When Tom Doughty, the owner of Refuel, informed me that the restaurant served up confit pig’s head at a recent industry night dinner, I was intrigued.  After all, some of my favorite pork cuts – cheek and jowl – come from that, uh, “upper shoulder” region.  And when Tom told me that he’d have no problem bringing one in if I was interested – well, how could I pass up the opportunity?  I wasn’t just thinking of myself, of course, but of the many readers out there curious about the pig head confit-eating process.  Granted, that may not be many of you.  In fact, Special Features Producer Ivon Bartok was quick to warn me that my readership would drop off significantly for this entry – which would be a cause for minor concern…if I was actually charging people to read my meandering posts.

The reaction to the news of my impending “special pork dinner” ranged from mild curiosity to outright disgust.  Never mind that most of these same people wouldn’t think twice about eating a hot dog, oblivious to this fact that the seemingly benign staple of the American diet is usually made out of AMR (Advanced Meat Recovery – those tasty morsels of leftover meat still clinging to the carcass after all the choice cuts have been removed.  And, yeah, I’m referring to the head area as well).  In fact, many who blanch at the mere notion of feasting on a cow or pig’s head wouldn’t think twice about enjoying a steak or pork chop.  In their mind, those barbecued sirloins and pan-fried chops are far removed from the reality that what they are actually eating is an animal.  And, really, what better reminder of the fact than a whole confit head sitting on your dinner table.  Others are quick to pass on judgment on which parts of an animal are acceptable to eat and which parts are not.  When it comes to a pork, for instance, shoulder, side, loin, and leg are acceptable; head, tail and feet are not.  My question is: Why not?  The meat from the latter areas is just as tasty (in fact, speaking from personal experience, I’d say more so) as the aforementioned cuts.  Don’t believe me?  Head on over to Montreal’s Au Pied de Cochon and sample the trotters, hit a Filipino restaurant and order up some Sizzling Sisig, check out the guanciale the next time you stop in at an Italian menu or the jarret the porc if you’re doing French.  But do so with an open mind.

I’m an unabashed meat eater.  And to those who challenge whether I could actually hunt down and butcher my own meat, my answer to you would be “Probably not.” But, truth be told, I wouldn’t make my own clothes, build my own car, or take out my own tonsils either.

When I first told him about it, my buddy Ivon was horrified at the prospect of table-side service.  “What if the people sitting beside you are vegetarian?”he asked.  I shrugged back. Presumably, the restaurant would seat us somewhere in the back, away from the accidental glances of fellow diners.

I presumed wrong.  We were seated at a large table at the very heart of the dining area.  “You’re going to need a lot of room,”Tom explained as we took our seat.  Moments later, he was back with an assortment sauces and spicings –

Maldon salt, garam masala, apricot mustard, meyer lemon confit, salsa verde.

Pork jus and Carolina barbecue sauce.

We were also served an assortment of sides including a lentil dish, watercress with confit potatoes, and…

Stinging nettles, green onions, pearl onions, and ricotta. A stand-out. If I had to forego meat for a day, this would be my vegetarian option.

Whipped potatoes, butter, and green onions topped with a crispy cheese crust. A soon-to-be addition to the regular menu!

I had a couple of dozen questions for Tom in anticipation of the meal, but Tom waved them off, assuring me that all would be explained during the carving. Moments later, Chef Ted arrived.

Chef Ted

And he had company…

For some reason, this seemed to capture the attention of the other diners in the room, many of who continued to look on as Chef Ted proceeded to separate the meat from the bone with surgical precision…

Chef Ted explained that he would serve us half a head to start, then pointed out the various delectable parts of the pig head we would be enjoying that night. After he was done, Tom dressed our plates…

After which we were served our pork platters, made up of cheek, jowl, temple, snout, ear (which Tom insisted be eaten with the accompanying salsa verde), and plenty of thin, crispy pork skin.

In a word: delicious.  I have always been (and continue to be, especially after this meal) a fan of the cheek while my dining companion, fearless fellow foodie Denise, loved the crispy but tender ear.  With round one over, I was ready to tap out – which is when they delivered the other half of the pig head along with a special dish…

Pig brains with mustard spaetzle. I've never been a big fan of brain owing to an aftertaste I'd describe as "slightly metallic", but this version was actually quite tasty.

With dinner done, we were presented with one final special dish: dessert.  Alas, no pig involved.

Ice Cream Cookies and Malted Milk. To be honest, this one was a bit problematic - which is ironic given that it was certainly the best-looking dish we were served. I attempted to cut myself a piece but the cookie wouldn't give. It was rock solid. I ended up having to pick it up - a messy prospect - and bite off a piece, which was in itself no easy task. In the end, I managed to soften them up by dunking them in the malted milk. The cookies were chocolaty good, but they need to be much softer for this to work.

Following our meal, we had two different couples approach to ask us.  One thanked us for giving them “something to talk about tomorrow” while the other offered up an account of a similar whole hog experience they’d shared.  A third fellow approached the table as well, but he seemed less interested in the pork and far more interested in Denise who’d been sitting alone while I’d popped out to feed the parking meter.

A rare shot of the camera-shy Denise.

So, would I order do this again?

Hell, yes!  It was, without a doubt, the best pork dinner I’ve ever had.  The challenge isn’t in enjoying the meal, but in finding someone to enjoy it with.

One week to the return of Stargate: Universe!

Hot Tub Time Machine opens today.  A couple of people I know have already seen it and thought it was hilarious.  Bonus points for the fact that the movie apparently includes a Stargate reference.  If you happen to catch it this weekend, report back!

Today’s entry is dedicated to Astra Per Aspera.  Happy Birthday!

58 thoughts on “March 26, 2010: Whole Confit Pig Head Alert! Avert Your Eyes!

  1. Guess what I’m eating tonight???!!!

    PIG HEAD!!! 😀



    No. Not really. Instead all the cheeseburger talk had me wondering if I could find a good burger in town, ’cause – ya know – it’s Friday night and I didn’t feel like cooking.

    So, after a friend strongly recommended the place, I went with a local deli and their Chipotle Cheddar BLT Burger – chipotle bbq sauce, cheddar and bacon, lettuce and tomato on a big kaiser roll. It was DELICOUS! Positively the best burger I’ve had around here – and it was huge – looked very much like those pics on the cheeseandburger site. Came with good fries, too. I am happy. 😀 PLUS, they had homemade cannoli…mmmmmm.

    I think I’ma gonna pop…like a big, fat juicy tick. 😛


  2. Having dogs who generally take care of the ‘rest of the pig’ (snouts, trotters, etc), it’s interesting to see it cooked up for people. Does Refuel also do the rest of a deer? Just thinking, because my dogs favourite treats ever are bambi ears.

  3. “In their mind, those barbecued sirloins and pan-fried chops are far removed from the reality that what they are actually eating is an animal.”

    This is so true with me. As a kid I could only eat hamburgers because I wasn’t reminded of the animal. If I ate chicken and found a vein, I’d nearly faint right at the table. Ground-up stuff is much easier to eat than seeing the actual organ or muscle laying there right in front of you like you’re in the middle of an autopsy, or something.

    Yeah…gonna stop now and get back to my cannoli…there’s not a vein or a bone to be found in this sucker! ‘Tis delish! 😀


  4. I’m having Subway. Boring.

    I don’t object at all you eating the pig’s head. I just wouldn’t want to look at it. I wouldn’t want to look at a fish’s head or a crab head either. The meat did look tasty. Brains, not so much.

  5. Hey Joe

    Mmmm… looks good, and you can’t live any higher on the hog than that! Even the brain looked good and I, too, have a thing about brains. At least it wasn’t jellied.


  6. Hey, this sounds delicious. I love pork and can’t see why eating what you did was any different than eating a pork chop or pulled pork bbq. I grew up on eating unusual items, quail, squirrel, dove, rabbit, deer and all types of fish. One of my most fond memories is of my Dad roasting a whole pig in the ground. We raised our own pigs one year and made hams, bacon and other goodies. Sorry this got so long. I just hate it when people go Yuck and won’t try new stuff. Try it once if you don’t like it don’t eat it again. So far the only thing I can’t eat again is raccoon. The entire time I was chewing the meat I saw little eyes looking at me in my mind. I just can’t do that again.

  7. Hubby and I ate crabcakes tonight. We bought the crab meat and made our own. That’s a heck of a lot easier than going crabbing for Blue Crabs in Chincoteague, VA and cooking them live. When I was about 12 I finally caught enough to make a meal for the family. Unfortunately the pot my mother put them in didn’t have a lid so I had to wear an oven mitt and hold a piece of aluminum foil over the pot so the crabs couldn’t climb out! Talk about work. The crabs had to be at least 5 inches to keep, but there is scant little meat in a 5 inch crab.

    My favorite part of the pig was always the bone marrow. Plain or on bread with a little salt, mmm.

  8. Looks pretty good actually, not sure I would do brain, but cheek and tongue.

    So the ear was tender, thought that would be kind of gristle, but anything with crispy skin is good (duck, chicken et al)

    Still wouldn’t choose it over other bits as we have the choice 🙂

    So how many did it serve? Only looks big enough for 2.

    So is it only pigs head that ever gets cooked up? Do cows head or lamb head every get served up?

  9. Wow, that hog head is truly impressive! And stinging nettles, too! I had no idea those were a delicacy. I’d like to find a recipe for nettles as revenge for all the itching I suffered in my younger camping years.

  10. I grew up on a small farm. So, I would feel just as guilty eating a hotdog, as I would a pig head. (more with a hot dog because I’v read they have rat turds in them)

    Glad you enjoyed it, though. I mean the pig was dead already, it would be a sacrilege to waste him.

    BUT Would you eat a gasping, grilled fish though?

  11. Need to have valet service so no need to leave to feed the meter,,
    Pigs head, well, not saying never, but I am kinda full from dinner just now. so raincheck..
    I would like to hit on that dessert, looks rather yummy. I am with Das on the vein thing, a little ick factor, and I used to feed my dogs pigs ears, they loved them. Hello *waves* to Denise, glad she enjoyed her dinner. Thanks for sharing your adventure with us.

  12. I was fairly open to the idea of eating a pig’s head but after watching the pig’s brain picture , same brain matter that I confused with a plate of pasta, I feel like watching a reenactment of the silence of the lamb 😀

  13. Hi Joe, well, other than the brains, it all looked good 🙂 Brains are a definite no brainer with me, it just aint gonna happen ever again (tried them twice). The texture was awful and the taste was nothing special. Looking at it was a bit much for me. Still, better than eyeballs, I suppose, and people actually eat those. Only kosher hot dogs for me, and that’s once in a blue moon. Glad you enjoyed! Have a good night 🙂

  14. Thanks for the report back. I suppose I could manage eating pig’s head (but maybe not the brains). I’d just have to try not think of the restaurant scene in “A Christmas Story”: “It’s a beautiful bird… it’s just… It’s smiling at us.”

    In other completely random and irrelevant news, I got called back to go to my first job interview in over 3 months. (After 10 months’ unemployed, I’ll freely admit that panic is beginning to set in.) But what’s this about needing Top Secret clearance to get the job? A job in which I’d be sorting mail and working on Excel spreadsheets? Really? My friends and neighbors are going to love getting visited by FBI employees with all kinds of questions about me….. Ah well. At this point I’m just happy to have a chance at a job somewhere.

    And happy of course to see the return of SGU very soon!

    – KB

  15. Looks great, actually! I’m a big fan of ham/bacon/pork, so any crispy ear/cheek parts sounds good to me. Mmm…

  16. Joe wrote, “In fact, many who blanch at the mere notion of feasting on a cow or pig’s head wouldn’t think twice about enjoying a steak or pork chop.”

    Yes, that’s me. Pass the whipped potatoes please. I’d love a steak or pork chop, or even a hot dog with chili, cheese, and onions. But like others, I can’t eat anything that still looks like itself. Joe that pig was still smiling!! How could you eat that poor little thing?? I can’t eat crabs, lobsters, any kind of fish or animal in it’s original form. It don’t seem right.

    I’m not disgusted, I just hope if I ever get seated by you in a restaurant, you are eating a huge steak or pasta or something “normal”. I did not eat dinner tonight. Your description of pig head eating was very intertaining. But I’m still not hungry.

  17. Ok, you sold me on pig head as a meal. The side dishes all sound and look excellent as well. Though having a primer or a guide to make sure the right sauces are used with the right parts seems like a must for me. The problem now would be to figure out what places around here would even consider cooking up such an unusual dish. Or call up reFuel and see if they could be induced to lay out the meal for a non-regular diner. Which would also require the minor inconvienances of figuring out how and when to trek across the continent. And maybe arrange for some other readers to time their visit simultaniously so that several of us could enjoy the experiment.
    Thank you very much for the detailed report, and glad it turned out so well. One week and counting to see if the back half delivers as much as you have promised. Looking forward to finding out if it does.

  18. “My question is: Why not?”

    There’s an ideology that has recently been introduced called Carnism. “Carnism is the belief system in which eating certain animals is considered ethical and appropriate.” Using the same thought process, it would explain why it is OK to eat certain parts of the animal and not others. There are many articles coming out on Carnism, mostly on vegetarian sites, which most Carnists don’t want to visit, even just to read about this ideology. So here it is on Wikipedia… 😉


    The head is by far the least popular because it reminds people they are eating an animal. Something that once was a living, feeling, sentient creature. People don’t want to know that. They want to think of it is a packaged product they get at the grocery store and nothing more.

    Knowing where meat comes from, how it’s processed, and what ends up in most meat products is a big reason why I’m a vegetarian. It’s pretty disturbing.

    OK, done with my soapbox. Hope everyone is doing well and enjoying nicer weather (warmer or cooler depending on which hemisphere you are in. 🙂

  19. um….so you only care about us if we paid money? That’s a bit harsh, isn’t it? 🙁

    The pig head looks like one giant bit of crackling….which makes sense. There was no tongue? Looked a bit greasy to me.

    So you like table-side service? Maybe you’ll have to talk Tom into doing it again with something else…perhaps something with flame…that always looks cool.

    Re dessert: Surely the reason you were served milk was to dunk it….glad you finally worked it out 🙂

    Cheers, Chev

    p.s. thanks Tom for the strategic placement of the knife

  20. This post doesn’t bother me at all. I would be interested in eating a pig head, but I think it would be hard to find in the middle of Michigan. Also, it’s probably expensive.

    I’ll echo some other people and say that I might stop at eating the brain. Though I did dissect a sheep’s brain in 4th grade.

    To all those vegetarians asking if I would kill my own food: perhaps not. But my fallback plan, should my college major not work out, is to open a boutique butcher shop. So I’m perfectly fine with hacking an animal to pieces. It just has to be dead first.

  21. Heya, the food pix are cool. Think I might try some but I think I’d stop at the brain. Maybe if I did not know what it was first. BUT…now I’ve seen a picture. Otherwise the platings looked good. And, the desert looked yummy.

    Instead had boring but delicious Chicago style deep dish pizza at Gino’s East with some libations on the side. YUM.

    Thanks for “book report,” very thorough as usual.

    And, only one more week to SGU!!

  22. There’s just something about seeing it in the shape still…unlike a hot dog. Which, I really prefer not to know what goes in it. Like the saying “Laws and sausages are two things you do not want to see being made.” Although, being a political scientist, I AM interested in the laws. Just not the sausages. Or hot dogs.

    I’m glad you enjoyed your dinner, though! It did look like fun.

  23. For some reason Joe, when I’m looking at the head and the brain I can’t help thinking about that huge rat I dissected in biology class. For some reason I tought there was too much formaldehyde inside, so I took it to the sink and gave the “inside” a bath. 😀

  24. I don’t find it’s very nice from Denise to refuse to appear on your blog. I’m camera shy, and I still aggreed to appear on your site.
    I also find it’s very rude from that guy to go in and talk to your diner date.
    One of my ex used to get pissed off when guys would come and chat with me when I was with him. I could understand he was upset. They were ignoring him like if they tought I was too good for him!

  25. LOL so you got Denise to let you shoot her arm this time. Making progress!
    I wouldn’t mind eating the head parts (not brain..ick texture).. but I don’t want to see it. They can carve mine up back in the kitchen. 🙂

  26. Mmmm…pig head.

    Joe, just one question. Do you guys have any location shooting planned for season 2? Location shooting as in Nevada/New Mexico, not “20 miles from Vancouver”.

  27. I expected to be grossed out more than I was. Still, am not a fan of my food looking back at me. Thank you, though, for an interesting entry.

  28. No pig’s brains for me. Or brain matter from another other animals. Something about prions in animal brain tissues causes CJD so that you brain goes spongy.

  29. Your piggy meal looked delicious..

    Chef Ted however, more delicious 😉 he’s a bit of a cutey …

  30. The pig looked very tasty! Going to have to send the link to this entry to my Hubby. He’s in school right now trainig to become a chef and I often send him links of your food heavy entries as you tend to find some of the best or more unusual foods out there! And we love our pork here. He makes the best Pulled Pork and Baby Back Ribs. All slow cooked at low temps and then we use the Carolina Gold BBQ sauce and it’s excellent. Does Refuel make their own Carolina sauce or do they import it? It’s hard to replicate, even if you’ve been eating it your entire life as the Hubby has, but it has been worth the tries.

  31. Just watched the 1.5 SGU trailer. YAY!!!
    Finally it’s getting some alien action and getting back to what Stargate is all about. I hope the season is as good as the trailer is, coz whoever put that trailer together definitely knew what they were doing.
    The few glimpses of the new aliens are looking very good!!!
    So excited to see it all.
    With this you might actually win back some of the fans that were so against it the first time, but still stuck around for the second half to give it another chance (like me).

    But I still think selling half a season is a low blow.

  32. Not too hard to find a pig head here in Michigan, JReeths. 🙂 Finding someone to cook it up properly…yeah, that could be a challenge.

    We used to have a pig roast once a year. We’d roast the whole pig on a spit, over a charcoal fire. Depending on the size of the pig, the process could take up to 18 hours. This meant getting up every two or so hours through the night to check on the pig and add charcoal. But the results were always wonderful, and well-worth the effort.

    The idea of roasting a whole pig always brought out a variety of reactions from our guests. You could pretty much gauge their feelings about it all by where they stood while the pig was finishing up in the roaster and after it came out. Some folks liked to be right there, watching the process, and sampling pieces from various parts of the pig as it was being carved up. Then there were others who stood as far away as possible; they only wanted to see a tray filled with pieces of pork. Most would readily admit that they liked eating meat, but that they just didn’t like being reminded of where it came from.

    Come to think of it, we’d always have a few people each year that requested a hot dog or hamburger, because the idea of eating a “whole pig” bothered them.

    It’s been a few years since we’ve had a pig roast. It was always a good time, but the sheer amount of work in preparation and clean up for an outdoor party for a hundred or so people got to be daunting.

  33. I would have no problem eating a pig head…then again I also enjoy fried hearts, liver and chicken gizzards. I love a good steak, or pork chop, or roast…I love meat.

  34. My eldest son and his fiancee are getting married July 24th and are having a hog roast as part of the celebrations, he’s currently employed at a cornish pig slaughterhouse whilst putting himself through college so I’m lucky to be on the receiving end of some prime, fresh piggy bits, might struggle to cook a pigs head though:)

  35. I could probably do everything but the brain; if only for the (admittedly low) risk of prion diseases.

    And pig skin (found quite easily here in the Atlanta area) is usually a bit much for my digestive tract. So you could have mine. 🙂

    I’m glad you enjoyed yourself!

  36. “I write Stargate fan fiction” – hahaha. 😀

    Joe, please tell me that SGU is going to have more action and adventure because that’s what the writers intended from the start and not because of the criticism.

  37. Saw Hot Tub Time Machine last night with some friends and loved it. And yes, there is a Stargate reference in there.

  38. I will continue to suspect Hot Tub Time Machine promotion is an elaborate hoax until the theater sells me a ticket for it. Until then, I will suspect that all you bloggers and commenters, all the screeners, even the movie-theater marquee makers are in on an elaborate joke.

  39. I’m all for not wasting any parts of animals, if they are gonna get killed and eaten why not the whole thing? But at the same time, I probably won’t be the one eating the feet, ears, tails or heads. Nothing against it, just not my style.

    The food at ReFuel always looks so good, you finally convinced me. I am gonna go check it out next weekend.

  40. Oh Joe, I almost had a disaster today. I was almost internetless for the whole weekend. I hate to say it but I was a little panicked about that. Fortunately I was able to get a new modem this afternoon and the tech support to get everything back up and running again. : )

    I am with Paula. I would try the pig head but I just couldn’t go for the brain.

    The HOT TUB TIME MACHINE is getting some odd reviews. The headline on one review was HOT TUB TIME MACHINE: It is not terrible. ; ) I love the STARGATE reference. I might check it out when it comes out on DVD.

  41. @Sandy Urbahns – remind me not go to your house for lunch. Frankie and Merlin send their love.

    I am a wuss – I can’t/won’t eat little bouncy lambs or bunny rabbits and as much as I would love to try lobster the thought of it being boiled alive would put me off.

    I had mince and tatties for my dinner and it was really good.

  42. That stinging nettle dish looks amazing. I’ll definitely be looking into that when I get to Vancouver.

    In fact, the whole meal sounds wonderful, though I think if I was going to be that adventurous I would definitely need a foodie companion or two to share it with. Eating less common meals is so much more fun with other people.

    But back to the pig for a sec…did the brain still have a bit of a metallic taste? I always forget that brain can be eaten, I’m a bit too chicken to try it, but maybe one day…It’s really the idea of it that makes me reluctant, but I guess it can’t be worse than what they used to (and maybe still do) put in hotdogs, sausages etc.

    Thanks for dropping Montreal’s Au Pied de Cochon into the post, it happens to be nearby where I’m staying so I’ve booked a table and will be checking it out this weekend. Looking forward to it, though I hope they don’t mind my awful French (the Aussie accent can only get me so far, right?). I’ll let you know how the meal goes 🙂



  43. I had my forensic science class doing “autopsies” on fetal pigs for a week. Each evening I had the strangest craving for pork. I went through a lot of pork chops, bacon, and roast pork that week.

    If I can eat pork after dissecting pigs, I imagine I could eat the cheeks and other fleshy parts of the head.

    I would take a taste of the brain, too, although I wouldn’t commit to eating an entire portion. Just a taste.

  44. Holy freaking crap, that is nasty.

    I like meat, but only if it doesn’t still look anything like the animal it came from. I don’t even like chicken wings because when you bend them it looks a little too lifelike. The idea of buying whole fish disgusts me. I like crab legs, but I hate it when they leave part of the body attached.

    So yeah, I’m only interested in certain parts of the animal. It’s not an ethical judgment or anything. I just find the more ‘exotic’ parts utterly revolting–for reasons which I’m sure have little to do with their taste, but I’m not about to try it to test that theory.

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