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 –
We were also served an assortment of sides including a lentil dish, watercress with confit potatoes, and…
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.
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…
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…
With dinner done, we were presented with one final special dish: dessert. Alas, no pig involved.
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.
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!