Roasted Suckling Pig Face, For When You're Feeling Ambitious

Rachel Tepper Paley
April 28, 2014

Photo credit: Evan Sung

Roasting a whole suckling pig at home might be more trouble than it’s worth, but here’s a suggestion: Opting only for the head provides a challenge that’s a touch more reasonable. An entire pig may not fit in a frying pan, but a head will!

Not that roasting a whole suckling pig head is a walk in the park. A recipe from chef Marc Forgione’s forthcoming eponymous cookbook, which hits shelves April 29, requires a) rubbing the head with spices and letting it sit in the fridge overnight, b) at least five hours of your time, and c) the execution of several recipes-within-recipes. (A pickle brine recipe, a spice rub recipe, and a blackened onion recipe.) 

But hot damn, does the final result look smack-you-in-the-face gorgeous. Fresh rosemary, thyme, and bay leaf add fresh, herbaceous notes, and the vinegar-lashed cauliflower, cucumber, and onion pickles served alongside it pack an acidic punch. Right before serving, the pig head is popped into a 400-degree oven to crisp its skin to a golden lacquer.

You’ll have friends cooing, “We’re not worthy!”—so long as they don’t mind eating a dish that’s staring straight at them.

Pig heads: not for the squeamish.

Suckling Pig Face with Mustard, Toast, MF Pickles, and Tahoon
Courtesy of Marc Forgione
Serves 4

6 whole cloves
1 recipe onion brûlée (see below)
1 recipe “The Cure” (see below)
One suckling pig head, split
3 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
3 sprigs fresh thyme
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 fresh or ½ dried bay leaf
8 cups canola oil
2 heads garlic, halved
1 medium carrot, peeled
1 cup tahoon cress or chiffonade of watercress
1 recipe MF pickles (see below)
8 thick slices crusty bread, toasted
1 cup grainy mustard

1. Stick the cloves into the Onion Brûlée and set aside.
2. Rub The Cure over the pig head, making sure it is evenly distributed. Refrigerate, uncovered, overnight.
3. Preheat the oven to 275ºF; position the rack in the middle. Rinse the pig head under cold water, pat dry, place in a roasting pan, and let the head come to room temperature.
4. Place the peppercorns, fennel seeds, thyme, rosemary, and bay leaf in a 2-ply piece of cheesecloth and tie the ends together to form a sachet; set aside. In a large stockpot set over medium-high heat, combine the Onion Brûlé, oil, garlic, carrot, and sachet. Heat the oil over medium heat until it registers 200ºF on a deep-frying thermometer. Pour the warm oil and contents of the pot over the pig head. Cover everything with parchment paper, then wrap tightly in foil. Roast the pig head for 3 hours. Transfer to a rack and let cool in the oil at room temperature for 2 hours before refrigerating overnight.
5. When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 400ºF; position the rack in the middle. Set the roasting pan over 2 burners on low heat until you can easily pull the head out of the oil. Transfer the pig head halves to another baking pan and warm them in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the skin is crispy and shiny (the skin should look lacquered). Remove the head from the oven and transfer to a platter. Sprinkle some cress around and serve, immediately, with the MF Pickles, toasted bread, and mustard.

For onion brûlée:

1 yellow onion, halved and peeled

Warm a dry skillet over high heat. Add the onion halves, cut side down, and sear until blackened. Remove the onion from the heat. Use immediately.

For “The Cure”:

1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
3 tablespoons red pepper flakes
Leaves from 2 sprigs fresh thyme
Leaves from 1 sprig fresh rosemary
3 fresh or 1 1/2 dried bay leaves, crushed

In a large bowl, combine the salt, sugar, peppercorns, red pepper flakes, thyme leaves, rosemary leaves, and bay leaves. Use immediately.

For MF Pickles:

1 cauliflower head, cut into florets
2 Kirby cucumbers, sliced
1 Vidalia onion, julienned
3 cups white wine vinegar
1/2 cup drained capers
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons mustard seeds
1 tablespoon ground turmeric

In a large nonreactive bowl, toss together the cauliflower, cucumbers, and onion. Divide the vegetable mixture between 2 quart-size jars. In a medium nonreactive saucepot, combine the vinegar, capers, sugar, salt, mustard seeds, and turmeric with 1 1/2 cups of water, and bring everything to a boil over high heat. Pour the marinade over the vegetables, and let stand at room temperature for at least 3 hours before serving. The pickles will keep in the covered jars in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

Excerpted from MARC FORGIONE: RECIPES AND STORIES FROM THE ACCLAIMED CHEF AND RESTAURANT (c) 2014 by Marc Forgione. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.