There's a nice "cheffiosi" feeling to driving around the Pearl District with a dismembered pig's head stowed in your trunk.
I was brimming with this mixture of culinary and criminal glee when I returned, pig's head under my arm, to the Pearl Cash & Carry. I needed to return the 20-quart pot I'd bought there two hours earlier, because...
"I'm going to need a bigger pot," I said.
"No problem," said the man behind the counter, pausing while he clocked Miss Piggy. "Sir."
"There's nothing finer than sharing a pig's head with your loved one," says London chef Fergus Henderson, whose book The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating has acquired cult status in the culinary community since its publication in the UK seven years ago. First editions now go for around $300, and it's hard to find a chef who doesn't admire Henderson's approach.
It's harder, however, to find those outside the closed circle of the chef's community willing to cook (let alone consume) some of the more extreme recipes in Henderson's book—and frankly, I just don't understand why.
Aside from the sheer pleasure of throwing a gruesome pig's head party for your friends, a pig's head costs just $15—and mine fed 12, with leftovers. On top of economy, there's the "green" argument.
"Most people only eat the popular cuts of any animal—the chops, the flank, and so on," says Brenda Crow at Nicky USA, who supplied me with the head. "But there's a sustainability element to eating the whole beast."
Unlike Crow, morals aren't what drove me to have my pig's head and eat it too. The main reason I cooked the hog's noggin was because it sounded cool—but I'll confess to learning a few lessons along the way. The first lesson? Pig's heads are scary. I could barely sleep with the grotesque monstrosity sitting in the fridge, and my fitful dreams were peppered with clips from Babe juxtaposed with the shower scene from Scarface. I sat bolt upright at 5 am and swore to my wife I heard squealing.
"It's your own fucking fault," she said. Thanks a lot, darling.
Once the pig's head had boiled for three hours with some vegetables thrown in, there came a point when it ceased to feel like the head of a dead animal and turned into a piece of meat, ready for carving. Fortunately, Managing Editor Marjorie Skinner's boyfriend Jesse was on hand to help out—having lived in New York for nine years, he seems more at ease with the culinary style of "the Family," and advised me at once to "go for the cheeks."
The salad was made by throwing the chopped-up face into a large bowlful of arugula, and adding a mixture of gherkins, capers, and sorrel. Breadcrumbs and a red-wine vinaigrette also helped distract from the intense fattiness of the meat.
Most of my guests were mildly revolted by what we set before them, most so by the especially fatty and sticky sliced ears—except for a Romanian friend who insisted on recreating a common breakfast from his homeland: fried pig's brains.
Stomach churning aside, I'd heartily recommend giving pig's head a try at home to any of you fed up with hearing about "sustainability" while being coddled in a fancy restaurant somewhere. If nothing else, Halloween presents you with the ideal opportunity.