Brawn – The Recipe

Here is the recipe that I used to such signal effect, adapted from that given by Jane Grigson in English Food. (Now that I look carefully, she calls it Brawn or Head Cheese. Oh, shame.)

½ pig’s head, including tongue, but not the brains

For the brine

3 litres water

375g salt

375g demerara sugar

1 tsp juniper berries

1 tsp black peppercorns

Small piece of nutmeg

2 cloves

2 bay leaves

1 bunch parsley


For the cooking

2 pig’s trotters

2 garlic cloves

1 large white onion

1 large carrot

2 sticks celery

2 leeks

1 tsp black peppercorns

½ tsp allspice

1 blade of mace

2 cloves

4 bay leaves

150ml white-wine vinegar, plus 1 dssp extra

Salt and pepper


Bring all the ingredients for the brine to a boil. Leave to cool, and stir to make sure all the sugar and salt has dissolved. Put the pig’s head into a very clean bucket or basin. Pour over the brine and leave for 24 hours.

Transfer the half-head to a cooking pan, along with the trotters. Tuck in the vegetables around it, cutting them up if necessary. Add the spices and bay leaves, and cover with water. Add the vinegar, and bring gradually to a boil. Skim until the unsightly grey scum stops appearing, then leave to simmer quietly for a couple of hours. Test to see if the meat comes away easily from the bone. If it does, your brawn is ready for the next stage.

Drain off the liquid through a very fine sieve or muslin. Throw away all the veg and other flavourings. Put the liquid back into a clean pan and place over a high heat to reduce.

Let the half-head cool slightly, and then start picking out the nuggets of meat, including the occasional bit of skin, gelatinous matter and fat, because these have a crucial part to play in the final assembly. Take care to eliminate all hairs and tiny bones. Roughly chop your porky booty and lay in a suitable container – a basin or even a terrine dish.

Taste the reducing cooking liquid. Adjust the seasoning, remembering that chilling will reduce the effect of the salt. When you got it to your liking, add the dessertspoon of vinegar, and pour the lot over the meat and bits. Put in a cool place and leave to cool and set. Allow to mature for 24 hours, and eat before the mould sets in.

Accompaniments: a pickle or two (eg pickled walnuts or cucumber); boiled potatoes in a dressing heavy with mustard; green salad.

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