The conversation about Greutzwurst brought up the tangential topic of head cheese—meat in animal gelatin, carrots, red pepper, and hard boiled egg added for interest. Seems like every nationality has a version of this—sülze, German; koseliena, Lithuanian; pihtije, Serbian. . . . The following recipe relies on my memorable forays into ethnic cooking as well as James Beard’s American Cooking; Little Brown, 1972. Beard provides the following information about souse, the origin of this dish. In earlier times, souse was another way to preserve meat for winter. The head meet was sliced, wrapped in muslin, placed in a container, and covered with equal parts broth and vinegar. This was served with a hot slaw or hot potato salad.
The modern note is from Charcuterie the Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, Ruhlman & Polcyn, Norton 2005.
Servings: variousPrep Time: 1-1/2 hours Cook Time: 3-3 1/2 hours
2 quarts water or part white wine, part water
2 onions stuck with 2 cloves
1 teaspoon thyme
2 bay leaves
1 or 2 sprigs parsley
1 Tablespoon salt
12 peppercorns, crushed
8 allspice berries, crushed.
4 garlic cloves
Pig’s head (approx. 7 pounds)
4 pig tails, trotters, or hocks (approx 6 pounds) and
one veal knuckle or veal shank about 2 inches thick
2 beef shanks about 2 inches thick
2 Tablespoons salt, or to taste
1 Tablespoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon Tabasco
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1 cup white wine
1/2 teaspoon mace (optional)
freshly grated nutmeg to taste (optional)
ground allspice to taste (optional)
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
cooked carrots, sweet red pepper, hard boiled egg cut in fancy shapes for decoration (optional)
Combine first ten ingredients to form a flavored broth. Bring to boil, and let cook 15 to 20 minutes.
Place the meats in a large kettle and add the broth. If needed, add enough extra water to cover meats with about an inch of liquid. Bring to boil. Remove any scum that forms. Reduce heat and let simmer feebly (between 180 and 190°F) until meats are tender—about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Transfer meats to a rack in a pan to cool. Strain cooking liquid through fine mesh strainer or sieve lined with cheesecloth. Skim off fat.
Return broth to pan and reduce the broth to one half. Add the remaining ingredients. Cook 20 minutes to blend flavors. Taste for seasoning and correct.
In meantime, cut the meat into small dice. Add to the liquid and simmer together 10 minutes. If desired, arrange cooked carrot, red bell pepper, and hard boiled egg in pattern at bottom of mold(s). Ladle meat and broth into large mold, or several smaller molds. Cover mold (s) with foil and weight down to ensure all ingredients are covered. Cool.
Serve in thick (1/4 in or so) slices with truly sturdy rye bread, sprinkle with vinegar, schmeer with horseradish, or slather with mustard.
The following, from Charcuterie, was not part of the recipe I used, but it seems like a terrific idea, especially because the texture of the gelatin is an important component of the dish. Place a few large spoonfuls [of the strained cooking liquid] onto a plate and chill to check the strength of the gel. It should be firm but not rubbery or hard. If it slides around on the plate, or if it’s so soft it doesn’t spring back when pressed, reduce the liquid by one-quarter and retest. It should be a sliceable gel, but not as hard as a rubberball.
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