Food & Drink

The Pig Head Situation

Should You or Shouldn't You Eat a Pork Face?

The Pig Head Situation

Kelly O

THE CARNAGE There were a lot of leftovers. We left the head behind.

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Some people say it's wrong to eat something with a face. If, however, you are going to eat something with a face, should you be willing to eat the face of that something? Eyeballs included?

My father declined to go eat the pig face with me. On the phone, we discussed what you could eat of a pig's head. There might be some crackly skin. The meat of the cheeks, the jowls. "Maybe the tongue, if it doesn't get too tough during the roasting?" I said. My father grew up on a modest cattle ranch in Eastern Washington, and my family visited my grandmother there one weekend a month as she continued to raise cattle until she was 78 years old. Eating a pig head, it turns out, is something my father does not feel the need to do.

I located two other willing people—the smoked half pig head at Radiator Whiskey "feeds 2–3 people," costing $40—and called the new restaurant, across the hall from its sibling, Matt's in the Market. If you'd like to eat the face of a pig, it is advisable to call ahead.

"Let me check the pig head situation here," the man on the phone said.

A few nights later, the half pig head was placed in front of us, lying cheek side up. It rested on a large cutting board, with two dish towels under that. We were armed with sharp knives, big metal tongs, and skinny implements with a few tines on one end and a narrow spoon-shape on the other. Was there a particular way, we asked, we ought to do this? You want to just peel back the skin of the cheek, the server said; then there was other meat to be found pretty much all around.

The snout was right there, with a few little whiskers intact. The skin was burnished deep brown, hard as a rock; it peeled off more like a shell, in pieces, with a plate provided upon which to set these pieces aside. Underneath were striations of fat and meat; the cheek was very fatty, the meat quite pale, and dissolvingly soft, and not strongly flavored by smoke or anything. It tasted neutral, neither good nor bad. There was a lot of cheek meat. "It keeps on giving... the giving pig," someone said.

Behind the snout, the meat was darker pink, hammy-tasting, soft and flossy. Behind the jaw, more melty-soft meat; the jaw was there, intact, with teeth. Pigs do not practice good dental hygiene. The eyeball was there, too, sunken in rather deep; it was extracted in pieces, "like a botched Groupon surgery," someone said. Everyone ate a little bit of eyeball. Again, just soft.

After a while, we turned it over. The back side was more blackened. The brain was absent. The teeth were yet more evident. Someone pulled a strip off the jaw and chewed on the end. "Gum jerky," he said.

The tongue, it turned out, had wisely been braised separately, and a line of deep-pink cross sections of its musky, unsettlingly tender meat was laid out on the board, too. "It's always weird eating another creature's tongue," someone said. "It's just like French-kissing, but across the veil," someone else replied. The ear was also wisely cooked separately; subjected to smoking, it would've been as tough as the kind you get for a dog at the pet store. It'd been cut into very thin strips, dipped in a cornflake-crust batter, and deep-fried, making it taste as good as almost anything thin-sliced, cornflake-crusted, and deep-fried would.

Some non-head meat was also included on the platter: pale slices of roasted pork loin with a peppery crust; a large cross section of porchetta, which is all kinds of pieces of pig wrapped up together, featuring more fat and an outer ring of crispy skin. There was also a large blob of basil aioli, at least a full cup of stone-ground mustard, and a pile of pickled peppers.

All this would serve at least four people, if you could find that many people who could even stand it. None of it tasted especially spectacular. Even less per person would be more than plenty: The eight huge-shouldered men at a neighboring table could've had just one as an X-treme appetizer, then been able to say they did it, upload their photos, and still have some other, non-pig-face food. There might be a fight over the eyeball.

Radiator Whiskey recommends that you have their apple salad with a sweetish sherry vinaigrette ($10) with your pig head. It was good, and so was a beet salad, which comes with a ton of horseradish crème fraîche, lest your cholesterol go down momentarily ($10). A mountain of plain, steamed broccoli would probably be the best accompaniment. Directly afterward, I had a vision of a whole peeled grapefruit wrapped in crisp, cool lettuce leaves.

A little while longer afterward, there was queasiness, both physical and ontological. The modern urban body is not calibrated to handle this much pork and fat; different parties reported various digestive issues at varying times. More lingering was the feeling that we'd taken part in end-stage meat sports, an endeavor that would predictably enrage PETA and, just as predictably, cause the eight huge-shouldered men to say "Duuuuude!" and, in the end, make everyone feel at least a little queasy in one way or another.

Those who have already confronted the face of their meat—my father, for instance—don't want or need to eat a pig's face at Radiator Whiskey. Those who are disgusted and outraged will never try it, though it might be meaningful for them to do so. Those who just want the bragging rights could be said to be missing the point, except: Who can say what the point is, exactly? The pig heads come from Kapowsin Meats in Graham, Washington, but you won't find that fact, or the sourcing on any other meat, on the menu.

The nose-to-tail ethos is a sound one; if you're going to eat meat, you should make use, as much as you can, of the whole beast. The "meat trend" in general, on the other hand, has been laboring along for some time now, and it's time to move on. A magazine writer e-mailed me in April about "the meat of the moment" in Seattle; I said that the whole thing has cycled around so many times that it's become meaningless, if it ever had any meaning in the first place, and that conscientious eaters here just want high-quality, humanely raised, local meat, and they're willing to pay more for it and eat less of it in the service of avoiding the factory-farmed stuff. I said, maybe wishfully, "Meat: It is now officially post-trend. The end."

Radiator Whiskey is high-ceilinged and has a pleasant American pub feeling, with Johnny Cash playing and tools hung up on the walls. The menu is centered, purposefully, on brown liquor and on meat—you can get a fried pork shank, turkey drumstick confit, a lamb-neck sloppy joe, pork cheek stew ($13–$16). You can get fried beef-lip terrine ($10), which is like the meat version of tater tots. A plate of asparagus ($10), recently, came with big slabs of house-cured Canadian bacon piled on top. It does not feel like a current menu, either for springtime or for 2013. Those who like meat will like it. And those of you who truly want to eat a pig's face—you know who you are, and now you know where to go. recommended

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Comments (38) RSS

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Is this honestly considered good writing?
Language could not be butchered more if it were a half pig's head.
You shift from one pole to another, criticizing the establishment, then praising it in the very same sentence.
Posted by Cody Sumner on June 19, 2013 at 12:42 PM · Report this
Is this honestly considered good writing?
Language could not be butchered more if it were a half pig's head.
You shift from one pole to another, criticizing the establishment, then praising it in the very same sentence.
Posted by Cody Sumner on June 19, 2013 at 12:44 PM · Report this
3 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
Captain Jack Aubrey of the Patrick O'Brian "Master and Commander" novel series delighted upon a dinner of soused hog's face. I presume this is what Capt. Jack meant.
Posted by ctmcmull on June 19, 2013 at 2:21 PM · Report this
@1 This is great writing, Cody. Interested in trying to understand your critique though -- you only want writers to have one very simple and uncomplicated opinion and stick to it?
Posted by Christopher Frizzelle on June 19, 2013 at 2:39 PM · Report this
Pig face seems a little extreme. I have always wanted to make my own head cheese, though. It's great.
Posted by bozbozeman on June 19, 2013 at 3:06 PM · Report this
michamallett 7
I cook at Brave Horse Tavern and we're about to feature my headcheese on our smorgasbord, the third time we've done so. I take a pig head (or two!) and simmer them with mirepoix and a sachet of fresh herbs and spices, a couple lemons cut in half, a jot of sherry vinegar, and a good splash of Srirarcha. When the cheeks pull away from the skull, the heads are done simmering. Remove the heads from the stock and set aside so it's not finger-meltingly hot; in the meantime, strain the liquid and set back on the stove to reduce by half. When you can touch the meat without suffering severe burns, pick all the flesh from the skull. Under the eye sockets is a particular gold-mine (I prefer to carve the area free with a spoon in one swoop). Peel the tongue and mince fine to go with the picked, minced meat.

To season, I add a little sherry to the stock, a couple of apples in the reduction, and more hot sauce - just until it's exciting, not until you can actually TASTE hot sauce. I mix pickled shaved lemon rind, red pepper flakes, and minced parsley into the picked meat, then pour over the reduction (reduced by half) and chill in whatever little vessels I can find.

It's delicious! It's strange to the modern palate! We love it at BHT!
Posted by michamallett on June 19, 2013 at 6:04 PM · Report this
freesandbags 8
Posted by freesandbags on June 19, 2013 at 9:22 PM · Report this
WTF is this shit.
Posted by God from tukwila on June 20, 2013 at 12:29 AM · Report this
Yeah I might eat that shit if it was free and I was drunk, a 300 lbs fat ass, and too poor to buy food.
Posted by S T on June 20, 2013 at 1:29 AM · Report this
Great reading @ 6am! 40 bucks seems like the best deal in town....
Posted by gregeldo on June 20, 2013 at 6:30 AM · Report this
Fnarf 12
It was cooked separately? That doesn't seem like the right way to cook a pig's head; it should be cooked with the whole pig, preferably in a pit or on a spit. If you can't do that, I'd go for the approach @7 -- that sounds fantastic. I like a nice head cheese.
Posted by Fnarf on June 20, 2013 at 11:34 AM · Report this
When I was a kid I usta love head cheese, a deli meat made up of head meat bits in it's own gelatin.

But, my grandparents were German immigrants and that's the kinda stuff they ate.

I tried it again recently, and either that was inferior head cheese, or I'm not meant to enjoy head cheese as an adult.
Posted by judybrowni on June 20, 2013 at 11:41 AM · Report this
seatackled 14
Uh, don't Chinese delis routinely roast entire pigs, including the face? (Okay, no entrails.) Or is that only in other cities?

Back at the old Safeway on 15th Ave, before they tore it down and built the huge one that's there now, I would occasionally see a pig's head wrapped in plastic in the meat section. I was kind of surprised, since this wasn't in an "ethnic" neighborhood.
Posted by seatackled on June 20, 2013 at 11:52 AM · Report this
I prefer pork chops.
Posted by J.R. on June 20, 2013 at 11:53 AM · Report this
Where can I sign up for the meat agenda?
Posted by yeti on June 20, 2013 at 12:26 PM · Report this

My late grandfather was of German extraction & my grandmother would occasionally make head cheese. The first time I saw her put that pig's head in a giant stock pot on the stove really squicked me out (I was maybe 10 or 11), but after some serious convincing, I had to admit the end product tasted pretty darned good. (Never acquired a taste for the pickled pig's feet, though.) But, the pre-packaged stuff you buy in the Deli Aisle at your local grocer just doesn't compare to the traditional, home-made variety, like @7 describes - and which I now really want to try!
Posted by COMTE on June 20, 2013 at 12:40 PM · Report this
Fnarf 18
There's usually decent head cheese in the case at Husky Deli, along with other goodies like liverwurst and assorted stinky pates.
Posted by Fnarf on June 20, 2013 at 1:01 PM · Report this
Is your job on the chopping block again? You seem to resort to trolling the veg-crowd every time you need a boost to your replies and views. But hey, if it's working...
Posted by Brian2 on June 20, 2013 at 1:34 PM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 20
Is anybody besides Bethany Jean Clement still sitting around wringing their hands over PETA? Let it go, girl. Nobody else cares.

And if you can't stop thinking about some old animal rights group from the 90s, maybe you and PETA need to finally get a room, you feel me?
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn on June 20, 2013 at 1:36 PM · Report this
tournant 21
@7 That sounds amazing, thanks for describing your process.
Posted by tournant on June 20, 2013 at 3:20 PM · Report this
TheGlove 22
I thought Johnny Cash was dead.
Posted by TheGlove on June 20, 2013 at 3:58 PM · Report this
Roasted pigs head is delicious. We've cooked the one in "Beyond Nose to Tail" and it came out awesome. Bonus, by buying the whole head, and roasting half, we had the other half to make head cheese and aspic for soup dumplings (which we also used the leftover meat for after re-seasoning).
Posted by lone locust on June 20, 2013 at 4:09 PM · Report this
@4: Yes, that sounds right. And for dessert, either after that meal or another one, he and Stephen Maturin each had a helping of Spotted Dick. I always enjoyed the descriptions of food in those novels. I wonder if they are accurate in the description of the amount of vast quantities of alcohol the officers of the Royal Navy drank.
Posted by Eric from Boulder on June 20, 2013 at 5:05 PM · Report this
Purocuyu 25
In a soup, Mexican style is my fave. It's called posole. If I've been a good boy, I make it for my birthday every year.
Posted by Purocuyu on June 20, 2013 at 10:07 PM · Report this
sirkowski 26
Pigs head, pigs head, rolly-polly pigs head, eat them up, yum!
Posted by sirkowski on June 21, 2013 at 12:43 AM · Report this
Was this a restaurant review? Is it an expose? Is it a short story about a pig head? Is it fan - fiction? What is the point of this article?
Posted by ritzidean on June 21, 2013 at 4:28 PM · Report this
This is excellent writing. That is enough of a point in and of itself. And, to answer your question (@27), it is a restaurant review with an entertaining hook---what the heck is it like to eat an entire pig's head?

Posted by kittens on June 21, 2013 at 9:23 PM · Report this
inquiastador 29
Well, if you love hot dogs and/or real Chorizo as much as I do, you have eaten pig face, and more.
Posted by inquiastador on June 21, 2013 at 11:01 PM · Report this
Pretentious hipster bullshit. way to be utterly predictable in your attempt to be sensational.
Posted by X.G. on June 23, 2013 at 1:05 AM · Report this
What pretentious hipster bullshit.
Posted by X.G. on June 23, 2013 at 1:08 AM · Report this
32 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
"What is the point of this article?"

Its to give yuppie seattle people an idea of more sick things they can eat.

Next in this fine series will be unpaid douchebag stranger employee hunting wolves from a helicopter then taking the carcass to be prepared at a fancy restaurant.
Posted by S T on June 23, 2013 at 3:06 PM · Report this
So......this is the latest edgy food trend in Seattle?
Um, uh, urp.......yuck!

Why on earth would I want to eat anything, no matter HOW incredibly seasonsed, that looks like Rodney Tom, Tim Eyman, Doug Ericsen, Jason Overstreet, Vincent Buys, Seth McFarlane, John Boehner, Dubya, Dick Cheney, Mitt Romney and his bobbleheaded sidekick Paul Ryan, Rick Santorum, John McCain and the Koch brothers, et. al ad nauseum?

Eesh. How much pigface is in ham and bacon?
Posted by auntie grizelda on June 24, 2013 at 2:36 PM · Report this
I really don't understand this review. It seems like a flimsy platform to blast "Nose to Tail" eating as a trend, but then defend it as a philosophy. If you didn't like the flavors of the pig head, then just say it and move on to reviewing the rest of the menu, service and atmosphere. By making such a big deal of one menu item, the reviewer seems like yet another squeamish American who can't deal with something more than a pork chop. I'd rather see someone take aim at the overpriced braised short rib or pork belly trend rather than what seems to be reasonably priced pig head.

The pig head was bland and larger than described. Got it. But after this I have no idea whether or not I'd like Radiator Whiskey.

That seems like a failure of the review.
Posted by Monk on June 26, 2013 at 11:53 AM · Report this
ScrawnyKayaker 36
Burnished. I do not think that word means what you think it means.

OTOH, "end-stage meat sports" made me laugh out loud, so I give this an "I wish I had written that" out of 10.
Posted by ScrawnyKayaker on June 27, 2013 at 2:10 PM · Report this
@36: It really was made shiny/lustrous, as Merriam Webster defines "burnish" (though just by cooking, not by Merriam's optional rubbing—or so one hopes).

And thanks!
Posted by Bethany Jean Clement on June 27, 2013 at 3:17 PM · Report this
I didn't find the answer for how long to simmer the head bone to make stock in this discussion, but for any one who is on the fence about the concept, here's my two cents. I've eaten the half a hog head twice at Radiator over the last six months and found the whole event to be a great, unique group dining experience. The head is delicately brined without a huge blast of salt or sugar, then smoked without an over whelming wood flavor or aroma. The meat is succulent and sweet because of the gentle treatment. The side selections are interesting, such as the watermelon salad with chile vinaigrette. The service is good. They are proud of their cocktails and wine list. Matt's owners have done a good job on adding Radiator to the mix at the Market. It's fun to go there just for a drink and enjoy the popcorn seasoned with buttermilk powder.
Posted by Cooking and reading everyday on August 31, 2013 at 3:43 PM · Report this

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