Friday, February 19, 2010

Tongue-in-Cheek cuisine.

The English seem to have found a slightly more appealing way to name what some might consider some less-desirable seeming food objects. Brawn fills in for head-cheese, a terrine shaped dish made from the meat of a pigs head that is set in a sort of meat-jelly resulting from the head's cooking process. Or within the same category, take the English term offal, pronounced perhaps without coincidence the same as awful. It is a way of saying variety meatsfifth quarterorgan meats or simply innards. And since I am a little less hesitant than most to try things of this nature, when I was offered some Bath Chaps during a recent stage in a London kitchen, I jumped at the chance to give them a taste. As I learned as I took my first bite, Bath Chaps are a preparation of the pigs jowls, or cheeks, that have been brined, poached, often rolled up with the poached tongue, sliced and pan fried. And let me tell you, they are fabulous. Nice visible layers of fat and lean with a little bit of skin and tongue.

As you can see in the photo, this one from my dinner at Hereford Road in London's Notting Hill neighborhood, that it almost resembles a cross between pancetta and fried bacon, only sliced thicker. Both places I enjoyed this, Hereford Road and St. John Bread & Wine served their version with a small green salad with a mustardy vinaigrette.

I brought the head home and brined it in a standard brine of salt, sugar, peppercorns, bay leaves, cloves, juniper berries and water. I let it exchange all its juices for the flavored brine for 4 days. Then I poached it for about 4 hours in a low simmering bath of onion, celery, carrots, leeks, garlic, peppercorns, thyme and water. The meat started to release from the bone after about 4 hours (it was a soft simmer at most). The next part was the second hardest, getting the hot and heavy head out of the large pot. I did this by putting on 4 latex gloves and grabbing my sturdy chinese spider to lift it out as I carried it by its snout. Whew, that was tricky!

Next I carefully followed the bone structure with my boning knife to remove, in two intact pieces, the 2 jowls/cheeks from the hot, slippery and delicate head. Then I removed and peeled the tongue after a quick dip in cold water to sort of set the skin. I halved the tongue and put these four pieces back into the warm liquid to keep them pliable while I picked the rest of the meat off of the head to use in a mini-brawn.

The hardest of all of this was next. I took a warm jowl and tongue out of the warm liquid and set it together in a way that I could almost wrap the jowl around the tongue. I then used plastic wrap to pull it all together and form the conical shape that Bath Chaps keep. It was rather tricky because the tongue kept wanting to slide out of the fat end and the jowl was so thick that it wouldn't completely seal in the tongue down the seam either. But after a couple layers of plastic I got it into a shape I liked and put it in the fridge to set. Then I did it again with the other side!

The next day I unwrapped one to see how well it held its conical shape. They looked great. I would have loved it if both the jowls had completely enclosed the tongue, but only one did, though this had little impact on anything but aesthetics. Many of the recipes that I have seen include a step of covering the cones in mustard and bread crumbs before pan frying. But I simply put just a touch of oil in an already hot pan to fry these and sprinkled a touch of salt onto the chaps. Just long enough to crisp up everything on each side without drying the tongue out is all you need.

The final pieces looked great. As the skin tightened upon cooking the slices pulled apart slightly. I ate them with a grainy mustard, no salad this time! Definitely worth the effort to put these delicious discs of goodness together.

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