Its all in the head. Cabeça de Xara

Cooking can provide some of the most gracious and delicious solutions to environmental and farming problems. Too many cockerels causing trouble in the hen house? Get out the pot and we shall have coq au vin. What to do with that pig's head? Let's brew up a succulent and satisfying brawn, and while we are at it, we will use the trotters to make jambon persille - jellied ham. On the subject of nose-to-tail eating, about respecting the animal in life and death, about the practical sense of ancestral flavours, of peasant traditions of waste reduction, eating pig head could never seem anything like a cheap stunt. It's just an utterly sensible and right thing to do. Lovers of the pig will be aware that there's one much loved English man to go to for advice, the high priest of nose-to-tail eating, Fergus Henderson whose St John restaurant is conveniently located right next to the meat market, and whose book the Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking gives us most things we need to know on the subject of offal. Most of us are happy to read about hog-killings and to dig into the blood puddings, chitterlings,gunciale, toresmos or hams that result but there's still a certain resistance to eating the head. Maybe it's the singularly revolting names attached to it - there was no marketing team brainstorm behind 'brawn', 'tete de porc', the oddly named 'Bath chaps' or, God help us, 'head cheese'. When I unpacked our recent delivery from Feito no zambujal ,our trusted local pork purveyor, I found included a cabeça de xara (head cheese).This is the Portuguese equivalent of the Englishman´s brawn.I was duly fascinated, never having tried it, or brawn for that matter, but was pleasantly surprised particularly by the flavour of one of my favourite cuts, tongue, coming through.I enjoyed it to an uncommon and unforeseen degree. I recognized it as an Alentejan classic that I have never investigated, and it was well in line with the recent theme of offal appreciation and ‘whole-beast ’ cookery that I have become interested in.It offered me yet another glimpse of an everyday that has come to seem sadly distant and inaccessible for many. I think however I will leave the preparation of this Portuguese delicacy to our butchers themselves but take this chance to thank them for an opportunity to sample something that otherwise would have passed me by.


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