May it Please the Palate - "The pig's head is back"

My law partner and I were recently in Denver for a seminar. While the assemblage of plaintiffs' employment lawyers from around the U.S. was inspiring, what really made a lasting impression was the pig's head.

There we were, sitting at the bar with the open kitchen to our left, when the cook cried, "Head's up!" We turned, and indeed it was.

Not quite as dramatic as the horse's head in "The Godfather," Porky still made an impact. Neckless, and with his nose towards the ceiling as if he were wearing the plate as a collar, Porky was also adorned with a stalk of fresh herbs and a vinaigrette, each in tall glass beakers. "What parts do you eat?" my partner inquired." "Whatever parts you want," came the reply.

You may recall the stereotypical feast from long ago, capped by the whole roasted pig with an apple in its mouth. The pork industry took years to tiptoe away from that image, with its nebulous, tubular "tenderloins" and the "other white meat" campaign. It's now come full circle.

I don't think a coarse, ten-pound head is going to fool anyone into thinking they're eating a diet plate, for instance. "I'm not too hungry. Just a pig's head and a scoop of cottage cheese, please."

Today all parts porcine are making a culinary comeback. In Ann Arbor, Chef Brandon Johns of "Grange" has a butcher's diagram of a hog tattooed on his forearm. In Denver, Chef Jorel Pierce of Euclid Hall (the restaurant serving the aforementioned head) also offers four kinds of sausage, pork chops, and even a dessert with bacon, called an "Elvis Payday."

But the biggest surprise of the evening--besides Porky's snout nuzzling my shoulder--was the "Pad Thai Pig Ears." The ears were julienned, fried, and seasoned with tamarind chili sauce, scallion, peanut, egg, sprouts, mint, and cilantro. Crispy and scary delicious, Chef Jorel explained, "At $1.50 a lb., these pig ears are my money maker."

I'm not going to leave you with a pig's head recipe. You basically tenderize it by marinating, boiling, or braising; then flavor it with salt or rubs, and finally slow roast it. It is then served with fresh herbs, and light sauces, and plenty of sharp utensils. English Chef Fergus Henderson notes, of the finished product, that "the roasted head yields quantities of crunchy skin, and generous amounts of rich meat from the cheek."

This being a genteel publication, I will not be more graphic. I simply wanted to alert you, that one day you may be sitting at the bar with a Prosecco, debating the fine points of employment law with your colleague, when a chef will suddenly call out, "head's up!"

And when that happens, I wanted you to be ready. With a fork for the pig's eyeball.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for "Current" magazine in Ann Arbor. He occasionally updates his blog at http://mayitpleasethepalate.blogspot.com/.

Published: Thu, Jul 18, 2013

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