The Salt Cure: Plain, Savory, and a Fine Paté

a slab of plain fresh bacon with several slices

Plain fresh bacon just finished roasting.

This month’s Charcutepalooza challenge involved dry salt curing, and I had a number of projects in mind.  I knew that I needed to start another guanciale because I was halfway finished eating the first one I’d made back in December, and a house without guanciale, I decided, was not really a home.  I also wanted to make a several flavors of bacon, and I was especially eager to make an Italian pancetta.

I chose to make a very plain fresh bacon so that I had a nice straightforward porky bacon to compare and contrast with the others, and a maple-sweet bacon which I would cure over hickory smoke, a riotous air-cured pancetta with savory and spicy flavors, and finally a good savory fresh bacon.  Here they have just started to cure:

4 pork bellies in 4 different cures

From top: plain, maple, pancetta, and savory bellies.

I used a belly from Tamworth/Old Spot pig procured from North Hollow Farm, and I met my butcher mentor Cole up in South Hero, Vermont to break the pig down.  After trimming the belly into four pieces, I followed the instructions in Ruhlman & Polcyn’s Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing, but the flavoring for the savory bacon and the pancetta I fashioned myself.  Once cured and bagged, into the ‘fridge they went for just over a week.  I roasted the plain fresh bacon first, and my first taste was fantastic: perfectly salty, sweet, and porky.  This fresh bacon is delicious sliced thick and fried gently, and it goes particularly well with sautéed greens such as spinach or kale.

Pork bellies will vary from pig to pig of course, but there is also variation depending on which section of the belly you’re using.  In this case, the piece I used for the plain fresh bacon was from the meatier ham-end, and the piece used for the savory bacon was from the thinner and streakier part nearer the shoulder.  This worked out great as the savory bacon tastes really good sliced pretty thin and fried just crisp, while the plain bacon is most like salt-pork, good for braises and stews.

The first project planned for the savory bacon was a pâté de tête or pig’s head paté which utilized a half pig’s head in addition to the bacon.

one half pig's head

Half a Tamworth pig's head.

I followed the brief instruction for this paté included in Jane Grigson’s excellent Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery, which I cannot recommend enough.  While it is a small book, it is dense with recipes, really great recipes which will keep me busy for years.  This particular recipe is more of a sketch and she uses it as an example of how a paté need not be complicated nor full of expensive ingredients like truffles or fois gras in order to be utterly delicious and fine.

I happen to love the pig’s head as an ingredient; it is full of flavorful meat and sweet fat, and preparing the head –whether for soup or brawn or a paté like this– is as much a science project as a cooking exercise, and I find the insight I gain into my own cranium’s composition to be fascinating and deeply satisfying.  Granted, the eyeball removal was a slight concern, but in fact was no worse than any of the rest of the work.  I never lose sight (ha!) of the basic fact that this food I’m preparing has its beginning as a live beast, and I find that this is comforting and a bit humbling as well, which seems appropriate.

half a pig's head trimmed of all meat & fat

All the meat and most of the fat trimmed from half a pig's head.

I think one of the reasons that the pig’s head has never been in great demand as an ingredient is not because it isn’t potentially delicious, but rather that making use of it takes a serious investment of time and energy.  A perfectly good paté can be made from pork butt or picnic roast, but I don’t think the shoulder is nearly as flavorful as the meat from the head.  Still, there’s no getting around the fact that trimming the skull, with all its curves and protuberances and hidden pockets, is a good deal of work.  But fun work!

forcemeat for making pate de tete

Trim minced into forcemeat, with a little extra salt and spice.

Once all the trimming was finished, I prepared the forcemeat.  I ran the approximately 2 lbs of meat and fat through my meat grinder using the small plate.  If you are using a comparatively runty meat grinder such as my KitchenAid meat grinder attachment, be careful that you don’t include any skin.  I suspect that a sturdier grinder would handle bits of skin just fine, but mine balked.  I hadn’t included much anyway, and so I just left those bits out.  I also ran 2 ounces of my savory bacon and a half-pound of roughly chopped and sweated-in-butter onions through the grinder, and finally a tablespoon or two of breadcrumbs, which serves to bind the forcemeat as well as clean any bits of meat and onion out of the grinder.

To the minced forcemeat, onions, and breadcrumbs I added one large egg, a tablespoon of flour, a generous half teaspoon of my own quatre-épices spice blend, a scant two tablespoons of salt, a generous teaspoon of black pepper, a half teaspoon of garlic powder, approximately 2 ounces of a dryish Madeira, and a pinch of dried marjoram.  I mixed this well with a fork until the forcemeat became a bit tacky, and then I formed a little rissole, a small flattened meatball, and fried it to check for seasoning.

Remember that whenever you’re preparing any dish which will be eaten cold or at room temperature, to make sure it’s well seasoned as salt and other seasonings are less pronounced in cold food.

In this case, I felt that a bit more salt and quatre-épices and pepper was called for, so I mixed that in thoroughly before filling a terrine mold with the forcemeat.  Some more of the savory bacon was sliced,  and then cut them into long lardons.

lardons made from my home cured savory bacon

Lardons made from my home-cured savory bacon.

Now I applied the lardons in a lattice over the top of the forcemeat:

Lattice of savory bacon lardons applied to the terrine

Lattice of savory bacon lardons applied to the terrine

..and then baked it in a 315°F oven in a bain marie with water halfway up the side of the terrine mold for an hour with the lid on.  I took the terrine mold lid off at this point and let the paté cook for another 30 minutes or so, until it had shrunk substantially and seemed to float in a pool of liquid fat.  At this point I Very Carefully removed the terrine from the oven and let it cool to room temperature.

The pate out of the oven and cooling.

The pate out of the oven and cooling.

Once the paté was thoroughly cool, I placed a piece of cling-film over the paté, then a cling-film wrapped piece of stiff cardboard, and then a few medium-sized cans to compress the paté a bit, and finally slid the whole shebang into the ‘fridge.  In the morning, the paté had compressed just enough to give it a lovely firm texture when I cut my first slice.

The taste and texture are fantastic: dense and meaty with sweet pork, perfectly salty, and the savory spice blend adds complexity and richness.

Today was unseasonably warm outdoors, practically balmy despite the deep snow, so I took a fat slice of my pâté de tête, a little bowl of cornichon pickles, some of my own green-peppercorn mustard, a fresh loaf of pain d’epi bread, a bit of mom’s spicy chevre, a glass of Malbec, and two Butcher’s Treat hazelnut cookies out to the back porch, propped my boot on the stone wall, and munched happily while watching handsome construction workers carry lumber back and forth across the yard.  Delicious.

Lunch of bread, paté, pickles, mustard, a glass of wine and couple of hazelnut cookies.

Lunch of bread, paté, pickles, mustard, a glass of wine and couple of hazelnut cookies.

Coming soon: Hickory-smoked maple bacon, fiery nuggets of bacony goodness on sticks, Mangalitsa guanciale, and The Pancetta.

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About mosaica

Ugly & fabulous, warm & obsessive, brilliant & dorkmeisterish: striving to be a warrior in her little context.
This entry was posted in bacon, charcutepalooza, charcuterie, extremities, nose-to-tail, pork and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to The Salt Cure: Plain, Savory, and a Fine Paté

  1. janis says:

    Oh man what a BEAUTIFUL post. I love what you did for this challenge. That is my idea of what using fresh product should be! Great job.

  2. Celia says:

    I am in awe of your pate! Thanks for making the process look approachable. Now I just need to figure out how to get a pig’s head home in Manhattan without getting arrested…

  3. Wow!! That lattice is beautiful. I can see I’m below remedial in this challenge – I think a pig’s head can still make me cry, lol.

  4. Mairi says:

    Wow! That pate looks amazing though I have to say I would be somewhat daunted to tackle a pig’s head!

    • mosaica says:

      I know it seems daunting, but honestly: once you get stuck in it’s really quite meditative. ;-) Seriously, I understand; lots of folks are squeamish about it, but I was born without a squeamishness gene I think. Or maybe it’s because I was fishing and cleaning my fish soon after I could walk. Injections/shots/needles, however, completely undo me!

  5. I am totally in awe too. I don’t know that I could work with the pig’s head but my hat is off to you! bravo!

    • mosaica says:

      Pshaw :-) Seriously –since my ultimate goal with butchery and charcuterie is to become a nose-to-tail educator, maybe one of my first classes should be “The Sweetest Meat, or How to Trim a Pig’s Head.” That’d be an ice-breaker, huh?

  6. Woowee! I wasn’t expecting the pig’s head! =) Great post! I admire how fearless you are in the kitchen and your lunch sounded fantastic! Nice work!

  7. Elitist Meatist says:

    You are now officially my hero! I am trying to source a pig’s head now to give this a try.

    • mosaica says:

      Aww, thanks :-) I hope you do, and let me know when and if you try as I’d love to hear how it goes (and see pictures). And of course: any questions –fire away.

  8. Peter says:

    I made a head pâté two years ago, and I’m overdue for another one. Yours is lovely. FWIW, if you have the inclination, I’ve been cooking all my terrines sous vide so they never get above 150˚ and lose all that lovely fat. I’ll be in Vermont next week, but too far from Montpelier to make the trip to see your new friend. Sadface.

    • mosaica says:

      Thank you Peter! I’ve been observing & reading about sous vide for years, but the actual equipment is a beyond me presently. However, I’ve been wondering if I could use a zip-lock, suck the air out, and do it in a pot on a low burner or in a low oven. Do you know if this is feasible? If you need a break on your trip through VT, and you’re coming up 91, lemme know and we can have a rest-area or driveway visit. I’ll bring paté, bread, and cornichons :-)

  9. birthemor says:

    Well,well well, you have done it again. A beautiful, delicious Pate which was not only a lovely presentation, but a delight to have you bring Pate, your gorgeous bread and gherkin was a sweet, loving gesture. Thanks birthemor

  10. mosaica says:

    Tak, skatte-mor :-) It was a pleasure, as our Wednesdays always are. I like our new Secrets of Britain series! xoxoxo

  11. Thank you for stopping by my blog. I’m so humbled someone like you who can do amazing things with pork belly and pig’s head (among other things) took the time to read and comment.

    Here I find myself scrolling back up and down, taking a break to find a pig’s head source and making a list. So much to learn and so many exciting/yummy recipes to try!

    Thank you for sharing this wonderfully written post! Looking forward to the next.

    • mosaica says:

      Oh, Annapet, it’s you who honor me by visiting and saying such lovely things, and it is comments such as yours which make this whole blogging endeavor so satisfying for me. Thank you:-) I only wish I had another 24 hours in each day because there is so much I want to cook and see and taste!

  12. Wow! That is brilliant. Pig’s head for me has turned into one of those mythical things – I’ve seen then for sale plenty of times but I always convince myself the time isn’t right, or I don’t have the correct ingredients to cook with it and so on. But this pate might give me the inspiration to bite the bullet and actually cook one up! Great stuff.

    • mosaica says:

      Ooh, you of the fantastic lamb’s brain terrine! I love that terrine and as soon as I learn how to neatly extract brains, I’ll be making it. Thanks for the kind words, it means a lot coming from you. I hope you do give this a try, and I’ll look forward to hearing how it goes!

  13. Oh! I LOVE hazelnut cookies!

    Sis

  14. blorgie1 says:

    Oh M you blow my socks off. When you publish a book let me be the first to buy it! For now I enjoy your sweet deeds through the ether!

    • mosaica says:

      Oh Miss B, pshaw :-) If you ever come to the states, and are on the east coast, we will have an extravagant picnic! Though your garden is so lovely I’d like to come there and picnic. Dog-scritching could happen too :-)

  15. Blorgie1 says:

    COME!!!

  16. Chilebrown says:

    First time visit on your site. I think I love you!

    • mosaica says:

      Pshaw :-) Thanks for the kind words, sir. I visited your blog, and it sounds like you and Mrs. Goofy are having all sorts of meaty fun over there on the other coast. If you’re ever over on this one, come visit the BBQ bonanza at the Harpoon Brewery down the road. Cheers!

  17. mariah perkins says:

    Hi there! Been too long! This is just beautiful and inspiring!! Would like to be in touchh with u. Hope u r well! How is Cole? Been meaning to call him. In case u don’t remember me we spent all day in my basement having a grand old time. I her u chicken salad and u inspired me to learn about cringe meat! Pls email me. Tale care!

    • mosaica says:

      Hallo Miss Mariah! I’ve been hoping you’d stop by, and if I’d had your number hand I would have called and tried wheedling you to come up and help me move ;-) It’s all done and I’m happily in a sunny little home now. Cole is great and getting lots of well-earned attention for his excellent Gourmet Butcher DVD. I will email you soon & see if you can come up and visit. I big-time DUG our pig-breakdown party in your cellar :-)

  18. AynSavoy says:

    Your bacon dishes look amazing! And I can attest to the labor of getting the good stuff off a pig’s head; I took a whole pig butchering class recently and spent an hour cutting the face away from the skull.

    Thanks for a leaving a comment on my corned beef post; unfortunately it was an accidental premature post and I had to delete it, along with your comment. =/

    Can’t wait to see what you did for the March challenge!

  19. Pingback: In Which we Admit it: We’re Charcuterie Sissies | Welcome to Auburn Meadow Farm

  20. That pate looks amazing! And I’m totally using the beautiful lardon lattice the next time I do a pate. If Celia needs a pigs head in Manhattan, I can bring her one down from upstate. The Mexican grocery always has them, and I’ve looked at them and wondered what to do with it. Next rainy day project coming up!

    • mosaica says:

      Thanks Anne :-) I was going to make another of these to take along to a pig butchery & charcuterie workshop tomorrow, but my recent move put an end to that idea. Instead I’m making a (much simpler) Danish-style leverpostej, but I might just put the lattice on it just to make it extra-special. Can’t wait to see what you make with your pig’s head!

  21. You are so cool! I do not suppose I have read through a single thing like this before.
    So nice to find someone with genuine thoughts on this subject
    matter. Really.. thanks for starting this up. This site is one thing that is required on the internet, someone with a little originality!

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