I have a healthy fascination with making people feel squeamish.
As a food anthropologist (to be), I am interested in that instant, guttural reaction to foods – and food ideas – that provoke people to either shut down, reject or open up. The world is a wonderful, small and big place to live – and to eat.
…And so presenting a pig’s face to a (somewhat) unprepared crowd that came to my latest Russian Brunchclub was a deliciously – literally – tongue in cheek affair.
Mind you, not that a celebration of salo – a Ukrainian dish of pork fat – in the pre-announced menu didn’t give them a clue.
This month’s Brunchclub was dedicated to Ukrainian regional foods. Having spent a month in the country that used to be my mother’s homeland, I’ve gathered a few recipes and many more people’s stories that I wanted to share with Londoners.
Let’s be honest, I was aching to get Brits eating pork fat. All of my seduction skills would have been tested. And so they were…
Here is the final menu:
(a selection of salo from different regions)
served with v. cold shots of vodka
Aubergine and tomato stacks
(my mother’s speciality from Southern Ukraine)
(Donets region, without a ‘t’)
(A dish of maize and lots of goodies from the Carpathian mountains)
My (half) a tribute to Ukraine’s mighty animal
with buckwheat and booze
(dumplings stuffed with best bits of an animal and wild mushrooms)
Vareniki with sour cherries
(served with Kiev-style raspberry sauce)
(a Lviv cake with home-made fresh cheese and poppy seeds)
The pig’s head was not a recipe I have collected in Ukraine but a tribute to an animal that has such an esteemed position in the country.
There was an old recipe of a suckling pig stuffed with buckwheat in Ukrainian literature that I remember seeing. I wanted to use the idea but in a different way that didn’t require killing baby animals in the process..not that I’m squeamish of course..
Pig’s head with buckwheat, mushrooms and booze.
1. I had procured half a pig recently, half a head came with it. If you don’t happen to have the named head in your fridge/freezer, do enquire from your local butcher. Trust me, they’ll find one happily for you.
2. Soak the head in lots of cold water with lots of salt. This helps with draining blood. 3-5 hours will do.
3. Shave the head.
Now that was fun.
You’ll need a disposable raiser and/or flame. It takes time as there are some people – and I’m not one of them – who hate having pig’s hair in their food. ha!
4. The basic recipe was knicked off the most talented Fergus Henderson, of my most favourite St John’s – where else.
Fry about 8 shallots and about the same of garlic bulbs in a tbs of goose fat, until nicely browned.
5. Transfer the above into a roasting tray that will fit the head. Plonk the head on top of the onion mixture. Add a good glug of brandy, bouquet garni, about 1/2 bottle of white wine plus about a 1/5 litre of good stock (chicken or beef will do – using fresh stock from supermarket is a minimum, own home-made is best bien sur).
6. Create a little hat out of foil for the pig’s ear, put it on. Then cover the head loosely with baking (parchment?) paper and put the head into your oven for about 2.5-3 hours at medium heat of about 180 C.
7.About 30 minutes before it’s ready, uncover the head to let the skin crisp up.
8. Whilst the creature is roasting, make buckwheat. You’ll need about 3-4 cups of buckwheat (perhaps 500 gr). Dr-fry the grains in a thick-bottomed pan for a few minutes. Then add hot water – double the amount of the grain. Add some salt, about a tsp but you can add more later.
9. Turn the heat down, cover and simmer until buckwheat has absorbed all the water and has plumped up, but still retains some bite though (as you’ll cook it a bit more later).
10. Whilst the grain is cooking, prepare zapravka, you can call it stuffing I suppose. You’ll need about 250 grs of bacon, 1 large onion, a couple of gloves of garlic, about 250 mushrooms plus or including some wild shrooms (dried and re-dehydrated are fine).
11. Fry all the above in a shallow pan in a couple of tbs of goose or pork fat for about 20 mins, until all mellowed and sweet. Towards the end, add a couple of large spoons of sourcream, perhaps same amount of heavy (double) cream, a few splashes of mushroom ketchup, lots of black pepper, salt, and fresh thyme.
12. When the head is ready, lift it out of the liquid in the pan, keep somewhere warm whilst you’re making gravy.
13. Take a few spoons of the liquid and add to the buckwheat, which you mix with zapravka above. Keep it warm.
14. To make gravy, add a tbs of Dijon or Russian mustard, add a bit more wine (a few glugs), stir everything and voila.
15. Serve the head on a very large platter (or a wooden board, the way I did). Buckwheat on a side, as if spilling from the head. Serve the gravy (with some watercress wilted in if you like) on a side.