On the subway this morning, I was reading the freebie paper metro. In it,
there’s a short interview with this week’s “Hot Chef” designate, Sebastiaan Zijp (yes, you read that correctly, Zijp) of Bar Blanc Bistro. Apparently, he’s made it
his personal mission to reinstate head cheese to the top of restaurant menus
city-wide. HUZZAH! Chef Zijp is attempting to bring back a frequent and
highly desirable dish of the early 19th Century!
And just what is head cheese? Well, it is NOT a cheese, but it does involve
a head. Yes, a head. Of a pig. As well as the cooking of that head until
the meat falls off, the bones removed, and then herbs ‘n spices added.
You see, in earlier centuries, nothing was wasted. Cooks of the past made
use of every part of an animal, whether it was the loin or shoulder meat,
the fat (for cooking, making soap or
candles), the offal (innards such
as heart, liver, kidneys, etc.), the feet, the blood (mmm, blood sausages
and puddings), and yes, the head. When an animal was butchered, a cook
made sure to get as many dishes, and meals, out of it as possible. And they
made it last. Waste not, want not!
My favorite thing every fall during butchering time at the living history
museum where I worked, was to be outside cooking a pot full of hog’s head
at the potters’ cabin. I just loved talking about making head cheese and
seeing the reactions of visitors. Some were grossed out by it, some were
mildly fascinated, and others reminisced about doing the very same thing
during their own childhoods. It was the best place to be!
So, in the spirit of Hot Chef Zijp’s quest to reinstate head cheese to NYC’s
menus, I offer the following historic receipt (recipe) for head cheese found
in The Kentucky Housewife, by Mrs. Lettice Bryan (Ohio, 1839):
Having cleaned the head and feet, soak them for at least
twenty-four hours in water, with a little white corn meal,
which will draw out the blood in a great measure, and
make them look white; after which boil them very tender
in a good quantity of water, carefully removing the scum
as it rises. When they are perfectly soft, pick the meat
from the bones, season it with salt, pepper, grated nutmeg
and sifted sage. Make it a little soft with some of the liquor
in which it was boiled; put it into small cheese-hoops while
warm, and press them with a light weight on the tops till
they get cold. Send them to table with vinegar, mustard
and scraped horseradish.
They are generally eaten at breakfast.
Shoat’s head and feet make excellent hash when boiled
tender, minced, and seasoned with butter, cream, flour
[*a shoat is a pig between 2 and 3 months of age]