How To Cook A Pigs Head, And 5 Reasons Why You Should

Pork is one of my favourite meats, when prepared properly it can be beautifully tender and have a wonderful savoury taste. As someone on a limited income though, I can’t often afford the more popular cuts. So here are 5 reasons why I think of head makes a great alternative:

  • Price – obviously this will vary depending on where you go, but from my favourite butchers in Leeds market it costs £2.50. For this you get 10 (generous) portions of meat, a square foot of crackling, and at least 3 litres of stock
  • Flavour – the head is rich and fatty, giving great flavour and wonderful texture if prepared properly.
  • Adventure – as someone who loves cooking, I found this to be a really fun process. It pushed me and helped me develop and practice some kitchen skills, as well as being an opportunity to do something interesting and new.
  • Respect – in the modern world it can be easy to hide from the realities of eating meat, to separate the food from the animal it comes from. Working with the pig head makes that much harder, and facing this reality reminded me of the importance of respecting the animal that provided the meat
  • Impact – the pig head is essentially a side product of producing the more expensive cuts of meat. Often they will be processed to make cheap pork byproducts, or go to waste entirely. For people concerned about the environmental or animal welfare impacts of eating meat, eating cheaper cuts and reducing waste is one way to minimise your impact.



Trigger warning: Pictures of Butchery, Non-Vegetarian


Step 1: Sourcing the Head

In the UK you won’t find this in the supermarket, some butchers might stock them, but often you’ll need to ask them to order one in. Have a chat and see if they can get one for you. Be aware they may only be available on certain days of the week, as it depends on when pigs are being butchered.

Time – 1 day



Step 2: Sharpen Knives

img_20190122_124656536Pig skin is pretty tough, and there’s a lot of cutting to do. Take a few minutes to get your knives nice and sharp before you start, it’ll save you time overall and make the process go much more smoothly. I like to use a large knife to do the main butchery, and a couple of smaller knives for trimming meat or cutting smaller bits.

Time – 5 minutes



Step 3: Ears

Cut the ears off the head at their base, stretch them out from the head to make it easier to cut through the ear. Some people love to boil these and then fry them up, personally I can’t stand the cartilage texture so I just throw them into the stock.

Time – 1 minute



Step 4: Shaving

img_20190122_124742157Sometimes the butcher will do this for you, in which case you can skip this step. If you aren’t so lucky you need to shave the meat. For this I have a dedicated razor that lives in the kitchen. You don’t need a high quality blade, but never use the same razor on yourself as you’ve used on the pig, this exposes you to unnecessary risk of infection. Shouldn’t take long, make sure you don’t miss any though.

Time – 2-3 minutes



Step 5: Cheeks 1

img_20190122_125106430Next you want to separate off the cheeks. These are delicious and best prepared by pan-frying rather than slow cooking. Feel along the cheek tissue to find the edge, and then slice along that img_20190122_125159805line, follow the curve of the cheek and try to waste as little as possible. After the first slice pull apart the cut and cut along it as many times as necessary to separate off the cheek. If you miss part of the cheek you can always make a second cut. Put these aside until step 8.

Time: 5-10 minutes



Step 6: Cut to size

img_20190122_125838679If you have a large enough pot to fit the entire head you can skip this step. If, like me, your head needs to be split into multiple pots you need to break it down a little, make sure you have a sturdy chopping board for this. First remove the jaw, cut along the mouth to expose the jawbone, then use a meat cleaver to cut through the bone, this takes a fair amount of effort so don’t be afraid to put some force behind it.img_20190122_130327890 Repeat on the other side, the lower jaw should now come off, put it in a pot ready for cooking. If it still needs to be broken down further take the end of the snout off, cut an inch or two down from the eyes, this will take a lot of force and a few cuts. Put both halves into the cooking pots.

Time – 10-15 minutes



Step 7: Simmer

Cover the meat with boiling water, if you want to you can also put carrots, leeks, onions, or other vegetables to add some more nutrients and flavour. You want to stir it occasionally and check that it’s staying on a low simmer. Keep the lid on the pot and top it off with more water if necessary.

Time – 3 hours



Step 8: Cheeks 2

img_20190122_125627287While the pots are simmering you can trim the cheeks. You might have gotten some of the gamier dark meat (you can see the colour difference in the picture on the left) when cutting off the cheek, if you do just cut through the connecting fat and trim it off, this can go in the boiling pots. Now you want to trim off the img_20190122_130536802skin, insert a small knife a couple of millimetres into the fat below the skin. As with the cheeks you want to make a cut and pull the tissues apart, then cut along it again. This is a challenging process so take it slow, remember you’re aiming to keep a consistent thickness of fat attached to the skin. Put the skins in the pots to boil. I like to dice the meat of the cheeks finely and season it with plenty of rosemary, salt, and pepper, then pan-fry it until it’s golden brown and starting to crisp, then mix it in with a pasta sauce.

Time – 20-30 minutes



Step 9: Drain and reduce

img_20190122_225812965After completing step 7, drain the boiling pots through a large colander into another pot. Set aside the colander for step 10. Put the cooking fluids back onto the hob, this time on the highest setting, you want to get a good rolling boil to reduce the fluid. If you want to season your stock you can do it now, personally I just tend to use a little salt (be careful not to overdo it, remember you can always add more later) as I like to use this stock for different dishes with both European and Asian flavours. Once the stock has been reduced by about half take it off the heat and allow it to cool. Once it’s cooled it should be thick and gelatinous, skim the fat off the top and use it to add some extra flavour when frying (note it does have a relatively low burn point, be careful not to overheat it). The stock has an amazing depth of flavour and I love using it for soups, sauces, or stews. It’s also great for freezing.

Time – about an hour to reduce, about 3 to cool and thicken



Step 10: Pick

img_20190122_211922521Let the meat cool a little, after slow cooking for 3 hours it should be wonderfully tender and falling off the bone. Pull or cut the skin off and set it aside, use your fingers to pull img_20190122_211815143off the meat and separate out the fatty and fibrous tissues from the tender meat. Put the meat and skin away in the fridge and throw away the bones and waste. You can use the meat in stews, pies, soups, or eat it cold. Use the grill to make some phenomenal crackling from the skin. Again, you can freeze this as well.

Time – 15-30 minutes



Hope this has been interesting or helpful, see you tomorrow!

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