I was inspired by the Tudor Monastery Farm Christmas special and then I volunteered to cook for our Midwinter Baronial Investiture, so I decided that I would investigate Boar’s Heads and present one at the beginning of the feast.
I looked at a number of resources and techniques (see below) and decided to use the method from “Cooking and Dining in Medieval England” by Peter Brears. It was well illustrated and seemed to be amenable to my timetable. Unfortunately, just after I had started the process, I read his references more closely and discovered that it was based on a recipe/technique from 1869!! On the other hand, it’s not very different from the recipe 12, at the bottom of this page.
Here’s the summary;
1. Scald and shave the head
2. Cut from the throat to chin
3. Expose the bottom jaw
4. Turn over and expose the skull
5.Remove the face, and cure it with salt etc;
I did this part on the weekend prior to the event. It was pretty straightforward to get a head from my local market – I had about 8 to choose from and they were cheap! Only $5, so I bought 2 in case of stuff ups. On a first reading of the instructions on Saturday, after a long day of pre-prep, we took only the skin and left the meat on the skull. Then on Sunday, as I prepared to cure the head I realised that I needed all of the meat and should have aimed for a bare skull – lucky I had two! I removed the skull from the head after cleaning the skin as best I could and cured it, and the extra pork shoulder (cut into strips), using the cure we had used for bacon last year:
Prague powder number 1 – 62.5g x7=440g
Dark brown sugar – 50g x7 = 350g
large crystal salt -45g x7 = 315g
After rubbing the cure in thoroughly, I put it all into a close fitting pot and stored it in the fridge. I had to be careful of the ears – I didn’t want to cure them with a fold! I rubbed the meat for 10 min each day after that.
6. Sew up the throat and other orifices
Did this the day before serving. This needed two people, one with an awl and the other with needle and thread. It took ages but will probably be faster next time. I accidentally grabbed polyester thread, but we googled the melting point and decided that it would be OK with being boiled. Next time I’ll make sure it’s cotton.
7. Pack with pork forcemeat and strips of cured port, sewing up the neck with a piece of cured belly-pork
The pork forcemeat included bacon, rabbit and more shoulder pork. I got the market to mince the pork and rabbit for me, and then minced the bacon in my food processor. I used the leftover zervelat spice mix to flavour it. I couldn’t really taste the rabbit and I’m not sure I would bother next time. There was too much forcemeat but that was handy because we put it in bags and boiled it with the head.
8. Bandage down the ears
9. Tie in a piece of linen cloth
10. Truss with bandage, boil, cool.
After all of the bandaging, the whole thing was boiled for 5 hours. It was 11pm before it finished. I took it out, unwrapped it, put it back in the pot for safe keeping and travel, put skewers in to hold the ears up straight while it cooled and put the lot in the fridge.
11. Rub with soot and lard, erect the ears, and garnish with the tusks and eyes, shield etc. in lard
I used black food colouring mixed with lard to colour the head. It was very effective but got black crap everywhere if we weren’t careful. The ear skewers were replaced with rosemary, the already cut and parboiled parsnip chips were raided for tusks (with a skewer for stability) and the carrot rounds and random round things I found in the kitchen were used for eyes.
I should have sliced the spare forcemeat and plattered it prior to the presentation, so the head table could have some while we cut the thing open and sliced it up. The black lard made cutting the head hard. I had intended the head only for the high table, but ended up having about 6kg of meat – plenty for everyone to have a taste.
Here are the other resources I found:
Nice description of how to present it but from 1934. Actually, I’m not even sure of the date.
A modern version in The Joy of Cooking, 1975
5 How to cook a wild boar’s head, also how to prepare a sauce for it.
A wild boar’s head should be boiled well in water and, when it is done, laid on a grate and basted with wine, then it will be thought to have been cooked in wine. Afterwards make a black or yellow sauce with it. First, when you would make a black sauce, you should heat up a little fat and brown a small spoonful of wheat flour in the fat and after that put good wine into it and good cherry syrup, so that it becomes black, and sugar, ginger, pepper, cloves and cinnamon, grapes, raisins and finely chopped almonds. And taste it, however it seems good to you, make it so.
7 To make a sauce in which to put a haunch of venison
Lard it well and roast it and make a good sauce for it. Take Reinfal and stir cherry syrup into it, and fry Lebkuchen in fat and chop good sweet apples, almonds, cloves, cinnamon sticks, ginger, currants, pepper and raisins and let it all cook together. When you want to serve it, then pour the sauce over it. It is also for marinating a boar’s head. Then cook it in two parts water and one third vinegar. The head of a pig is also made in this manner.
12 To make a boar’s head
Take a head, large or small, boil it in water and wine, and when it is done, see to it that the bones remain connected all together, and completely remove the meat from the bones of the head. Pull the rind off carefully, remove the white from the meat and finely chop the remaining boar’s head meat, put it in a pan, season it well with pepper, ginger and a little cloves, nutmeg and saffron and let it become good and hot over the fire in the broth in which the head was cooked. Afterwards take the cooked head and place it on a white piece of cloth and lay the skin on the bottom of the cloth, then spread the chopped meat once again on the head and decorate it with the separated skin. And if you do not have enough from one head, then cut the rind from two and decorate the head completely, as if it were whole. After that take the snout and the ears out of the cloth. Also draw the teeth together again with the cloth while it is still hot, so that the head remains intact and let it lie together overnight. In the morning cut the cloth again from the head, then it remains all together. Spread it with a mince of apples, almonds and raisins. Then you have a lordly dish.