#336 Brawn or Headcheese

At Christmas time, be careful of your fame,
See the old tenant’s table did the same;
Then if you would send up the brawner head,
Sweet rosemary and bays around it spread.
William King, Art of Cookery 1709

Brawn, which is also known as headcheese or pork cheese, is essentially a terrine made from the head meat of a pig. All European countries have their recipes for it and appeared sometime during the Middle Ages as a peasant food where the head would be boiled to make a soup. Not that many people seem to eat brawn anymore in Britain, but it seems pretty popular still in America, maybe because of the influence of so many European countries there.
Sports Fan: Queen Elizabeth I
In 1571 Queen Elizabeth I breakfasted on “brawn, mustard and malmsey” on one of her Twelfth Days, so it had obviously reached higher status since its invention. It might interest you to know that after her breakfast in the hall, she watched some hounds kill a fox and a cat beneath the fire for sport and later, during the Twelfth Night play, a fox was let loose so that it could be chased by dogs.
The word headcheese baffled me a little. Where does it come from? Obviously, brawn is nothing like cheese in appearance or taste, but then  I found this recipe from The Compleat City and Country Cook by Charles Carter, dating back to 1732 which seems to solve the mystery:

A Hog’s Head Cheese Fashion.
You must bone it and lay it to cleanse twenty-four Hours in Water and Salt, and scrape it well and white; lay Salt on the Inside, to the Thickness of a Crown-piece and boil it very tender; then lay it in a Cheese-Press, cover it with a Cloth, and when cold it will be like a Cheese; you may souse it.
Brawn is a great thing to make ahead of time for a meal, but beware you don’t make it too soon; most of the references I found to headcheese concerned food poisoning. The problem with jellied stocks is that they are the perfect food for microbes; indeed we essentially use stock in the laboratory to grow many microbes. You don’t want to use brawn, or any kind of stock more than three days since it was last boiled.
First of all you need to order half a pig’s head from the butcher, you want the tongue too, but not the brains. Ask him to chop the head into two or three pieces for you (I learned my lesson when attempting to chop that lamb’s head in twain with a now blunt meat-cleaver and a hammer a month or two ago). Whilst you are there get yourself two good lengthy pig’s trotters and ask him to chop those in two aswell. Lastly, you need a pound of shin of beef with the shin bone too.
Bundle your meaty horde back home and if you can put the pig bits (not the cow bits) in the brine tub for a day, or at least an evening. See this post right here if you want to try and make your own brine.
Place the meat in a large stockpot, cover with water and slowly bring to a boil. This slow rate of temperature increase is important in order to achieve a nice, clear jelly because the albumin proteins are let out from the meat at a steady rate, which becomes grey scum that floats to the top. Fast boiling makes a murky, grey stock. Skim the grey scum until it runs white and then add the stock vegetables and aromatics: 2 chopped cloves of garlic, a good sized bouquet garni, 10 black peppercorns, 2 tablespoons of red or white wine vinegar, a teaspoon of salt, 2 onions that have both been studded with 2 cloves, 2 quartered peeled carrots and 2 leeks that have been split lengthways. Phew! Bring back to the boil, then cover and simmer very gently for 2 to 2 ½ hours.
When the meat is tender and can be parted from the bones, extract the head and get on with the task of rifling through the head to find all the meat. When cooked, this is not the gory task it may sound. Leave the stock simmering as you do this, adding back any bones to the pot as go along. You should find a good amount of meat with a good variety of colours and textures. Chop the meat into good-sized pieces and cover, adding a ladleful of stock so they don’t dry out.
Strain the stock through a sieve lined with muslin into another pan and reduce the stock to concentrate both the flavour and the gelatine extracted from the bones. Put the meat back in the pan with the stock and simmer for 20 minutes. Season with more salt, if required, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Meanwhile boil three eggs and chop some parsley, chives and chervil.
Now it is time to assemble the whole thing. Start by lining a loaf tin with some cling film – you don’t have to do this step, but it will make it easier when it comes to turning out the brawn onto a serving plate. Next, spoon in stock and meat until you have filled up to just under half way.
You need a good balance of jelly and meat, our Grigson says: ‘you don’t want the brawn to look mean. On the other hand, if the meat is too solidly packed, the brawn becomes too heavy to be enjoyable.’ Sprinkle in half the herbs and line up your hard-boiled eggs.
Sprinkle over the remainder of the herbs and fill the tin with more stock and meat. Let it cool and then set it fully in the fridge, covered with more cling film. When it is time to serve the brawn, turn it out onto a serving plate and press onto it brown, toasted breadcrumbs.
Serve with wholemeal or rye bread and butter, mustard and salad. Alternatively, swap the bread and butter for some mashed potatoes. I went with the bread option as I couldn’t imagine cold jellied meat with mashed potatoes to be in any way delicious.
#336 Brawn or Headcheese. I have to admit when I turned it out onto the plate it looked like a giant slab of dog food. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The meat was very flavourful and tender and the jelly, very soft, was very nicely flavoured with the infused flavour of the herbs. As much as I enjoyed it, I’d much prefer a nice simple paté as a starter, nevertheless, I reckon it deserves  7/10.

#265 To Cook Salt Pork and Hams, Part II: to Eat Cold

Living in Texas means that there a lot of Mexican people (seeing as Texas was once part of Mexico, until the USA nicked it). Many Mexicans mean much pork is eaten. In England we eat loads of ham and bacon and sausage, but we’re not very exciting when it comes to other ways of eating it. Indeed this is reflected in English Food: there are just 8 pork recipes in the Meat chapter, yet there are loads of pork in the cured meat section. This is one of them of course – there is a whole variety of pork cuts that are familiar and unfamiliar to me. I saw a small leg and though it would be great to make my own salt pork seeing as I have the brine tub on the go at the moment. I have already done similar things from the book, like the Bradenham ham and the hot salt pork.
Noone seems to cure anything in England anymore – I can understand it of course, but brining meats is much more common here in the US – the Thanksgiving turkey got a good brining the night before from Joan last month. However if there is a cheap leg or loin going spare at the supermarket or butcher, it would be put to good use by being added to the brine tub rather than the freezer until it’s is needed.
You can use leg or loin for this. I have already gone through how to prepare and boil the salt pork or ham in a previous post. When it is cooked remove from the stock and allow it to drain and cool down enough for you to remove the skin without scolding yourself. If the meat has been deboned, then it needs to be wrapped in cling-film and pressed overnight (as I did). Toast some breadcrumbs and press them into the meat. This will be easier if the meat is still warm, though if you had to press it, there is no open than to do it when it is cold. Keep the whole thing wrapped up in clingfilm or greaseproof paper in the fridge and slice it up thinly for salads and sandwiches.
It’s important to remember that when you make these hams, you get a delicious ham stock. Use it to make some pea and ham soup (recipe here).
#265 To Cook Salt Pork and Hams, Part II: to Eat Cold. I think I must be getting better at these things because the salt pork was very moist and nicely salted. The trick seems to be to have the merest simmer when cooking it – in fact I turned the heat off completely for the final half hour; the cooking liquor was hot enough to continue to cooking process. I have been shaving bits of and eating it with mustard, pickles and sourdough bread. Very good! 7.5/10

#258 Boiled Ox Tongue: To Serve Cold

Hello there Grigsoners! No, I’ve not died, I have simply been a lazy bastard. I am going to stop apologising for my blog-tardiness and try my very best to pull my finger out. All that said, I have been preparing this recipe on the sly for the last few days. I went to Central Market with Gerda from the lab a while ago and found that quite alot of the ingredients that are tricky to get hold of in the UK are actually much easier to get hold of here in Texas. In the meat section, I happened upon an ox tongue and I knew that there are quite a few recipes using ox tongue specifically so I thought I’d grab it and do something with it later.

I decided upon this one – Boiled Ox Tongue: to Serve Cold, because I could take it into work and force my new labmates to eat it and (hopefully) put some comments on here! The recipe calls for a 2 ½ to 5 pound pickled (i.e. brined) ox tongue – these you can order form your butcher (in the UK at least). I thought I would pickle it myself using this now tried-and-tested brine method from English Food. The tongue needs 5 to 7 days in the brine tub, but there is no maximum time really – you can’t oversalt anything, because you can soak it in water for 6 or so hours beforehand. It’s recommended you do this with a pickled tongue from the butcher’s shop.



The tongue before brining

 Anyways, after you have soaked your tongue place in a stock pot and cover with cold water or a light stock. Bring it to the boil and skim any scum that appears at the water’s surface. Turn the heat down to the merest simmer. After half an hour, taste the water – if it is horribly salty, thrown the water away and start again. Add some stock vegetables: an onion studded with a couple of cloves and a chopped carrot and celery stick. Add also a bouquet garni and 12 crushed black peppercorns. Allow the whole thing to simmer for a total of 3 or 4 hours (don’t forget to include that first half hour!). The tongue is cooked when you can insert a skewer with ease.

The pressed but unsliced tongue
Remove the tongue from the water and allow it to cool slightly. Peel away the skin and remove any gristly bits from the thick end. The tongue is now ready to be pressed. Coil the tongue and place it in a 5 or 6 inch loose-bottomed cake tin with base removed. If you can’t get hold of one (I couldn’t) you could invest in a proper tongue press. I actually used a straight sided mixing bowl that I happened to have and it worked very well. Place the tin base on top (or something similar) along with a couple of tins of food and allow to cool and press for several hours or overnight. When cool, transfer to the fridge.



When you are ready to eat it, slice it thinly and serve with a salad and some horseradish sauce so says Lady Jane Griggers. If you want to be all Victorian about it ‘press the tongue into a slipper shape, and then decorate it with aspic jelly and bits and pieces’. However, The Grigson goes on to say: ‘I think we have lost sympathy with over-presented food of this kind: it always arouses my suspicious – I wonder what the caterer is trying to conceal.

FYI: the tongue is the only muscle in the body not attached at both ends.

#258 Boiled Ox Tongue: To Serve Cold. I’ve not had much experience of eating tongue, except the kind you get already sliced for sandwiches and always found it a little bit on the tasteless side and have never really cared for it. This was much better, though didn’t pack much of a flavour-punch; which was a shame because when I pulled it hot out of the stock, it smelt absolutely delicious. Perhaps I over-cooked it. Anyways, this tongue was wonderfully tender and moist due to its high fat content and gelatinous qualities. Nice, but I’m not doing back-flips: 5/10.

#202 Pressed Beef

A quickie this one.

I wanted to do a recipe from the cured meats section of the book as I haven’t done many of them and I didn’t want to start getting behind. This one appealed to me because it was similar to the salt beef recipe I had already done and I knew that the cold, pressed beef would keep me in sandwiches and snacks for the week, plus the cooking process would produce a nice stock which could be turned into a lovely soup. I also thought that you don’t really see salt beef these days in supermarkets etc, and then by total coincidence my workmates and I went to the very good café in the Whitworth Art Gallery (which makes up part of Manchester University’s campus) and what was on the menu? Salt beef sarnies! I may be some kind of soothsayer.

To make your own pressed beef you need a joint of silverside – go for somewhere between 2 and 3 ½ pounds in weight, I reckon. You can use either fresh or salted for this. If you want to do pressed salted beef, you can buy it from your butchers, but it is much better if you make your own. I did – follow the instructions on brining on this earlier post if you want to have a go. Next, you need to boil the beef joint – follow the instructions on this post here for how to do that (I love how the blog is becoming self-referential!) you can follow the same recipe if you’re using fresh beef too. Leave the beef to cool in the broth for a couple of hours before removing and wrapping well in cling-film or foil. It now needs to be pressed overnight; either use a tongue press or place it under some very heavy weights. I used an upturned loose-bottomed cake tin so I could precariously balance a cast-iron griddle pan, an earthenware jug and some tins of food on it with at least some attention to health and safety.


Next day, you can slice the beef as you need it. Make sandwiches using rye bread, pickled gherkins and horseradish sauce (I also added some mayonnaise). Alternatively serve with an avocado salad.

#202 Pressed Beef. This is absolutely delicious. So much more tasty and such better quality than any supermarket pre-sliced nonsense. I would really recommend trying the curing, cooking and pressing yourself, it’s doesn’t take much effort at all and the pay-off is great. The beef is firm and deliciously sweet and salty. The spices – particularly the mace – come through beautifully and compliment the beef so well without drowning out its flavour. 8.5/10.

#194 Almond Soup (White Soup)

Yes, another soup…

This recipe is the very first one that appears in English Food. Although it may seem rather odd nowadays, it is one of the most historical recipes there is. Almond soup, or almond milk as it was originally called goes right back to the Middle Ages. It was made with almonds, onions, wine and spices. More recently, it diverged into two completely separate dishes: almond soup and blancmange.

Griggers reckons that one of the reasons (apart from it tasting good) that it’s remained popular is because the ingredients are easy to come by; most being found about the house. Well, it is popular no longer – I’d heard of it, but only vaguely. Not all the ingredients are easy to come by these days either – the main reason I’ve only got round to making this now is that I managed to finally get hold of the veal knuckle required for the stock.

I always really enjoy making these sorts of recipes in the book – I don’t even mind if they’re not that nice – it’s just interesting cooking and tasting these old, old recipes. I’ve said it before, but it is great that such books like English Food exist, it’s also great to see that many of these unfashionably historical recipes are tasty and interesting. Does this one fit into that category though..?


To make the soup, you need to start the day before and get on with the task of stock-making. Start off by placing a small gammon hock (I made one myself in the brine tub!) and a good meaty veal knuckle that has been cut into three pieces in a large pan or stockpot. Add four pints of cold water and slowly bring to the boil; the slower you do this, the clearer the stock will be. When it does come to the boil, skim away any scum and add a quartered onion, a quartered carrot, four chopped celery sticks, a teaspoon of lightly-crushed peppercorns, two blades of mace, a bay leaf and a tablespoon – no, I didn’t misread the book, tablespoon – of salt. Bring back to the boil and then turn the heat right down so that the stock simmers gently away for four hours. Strain and chill overnight and skim the fat off the top. Bring back to the boil and reduce the stock until there is around 2 ½ pints remaining. Alternatively, if you simply cannot be arsed with all of that, use a light beef stock!

For the soup, place 2 ounces of blanched almonds and an ounce of white bread (crusts removed) into a blender along with a couple of ladlefuls of stock and liquidise the lot. Push the gloop through a sieve into the reduced stock. Turn the heat off under the pan. Next, beat an egg yolk into ¼ each of double cream and soured cream and whisk it into the soup, reheat, making sure the stock is not boiling, to prevent the egg from cooking and curdling. Now season with white pepper, salt (!), Cayenne pepper and lemon juice. Serve with fried croutons or fried almonds.

#194 Almond Soup (White Soup). Certainly not one for those on a low salt or low fat diet. It was very salty and rich. I assume that the tablespoon of salt listed in the ingredients is a typo since a ham hock is also used for the stock. I’m not convinced that I actually liked this soup, it was certainly nicer the next day when the flavours had time to develop. It’s certainly a posh soup, but I think it could’ve been improved by using a less salty stock. Perhaps after all this time-biding, it would have been better if I’d simply used a light beef stock as suggested in the recipe. 4.5/10.

#161 Boiled Salt Beef and Dumplings

After the reasonable success of the ham I cured, I was keen to try something else so I went for salt beef. You can of course just buy your beef already salted, but if you want to have a go at your own, follow this link. My friend Evelyn had also made a request for it a while back, and although beef and dumplings are in no way summery I thought I’d do it anyway.

Put your beef – silverside or brisket – in a large pot and pour in enough water to just cover it. Bring it slowly to a simmer – taste the water after 10 minutes, if it’s salty change the water and start again. Add 2 unpeeled onions that have been studded with four cloves each, a small piece of nutmeg, two blades of mace and a generous seasoning of black pepper. Once the beef is simmering turn it down to the lowest heat possible so that the tiniest amount of bubbling occurs. Now cover and leave to simmer – the time depends upon the weight of the meat, to calculate it use the same method as on this entry, but a 3 pound piece of beef will take 3 ½ hours in total.

Toward the end of the cooking time, make your dumpling mixture: sift 4 ounces of plain flour with a teaspoon of baking powder and a good pinch of salt into a bowl and stir in 2 ounces of shredded suet (i.e. packet suet). Add just enough water to make a slightly stick dough and with floured hands make little balls of the dough (about ten, I’d say). Add a little grated horseradish in their centres. Alternatively use a cube of fried bread or mix chopped parsley into the dough.

When the beef is cooked, remove it and let it rest. Add the dumplings and let them poach for 10-15 minutes.

Serve it with gravy made using some of the cooking liquor and glazed carrots, says Lady Griggers. I did peas too and some horseradish sauce.

#161 Boiled Salt Beef and Dumplings – 8/10. Really delicious and definitely the best of the cured meat thus far. The beef was flaky and pink with the saltiness perfectly balanced with the aromatic herbs, spices and sugars from the brine cure and stock. I’ve never bought salt beef, so I’ve nothing to compare it to, but I shall be definitely doing this one again, but perhaps during wintertime! The dumplings were okay – they could have been fluffier, however, they were cooking for longer than 10 minutes as I lost track of time getting everything else ready. Oopsey!

Sorry there’s no photo – I took one, but for some reason it’s no longer on my camera’s memory! Double oopsey!!

#151 To Cook Salt Pork or Hams: Part 1 – To Eat Hot

After a 5 day wait, the pork I had put in the brine tub was ready for cooking. Jane outlines three different ways to cook your salt pork or ham if you want to serve it hot, but they all start with the same process: simmering in water with stock vegetables.

The first thing to do is to rinse your joint and weight it on some scales. Place the joint in a heavy casserole or stockpot, cover it with cool water and let it come to a boil slowly. Let it simmer for 5 minutes and taste the water – if it’s too salty throw the water away and start again (though it was fine when I tasted mine). For hams up to 4 pounds (2 kilos), cook for 30 minutes to the pound (1 hour to the kilo) plus an extra 30 minutes. However, this can be reduced if the joint is slim. To improve the flavour of the ham, add some stock vegetables: carrot, onion, leek, turnip, that kind of thing. They also flavour the stock with which delicious soups can be made – like this one.

It now depends on how you want to serve your ham:
1. Simply boiled – easy-peasy! Serve it with whatever vegetables or salad you like.

2. Encased in pastry – yes, you heard correctly! Remove before the final hour; encase it in thick pastry, glaze with egg and bake in a moderate-hot oven for an hour.

3. Glaze it. This the one I went for. Remove the ham half an hour before the end of cooking and remove the skin. Criss-cross the fat with a sharp knife and stud the crosses with cloves. Then make a glaze:

Sorry about the shit picture – I’m sure I took a better one than this!

Mix together a tablespoon of French mustard, one of double cream and one of either brown sugar, marmalade or apricot jam (or anything else sweet you like), next mix in a teaspoon of ground cinnamon or cloves. Spread this mixture all over the fat. Place in a roasting tin, add a ladleful of the stock to the bottom to stop any glaze from catching if it falls, and bake for 30 minutes at 190°C. When done, remove and let it rest before carving.

To accompany it, make a sauce with the pan juices by boiling them up with some cream, white wine or fortified wine, depending on the glaze you used. I went for cream as I used dark brown sugar.

Serve with seasonal vegetables and glazed onions, Grigson says. However, she also says that glazed turnips go well too. So I made those, plus boiled potatoes and peas.

#151 – To Cook Salt Pork and Hams: Part 1 – To Eat Hot: 7/10. I really enjoyed this – the ham cure was beautifully seasoned and salty and the spiced sticky sugar glaze complimented it perfectly. It was a little dry though, but I have a feeling that I cooked a little too long in the stock though as it was a slim piece of meat. That said, it was still delicious and we all polished it off quick-smart. I think that with a bit of practise at this kind of thing, the scores will quickly creep up to the high 8s, 9s or 10s!