Tasso Beer-Brined Pig Head
Unless you live in Louisiana, tasso style ham is not an easy-to-find ingredient on most grocery or specialty store shelves. This cured and spiced ham (traditionall made from the hind leg of the pig) adds a wonderful flavor and depth to almost any New Orleans dish: jambalaya, gumbo, étouffée, in sauces, incorporated into pasta dishes and more. This version of Tasso deviates from the dry cure and uses a wet brine method instead. The heavily seasoned brine infuses a creole flavor into the pork meat, while also enhancing its tenderness. It also uses a lesser used cut, the pig head, full of wonderful muscles that become incredible tender and delicious as they cook. This Tasso Beer-Brined Pig Head recipe has more flavor, from all the muscles, tendons and skin, that create a stock full of flavor and collagen, making the finished stock full of extra nutrients.
Using the pig head is also cheaper to make than if you were to use a pork butt or shoulder, which I list as an alternative to this recipe below. i wanted to pay attention to the lesser used parts of the animal in this recipe. As there is only one head per animal, which is often discarded. My local butcher used to just give me the pigs head, not charging me for it, as know one else ever asked for it. Now I do pay for them, but they are cheap, in comparison to a full muscle, such as the butt ,shoulder, or ham. And except for having to call and order the pig head ahead of time, it will benefit this recipe and especially if you are making the Tasso Beer-Brined Pig Head Gumbo recipe.
This finished Tasso can be used in many dishes. As listed above, and to make many different meals. Try adding it to Red Beans & Rice, to potatoes (mashed or roasted), added to soups instead of a ham hock, or even added to crab cakes, adding it’s unique seasoned and cured flavor to decadent crab meat.
Makes: 3 – 4 pounds usable meat and 2 gallons stock
Adapted from BeerAdvocate Magazine: Cuisine à la Bière | Feb 2015 | Issue #97
|2 gallon||20 minute|
|Cook Time||Passive Time|
|8 hour||30 minute|
Using a wet cure, this version of Tasso creates a Tasso Beer-Brined Pig Head, that can be used for many different Creole | Cajun dishes, such as gumbo, jambalaya or into a sandwich.
- 1 each pig head, whole each pig head weighs ~8-10 pounds
- 1 quart water hot from the tap
- 3/4 cup salt, kosher
- 1/2 cup Dry Malt Extract (DME), dark available at Beer Beer and More Beeror dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup molasses, black strap,
- 1/2 cup Paprika sweet or smoked, ground
- 3 tablespoon peppercorns, black freshly cracked for maximum flavor and heat
- 2 - 3 tablespoon cayenne pepper, ground,
- 1 cup garlic, cloves peeled
- 2 each onions, yellow, large, peeled
- 8 each bay leaves preferably fresh
- 1 bunch thyme, fresh
- 48 ounce beer, such as American Amber | Red Ale, American Brown Ale, Porter or Smoked Porter, cold
- 1 quart water cold
- 4 each celery, stalks, washed and chopped
- 3 each carrots, peeled and chopped
- 3 each onions, yellow, large, peeled and chopped
- 2 each leeks, cut in half lengthwise, washed, and sliced, both white and green tops
- 1/2 cup garlic, cloves peeled
- 4 each bay leaves preferable fresh, torn to release more of their flavor
- 1 bunch thyme, fresh
- 2 tablespoon peppercorns, black whole
- 1 each Tasso Beer-Brined Pig Head recipe above
- 12 ounce beer, same as Tasso Beer-Brined Pig Head cure
- In the pitcher of a blender, add some of the hot water, along with the salt, DME or brown sugar, molasses, paprika, peppercorns, cayenne, garlic and onions. Add more water to fill the pitcher. Slowly increase the blending speed to high and purée all the ingredients to make a paste.
- Transfer the seasoning paste to a large container or stockpot. Add any remaining hot water, along with the bay leaves, thyme, cold beer and cold water. Mix all these ingredients together well.
- Add the rinsed pig head to the pot face up, making sure it is fully covered with the brine. Place this into a refrigerator, kegerator or cooler filled with ice to keep the brine below 40°F | 4°Cs Fahrenheit for 3–5 days. Move the head around daily to make sure it has new contact with the brine.
- If ordering a pig head isn’t your thing, substitute a bone-in pork butt for it in the Tasso Beer Brine.
- Traditionally, tasso ham is smoked after it is cured. I decided to simmer the skull to cook it, while at the same time, creating a wonderful and flavorful stock. Follow the recipe on the recipe page to create the two products you need to make a Tasso Beer-Brined Pig Head Gumbo that will knock the Mardi Gras beads right off your neck!
- In a 5-gallon stockpot, add the celery, carrots, onions, leeks, garlic, bay leaves, thyme and peppercorns. Remove the pig head from the Tasso Beer Brine and without rinsing it, place it onto the prepared vegetables, neck side down. Add the beer, then top the pot off with cold water, covering the snout by a few inches.
- Place the stockpot onto the stove and turn the heat to medium-low. Once the stock comes to a boil, adjust the heat to a very low simmer. Let the pig head cook for 7 – 8 hours. Check the water level periodically, making sure that evaporation doesn’t leave the head uncovered. If any scum or foam forms on top of the stock, remove | skim it using a ladle.
- When the timer goes off, turn off the heat and let the stock rest for about 30 minutes to make it easier to remove the head in one piece. Carefully strain the stock into the new pot or use pitchers or other large containers to hold it. Using two sets of tongs, pick up the head and transfer it to a sheet tray with rims. Drain any remaining stock into the new stockpot, leaving behind all the vegetables. Place the new pot back on a burner; bring the stock to a boil and reduce until the volume is about 2 gallons.
- While the stock reduces, using rubber gloves carefully remove the checks, jowl (or neck meat), tongue, skin, eyes, ears, and all the muscles around the eyes, jaw, neck and snout that is on the skull. All this meat is edible and very tasty. Remove any of the fat and reserve it for the gumbo’s roux.
- There are three plates of bone that meet and connect above the forehead. Insert a knife tip into the center of these three plates, and give the knife a twist to unlock the skull and remove the brain. Next, discard the skull pieces and peel the taste buds off the tongue, leaving behind the tender meat.
- Now, chop up all the meat pieces into half-inch chunks, lightly season with salt, mix together, and set aside. This meat can be stored in the refrigerator a few days in advance of making the gumbo. Strain the stock and cool it down to room temperature, then refrigerate or freeze it until you are ready to make the gumbo.