Head Cheese Demystified – You Have Made It Many Times Without Realizing It

Discussion in 'Sausage' started by seminole, Dec 2, 2007.

  1. seminole

    seminole Fire Starter

    Head cheese or brawn or souse is in fact not a cheese, but rather a jellied loaf or sausage that may or may not be stuffed into a large diameter casing. Traditionally it was made entirely from the pork head meat but today people who live in large cities can not buy pork head anymore. But… we can make a great tasting product by using different, easier available cuts of meat like pork picnic and shanks (hocks-pig feet).

    Many of us have made a head cheese before without even realizing it and often poultry meat or fish and commercial gelatin were used. Every time we cook meat stock or chicken soup we are making a weak version of a head cheese. The reason the soup does not become a meat jelly is because there is too much water in it. Everybody knows that a good soup is always based on bones. A top restaurant continuously simmers bones with vegatables in a huge pot to create a good stock which will become a base for different famous soups. Then if you add tomatoes you will get one kind of soup, if you add mushrooms you will get another kind and they both will taste wonderful.

    If you want to create a top quality brawn (UK English name for a head cheese) don’t think about making a sausage but think in terms of cooking a very hearty soup which will contain meat with bones and very little water. This is it, nothing else is needed. A head cheese is nothing else but a meat jelly and many of them are not stuffed into casings at all.

    1. Meat selection. You need meats that will contain a lot of connective tissue (collagen) as this will become gelatin when cooked in hot water at 185-194 F (85-90 C). Then upon cooling this gelatin becomes jelly which will beautifully bind all meat pieces together. Commonly available meat cuts that will produce a natural gelatin are pork picnic (front leg) and pig feet (hocks).

    2. Making stock. Cover meats with about 2 inches of water and simmer for about 3 hours at above temperatures (around 190 F). Next add the following into the pot: peppercorns, onion, celery, bay leaf, carrot or whatever you like in your soup. Don’t add garlic yet as it will lose all of its flavor by the time meats are cooked. Create your own recipe as you are making this brawn for yourself. Meats are done when they easily separate from bones.

    3. Strain the liquid and save (this is your jelly). It is easy to remove bones when meat is still warm. Chop meats the way you like (easier to chop them when cool), the common rule is that the leaner the meat the bigger the piece (1†for example) and the fatter the meat, the smaller the piece. You will have some cooked skin with fat on it so dice it into ¼†cubes or strips. You are making traditional head cheese and there is sense to discard anything but bones. Slice carrots and place them on the bottom of the container.

    4. Taste your stock for saltiness and add some smashed garlic.

    5. Place meats in containers, then pour stock over them.

    6. Leave for 2 hours at room temperature for gelatin to start setting. Place in a refrigerator and don’t panic if it is not solid yet. Let the nature take its course- in about 3 hours it will become a soft jelly. It needs up to 18 hours to fully set, but 12 hours are the most crucial.

    7. Leave overnight and eat for breakfast with bread and some vinegar. It is eaten cold.

    It beats me why people spend hours on the Internet looking for this magical recipe that does not exist. You don’t need a recipe if you know the basic technology for making a product and a recipe can be invented on the fly. Did your mother need a recipe to cook a soup? And if your sausages are sometimes different, who cares. You are not a commercial producer that is making 5000 pounds of a head cheese every day. You don’t need a recipe, just cook your meat stock the way you like and your head cheese will turn out to be perfect.

    Note: a commercial gelatin can be used and a meat jelly can be produced that will contain only lean pieces of meat like ham, loin, poultry or even fish. Such jelly will be very clean and fancy decorations can be employed. If you want to learn more visit and see some photos go to:

  2. richtee

    richtee Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    There is a Hungarian dish called kocsonya that uses pig feet and ears, and is made pretty much the same way. Think I posted a recipe for it here a wile back. Thanks for the explanation, maybe some folks will try head cheese now! It IS delicious!

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