Ever wonder why they call headcheese “cheese”, when there are no dairy products involved in the process?
Okay, first things first, while one of my favorite foods, I will be the first to admit that head-cheese is a victim of terrible branding, perhaps the worst in the food world, right up there with “bird’s nest soup” and “lung pie.”
Headcheese is traditionally make from the meat pulled from a whole pig’s head, simmered in a savory, seasoned stock, with a foot or two (for the collagen in the tendons) until falling off the bone.
Cheek meat, tongue, and various other tasty bits from the nooks and crannies of the skull (but never the brain) are used to make up the tureen of meat, then suspended in the collagen-heavy cooking stock, which turns into a solid gelatin when the whole thing is chilled.
This gelatin is called “aspic”.
Okay, so back to the point…why the heck is it called “cheese?”
This requires a bit of a history lesson. In the 1700’s when this process (tureens in aspic) became popular, the word “cheese” wasn’t used just in reference to diary items, but instead referred to a process of forming ingredients into a loaf, pressing it under weight, and chilling until solid.
This was known as “cheesing.”
Two of the most popular were “cheesed curds” (what we call cheese) and tureens of meat and aspic, especially those with the tender and delicious meat from the face of pigs and calves, called “cheesed head”…which eventually morphed into the term we use today… headcheese.
Typically it’s sliced for cold sandwiches, and served on rye bread with mustard and thinly sliced sweet onions.
Chef’s Note: If for some reason that grosses you out (and it shouldn’t, it’s basically the same thing they do with hotdogs, only using higher quality parts) you can some comfort in the fact that the stuff you see labeled “Headcheese” in the supermarket deli counter, is actually just chopped pork shoulder in aspic, as the process for making the real thing is considered too expensive and labor-intensive to be worth it. (Welcome to the tagline of American food…)
Your best bet for authentic headcheese is to visit our local Russian market, which is also a great place to pick up some artisanal rye bread.
Hopefully I’ve eased some suspicions and some contempt prior to investigation, and (even more) hopefully, I’ve encouraged a few folks to get out of their comfort zone and try something new.
Who knows, a “cheesed-head” sandwich might be your new favorite thing!
You can take a look at MY favorite version of this sandwich, along with some celebrities favorites in my “Celebrity Sandwiches” post.
Grilled Chicken Hearts are one of my go-to appetizers, and both my daughter and I wouldn’t consider it a party without them. They also happen to be super simple.
3 Tbs lime juice
2 Tbs sugar
2 1/2 Tbs fish sauce
1/2 cup water
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. chili sauce
Bring ingredients to a simmer, whisking. Allow to cool completely.
Marinate a pound of hearts 8-12 hours, grill on skewers directly over high heat -5 minutes per side.
Oysters? I love ‘em!
I’ve eaten them a hundred different ways, I’ve pulled ’em off the bed in Willapa Bay, and slurped ’em down while the incoming tide lapped around my knees. I’ve made them a major theme in two of my novels…I like osyters.
This is one of my favorite recipes. In fact, I like these so much that I wrote it into my second novel, Shoalwater Voices…
As Jon’s bare feet touched the cool tile of the dining room floor, he grimaced, wrinkling his nose. “What is that smell…?” “Breakfast oysters,” Cassie informed him, raising a hand before he could protest. “They’re for me. I had a rough night and I need some comfort food; I’ve made French toast for you and Heck.” Jon made a face, shaking his head. “Oysters as comfort food, you are one seriously strange chick, Cassie Belanger.”
Shoalwater Breakfast Oysters Serves 2-3 Ingredients
- 2 Tbs unsalted butter
- 1 Tbs olive oil
- 1 Dozen fresh oysters, shucked
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1 tsp. fresh garlic, chopped
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Fresh parsley, minced
Cooking Instructions: Split and toast halved, buttered baguette. Set aside and keep warm. Rinse shucked oysters to remove and sand or grit.
Melt butter with oil in pan over medium heat and add garlic, salt, and pepper. Saute for a minute, then add shucked oysters. Warm through, tossing, and squeeze lemon juice over the top.
Remove oysters and place on toasted bread halves. Raise the heat under the pan to medium high and reduce until thickened.
Spoon sauce generously over oysters, add a little minced parsley and salt to taste.
If your oysters are still in the shell: Place fresh oysters in a large stock pot, add 1 inch of water. Place over high heat and cover. Check after 10 minutes, checking to see if oysters have started to crack open opposite the hinge.
As soon as they do, place oysters in large colander and run cold water over them to stop the cooking process. When cooled, shuck, rinse and refrigerate until ready to use. Steamed oysters will keep 3-4 days. BTW, this recipe is a great start to my other favorite breakfast, Hangtown Fry!
Okay, so we all have foods that we dislike, things we’ve tried, maybe more than once, that just don’t fit our palate… mashed turnips come to mind… but that’s not what this post is about.
I want to talk about those foods that we can’t even bring ourselves to try.
Example: I’m a pretty open-minded eater….tripe, oysters, escargot, blood sausage, pork brains (and various other internal bits)…I’ve tried them all with varying degrees of enjoyment, and I’d try most of them again if someone offered (not a fan of tripe, though). So I really had to dig deep to find something that I think I’d turn down without a test nibble.
The deepest food at the deep end of my pool.
Then, I was watching an episode of my favorite show, Bizarre Foods, and it hit me…a no-brainer…spiders.
I hate spiders.
I hate spiders with a religious passion that’s typically reserved for Satan, murderous dictators, and lawyers. I can’t use the word hate strongly enough when it comes to these creepy, crawly, denizens of the underworld (the spiders, not the lawyers.)
And the thought of putting one in my mouth? Excuse me a moment while I bark at my shoes…
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not about bugs…I’ve eaten everything from chocolate covered grass-hoppers in a high-end restaurant, to deep-fried flying termites on a back porch in Jos, Nigeria (very good, btw, flavor and consistency of a pork-flavored Cheeto!)
Philosophically, I believe that food is food, and it’s only our narrow cultural influences that make one food “good” and another “gross.”
I try not to allow myself to be dictated by what is considered “normal” in a society that allows for a federally mandated amount of rodent feces in its canned food.
Except for spiders…spiders are gross.
Luckily, big, hairy, roasted spiders (bark, bark) are few and far between here in Washington, so I think I’m pretty safe.
But, here’s the thing…
…what if it’s good?
That’s the question I always ask myself when confronted with an unusual food, the question that drives me to seek out unusual food. What if I would like it…what if I would love it? If I thought it might be my new favorite food…could I get past my own prejudices to find out?
Maybe, maybe not.
Do you have a particular food that you would refuse to even try? Something so far off your eating radar that you wouldn’t even consider it?
What’s at the deep end of YOUR food pool?
Have you ever overcome one? Let us know…
For all of the offal haters out there, a question…
Do you know the difference between haggis and the typical American hotdog?
Have a nice day!