Pork Brawn – the ultimate peasant terrine
If you hanker for a taste of the past, then a brawn sandwich might just be the ticket!
Brawn (also known as Head Cheese) is a pressed, potted meat made from pork. I always think of brawn as a cold, gelatinous meat loaf that makes the most of offal and is economical into the bargain: it is the ultimate peasant terrine; however, it seems to have fallen from the grace of popularity. Just like tripe, pig’s trotters, chitterlings, sweetbreads and pork chops with the kidney still attached, brawn is no longer a common place sight in butchers and is instead a speciality foodstuff rather than the economical foodstuff that it once was.
The principal part of the pig used to make Pork Brawn is the head. Meat from other parts of the pig such as bones and trotters can also be included to increase the gelatine level and achieve a good set. The head along with other pieces of the pig are simmered in salted water until the meat falls off the bone, and the liquid starts to thicken to become jellified as the heat renders the gelatine. You need a large stockpot for this recipe and admittedly it can be a gory looking sight when you gaze into your bubbling pot filled with pork stock and a floating pigs head, but squeamishness aside this is a recipe that will reward your patience.
Don’t worry that your home-made brawn is a pale, pinkish grey colour because this is its natural shade, however, commercially made brawns usually have a red food colouring added to make them reddish or pinkish.
A Traditional Recipe for Brawn – From Mrs. Beeton’s Every Day Cookery and Housekeeping Book; 1865
To a pig’s head weighing 6 lbs. allow 1 1/2 lb. lean beef, 2 tablespoonfuls of salt, 2 teaspoonfuls of pepper, a little cayenne, 6 pounded cloves. Mode-Cut off the cheeks and salt them, unless the head be small, when all may be used. After carefully cleaning the head, put it on in sufficient cold water to cover it, with the beef, and skim it just before it boils. A head weighing 6 lbs. will require boiling from 2 to 3 hours. When sufficiently boiled to come off the bones easily, put it into a hot pan, remove the bones, and chop the meat with a sharp knife before the fire, together with the beef. It is necessary to do this as quickly as possible to prevent the fat settling in it. Sprinkle in the seasoning, which should have been previously mixed. Stir it well and put it quickly into a brawn-tin if you have one; if not, a cake-tin or mould will answer the purpose, if the meat is well pressed with weights, which must not be removed for several hours. When quite cold, dip the tin into boiling water for a minute or two, and the preparation will turn out and be fit for use. Time- from 2 to 12 hours. Average cost, for a pig’s head, 4 1/2 d. per lb. Seasonable from September to March.
Note-The liquor in which the head was boiled will make good pea soup, and the fat, if skimmed off and boiled in water, and afterwards poured into cold water, answers the purpose of lard.
Brawn is usually eaten cold or at room temperature; it is not reheated.
Slice thinly for sandwiches and is usually accompanied by a smear of English Mustard.
Serve sliced thickly to accompany salad and crusty bread as a cold luncheon and enjoy with generous dollops of piccalilli or pickled red cabbage
Get out of the lunchbox rut: Smear mustard or horseradish sauce onto a fresh baguette and fill with slices of brawn. Serve with an assortment of pickles and prepare to smack your lips!
Seren’s Modern Recipe for Brawn
1 pigs head
1 large onion
1 large leek
1 large carrot
1 teaspoon of coriander seeds
6 bay leaves (retain 4 for decoration)
A bunch of fresh flat leaf parsley
½ bunch fresh thyme
4 pig’s trotters
2 bulbs of garlic
1 lemon, juice only
2 pork bones
The butcher may well have already prepared the pigs head for you, ridding it of any bristles, but if not then you can either burn the bristles off with the cooks blow torch or give your piggy a shave with a disposable razor.
Ask your butcher to split the head in two as it will be easier to manage and easier to fit in the stock pot! Then ask him nicely to remove the brains and eyes for you, if not you’ll need to remove these before popping your pig’s head in the pot.
Give your pigs head a good wash and place everything piggy , including the trotters and bones in a large saucepan of salted cold water. Bring the pan up to the boil.
Add the herbs and spices to the pan, along with the vegetables and reduce to a gentle simmer.
Whilst simmering, you can skim off any scum which rises to the surface.
The pigs head needs to simmer until the flesh is soft and falling off the bone, this is anywhere between 4 and 5 hours depending on the size of the pigs head.
Once cooked take the pan off the heat and allow the pigs head to cool in the stock slightly.
Next drain the stock into a clean pan and reduce the liquid until thick and gelatinous.
As soon as the head is cool enough to handle, remove all the meat from it. Chop the meat finely and transfer to a bowl.
Skin the tongue and chop up the meat finely and mix with the head meat.
Check the seasoning of the meat and remember that when cold the seasoning will be less intense.
Stir the lemon juice through the prepared meat and ladle in the reduced stock.
Decorate the bottom of a serving bowl, mould or meat press with bay leaves, and spoon the brawn meat onto the leaves.
Press down well, and then refrigerate for 12 hours until set.
Gently unmould, by running a warm knife around the edge of the mould, and slice to serve.
I use an old butcher’s press picked up in an antique centre to make my brawn, but everything from jelly moulds to cake tins can be used to produce good results.
So roll up your sleeves and get a batch of brawn on the stove. I promise you that the results are rich and satisfying and well worth the effort.