Sunday, February 01, 2009

How to eat a pig's head

Last August, we went to Estragon, the fabulous tapas restaurant in Boston's South End. They had pig's head on the menu. I vowed to return and eat it for my birthday.

But when I checked the menu on
Estragon's website, the pig was missing. I called up and asked if there was any possibility that I could special-order it.

"Of course," they said. "We love to make the pig's head!"

So last night, The Boy and I headed over for dinner with Tim and Peter.

First, there were cocktails. Mine was a light, refreshing sidecar; Tim and The Boy went for absinthe.

For snacking, the desperately addictive deep-fried garbanzos, aka "chickpea crack":

Next, lima beans sauteed with ham and garlic, known as judias salteadas:

And then the pig's head arrived.

Note: If you're likely to be grossed out by photos of porcine cranial carnage, you might want to stop reading now.

I like to be prepared for unusual situations, so I'd done some research into the best way to approach the task of eating this delicacy. But while I'd discovered plenty of advice on how to
butcher and cook said object, there was precious little information on how to eat a pig's head.

And now here one was, eyeing me expectantly.

What are *you* lookin' at?

We started by tearing off the ears; the skin was fantastic, salty and crunchy, but not worthy of too much attention when the rest of the head was sitting there, full of secrets.

Some quick work with steak knives revealed the tender cheeks. And then The Boy flipped Babe on his head and started in on the sweetbreads.

At least, we assume they were sweetbreads: they were where we expected sweetbreads to be. They were chewy and dense, a little like gizzards, with a deep, dark flavor.

Somewhere around here, Peter excused himself: the destruction was too much for him.

And then Tim found the tongue, which we split and sliced thinly. It was similar in texture to the (possible) sweetbreads, with the same kidney-esque pungency.

The Boy and Tim were doing most of the work, and I was happy to let them. It was a pleasantly quasi-primitive scenario: two men hacking at meat with sharp knives, sharing their discoveries, grunting with delight, offering me the most succulent selections. Thankfully, the presence of a very good 2000 Rioja saved us from a descent into full-fledged Neanderthal debauchery.

It seemed to be a lot of effort for minimal payoff in terms of quantity. But everything that came off that piggy's head was fabulous: rich and sweet, salty and fatty, warm and melty.

Our waiter had compared the head to pork shoulder, but it was much more than that. It was like having all the best bits of the whole pig collected together in a single, magical place. One was like pork belly; another was like ham; another, braised trotters.

There was a small motherlode of deliciousness at the temple, a couple of inches up behind the eye: it was similar to the oysters on a chicken, except juicier and more tender.

And then, yes, the eyes.

I'm not sure what I was expecting: something like enormous fish eggs, perhaps, that would explode unpleasantly in the mouth. But of course they were as roasted as the rest of the head, and were basically delicate lumps of fat, not even as chewy as snails.

We worked over the head a little longer, occasionally uncovering pockets of sweet, fatty treasure, finding cavities still sealed, the meat hot to the touch even after we'd been eating for an hour.

Eventually, we called it quits.

Peter came back just in time for an unexpected gift from the chef: a pot of milk chocolate crème topped with toffee and nuts.

So, was it worth it? As an exercise in efficiency, no. But that wasn't the goal.

We enjoyed a long, langorous, relaxed, four-hour dinner, at least half of which was focused on how to eat a pig's head. It wsn't just food consumed in the presence of friends; it was meat shared, a communal feast, an act of celebratory participation.

Or, as The Boy put it: "Pig fat is awesome. And this was a lot of pig fat."

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Blogger Victor Mariano said...

This is one of your most delicious posts. Wish I could have been there. Happy Birthday again.

10:28 PM  
Blogger Julia said...

Thanks for writing about this... That looks like fun! I can guarantee I'll be there in the next month to experience this for mysefll...

10:21 AM  
Blogger LimeyG said...

Thanks for your kind words! Julia, just remember to give them a few days' notice so they have time to prep the piggy. (And let me know how it goes!)

10:27 AM  
Blogger Christine G. said...

happy birthday!

On an episode of No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain goes to London, and they serve him a pig's head at a restaurant there. Cheek is the best part i guess. I hope you've seen his show, because if you were looking for any prep/advice, his show is the one to give it to you!

(came here via a link on Universal Hub)

10:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds outstanding. Do you mind sharing what they charged you for the pig's head? Thanks

11:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As one of the people sitting at the table behind you, I gotta say it looked delicious, though a little scary when it was delivered.

3:41 PM  
Blogger adele said...

Oh my. I think I may need to be a shameless copycat and do this for my birthday, too.

How much notice do I need to give?

7:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

God, those pictures are insane. Thanks for sharing, now I'm hungry!

9:47 AM  
Blogger LimeyG said...

The head was $45; I believe it was $50 when they used to have it on the menu.

And I gave them a week's notice originally (we had to reschedule because of another commitment, about which the staff were very understanding and sweet). You might want to call and confirm how much notice they prefer.

Thanks, all, for the lovely comments!

9:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

$45? Well, I guess split between a few people wouldn't be so bad...I just found your blog today, and I'm coincidentally leaving to visit my boyfriend in Boston in a bit. I HAVE to convince him and a few friends to have dinner there now! ;)

2:10 PM  

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