it was very, very tasty.

Should you happen to find yourself in possession of a big pig’s head, you could do worse than preparing a nice terrine or traditional brawn, either or both will be delicious.

Footnote: There is one additional benefit to preparing these loafs of loveliness. I managed to squeeze a tray of pork ‘flavour bombs’ for use with other dishes. They are living (for the time being) in our freezer.

What a lovely porky bonus. A dozen pork flavour bombs.

What a lovely porky bonus. A dozen pork flavour bombs.

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Latest comments
  • Nicely done. I’m a vet, and I think even I might have found some of that surgery a bit tough to stomach. I’d eat the finished product though. Just in case you need any help in that department.

  • Oh my gosh this looks incredible!

    • Thanks. Though, the prep work was a bit of a struggle.

      • It does look like a lot of work. You struggled to a success though!

  • We have managed just fine in that. However, I don’t think my eldest is talking to me…

  • Very nice! I’ve been wanting to cook brawn for a long time, but don’t think my largest saucepan is big enough. I did cook half a pig’s head in stock last year, which was very tasty – the brains were possibly even better than calf’s brains and the entire skin turned into crackling. Good luck with your trip – I hope you get a week’s holiday respite in Nice at the end of it 😉

    • Thanks MD. This was my first pig’s head experience (bar what I remember of my Dad cooking them when I was knee high to a grasshopper). The Nice trip is not until September. Plenty of time to improve my brawn between now and then.

  • Pig’s head? Ouch! The cycle is just tremendous. Well done… on both counts!

    • Thanks Bibi,
      There is a bit of morbid fun in doing it. The end result was delicious.

  • Great post Conor. I love your nouveau approach to the traditional classic brawn with the addition of the mango and parsley. Both look very tasty, indeed, but I would have to go with the mango and parsley version. We like mango and it goes beautifully with pork.
    Sometime this summer I’m going to try to do a traditional TexMex barbacoa with a cow head. 🙂

    • Typical! Just typical of you Texans. I do a pigs head, you have to go bigger. If you do, I might cook an elephant. Top that! 😉

  • That looks incredible. My mum used to make brawn, not very well it has to be said, and it rather put me off. Inspired by you, I may revisit the idea.

    • Do give it a go. It is a three day job but well worth it.

  • Two oh mys here. First, oh my that nose didn’t want to quit! And second, oh my, this looks amazing. A lot of work but seems more than worth it.

    • The work involved was all good fun. If one treats cooking as a chore. The end result will reflect the negative approach. Thankfully, usually, the opposite is true too.

      • I agree completely. I feel bad for those that approach cooking as a horrible chore. It’s supposed to be an adventure!

  • Did you go in after the brains? Or was that a gruesome shot too far? As a total offal fan, I’ve always wanted to do a pig’s head, and you’ve kindly provided all the necessary instructions!

    • Kate, the brain got away from me. There’s always next time.

  • You know, Conor, there really aren’t enough pig’s heads in movies. All that fuss about the horse’s head in the 70s, not to mention the hoo-haa about that boiled bunny in the 80s. Can I use your photos to petition Hollywood about a better class of animal prop?

    • I was hoping that I could get big game hunting back in fashion. However, on further reflection I decided that we could make a fantastic movie, inspired by the Charles Bronson classic, Mr. Majestic. In it, big game hunters would be turned into prey by herds of meerkats. I suppose they could ‘send a message’ via a porcine body part or two. Whaddyathink, script girl?

      • Definitely has potential. Writing meerkat dialogue is my favourite thing, especially when there’s a crowd scene. You throw in a meerkat dream sequence, and I’m in. Deal?

  • Nope would not see me me making this I couldn’t get pass the head

    • I admire your honesty. So many people have lied to my face with “Hmmm…. I must try that” or similar.

  • Hope there is the Down Under variant of Paris>Nice somewhere in your busy letterbox! No problems at all with making brawn: first began at about age 4!! Sugar: that mango version bears a strong order ‘this next’! Never seen a’thing like it but more than willing to try!! Don’t always like fusions but this sounds repeatable;!!!

    • Thanks Eha. It really was pretty tasty. Pork goes so well with pretty well any fruit.

  • We’ve done the pig head thing a few times. Alway good for horrifying one’s squeamish friends! And, wow, what a bike ride!

    • Thanks Michelle,
      If you have done the pigs head, you should try the bike ride. Both slightly extreme experiences.

  • Whew! I made it to the end… Aside from the obvious, my family would NEVER allow a whole pig’s head in this house. But you did that pig’s head justice, Conor!

    • Ha Kathryn,
      Thanks for enduring. It was well worth the trouble (for me, if not for you).

  • I had pig’s head not once, but twice while living in Paris – a nice restaurant close to where we lived in the 7eme, featured “tete de couchon” as one special and I was brave enough to order it.

    Would never attempt to cook it at home, so you have my admiration forever – and of course, the long distance cycling makes me admire you even more!


    • Hi Sally,
      I am thinking about cooking the head in different ways. Though my family will probably revolt on me if I do another one. Thanks for the kind words.

      • The one I had in Paris was a kind of a thick slice that was assembled in a way to mimic a vertical cut top to bottom – I know it sounds horrible, but they also included the very very crispy ear on one side. The whole slice was crisped up in some type of a hot skillet – very unique dish, and I am glad I had the guts to try it (pun intended… 😉

        • These things are worth doing (if only once). It keeps the windows to possibility very much open.

  • Very impressive, Conor! Although the title should probably be “It takes cycling to get a head for brawn” 😉 I had never heard of brawn before and I’ve never done a pig’s head before. I certainly don’t have a pan that would be big enough. Not to mention the cycling bit.The flavors must be wonderful and although I should taste to confirm, I expect I’ll be with the Wife on preferring the classic version with herbs. Fruit is always good with pork though. I have a similar but less gruesome post coming up about a sous-vide version of a classic from Bourgogne, jambon persillé. Fairly similar flavors, I expect.

    • Thanks Stefan. I am sinking into a minority with my mango preference. Of those who were brave enough to try it, my mum, the Wife, my sister and most in the office favour the herb version. Myself and James, the butcher have the mango as clear favourite. However, it is a close call and we all enjoyed both. I look forward to your post.

      • I can see how the mango brightens up the otherwise pretty ‘sticky’ stuff. (I hope you understand what I mean, perhaps there is a better word in English for this, but it eludes me at the moment.)

        • I know exactly what you mean. Well expressed.

  • Wow, awesome!!!
    i’ve seen the Raymond Blanc version an i think yours is more beautifull Connor…

    • Thanks Dedy, You are flattering me now…….

  • Look at that pigs head. A vision of beauty. I effing love this 👍

    • I don’t know that I would want to wake up beside it every morning but, I know what you mean.

  • Excellent snout. How’s the prep for the ride going?

    • Going reasonably well. I need to start increasing the distances though. We are doing a reasonable amount of climbing but I need to do more of that too. The 140k Tour de Connemara next Saturday will help on the distance!

  • I guess if my late-father hadn’t of raised, killed and butchered his own hogs this may horrify me. During “Hog Killing” time, it would be nothing to open up the fridge to pig brains or who know what else. Not to mention other times during the years when “Mountain Oysters” were harvested… This is an awesome post, Conor!

    • Thanks Debbie,
      The differing reactions I have received, in person, on social media and here on the blog confirm the thought that many of us love a nice piece of bacon but would rather not know about its origin. To my mind, that is a form of moral abdication. The head was from a free range pig. Therefore the animal had a decent enough life and as a result, provided pretty good meat too. That’s a sort of a ‘win-win’ in my book.
      Having said that, you can keep the oysters, for now at least.

  • Ya, I had to breeze quickly past that head shot, but the result looks amazing. Though I have never had terrine, actually never heard of it until I crossed the big pond (not a rural Maine dish), this looks like I would enjoy it very much, gorgeous to look at and wonderful ingredients. Best of luck on your cycle, a huge commitment for a great cause.

    • Thanks. We are having great fun training for it. In fact, we are down your neck of the woods on Saturday next, doing the Tour de Connemara. It should be beautiful and we are really looking forward to it.

      • Fingers crossed for the weather to make it an even more stunning ride.

        • We didn’t. It rained and misted us all along the 140k. Still was great fun.

  • Now this is some good skill here. Confronting for some with that pig’s head from what I’ve read.But that’s where there is so much flavour. Cheeks are the best. I like to confit them. Awesome looking terrine too, I’ve never had brawn to be honest.

    • If you get your hands on a head, you could do a lot worse. The final voting on the two terrines was more in favour of the herb tan the mango, with me sticking rigidly to my more ‘creative’ mango version. Both were pretty good.

      • I like the creative side too. I’m a Queenslander, where we eat mango with everything.

  • Nice post with step by step photos. I would probably go for the herb version, with mango on the side 🙂

    Made brawn a couple of times, the most memorable being the time when the vegetarian flatmate arrived home a day early; I think I scarred her for life.

    • Thanks for that. My daughters took a while to forgive me for this one. I am still getting the benefit of the highly concentrated stock I got from this. All good fun.

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