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Get a Head

Adventurous chefs tackle the nose-to-tail movement head-on

Author Amber Gibson Photography Michael Piazza

tastemakers2

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS – There’s more than one way to tackle a whole pig’s head—a rich, fatty, once-feared cut of meat that’s appearing on menus across the country. You can reach for the crunchy skin, grab a crispy ear or dig straight into the tender cheek meat. Or do as renowned Spanish chef Ferran Adrià did when he ordered one at Craigie on Main, in Cambridge, Massachusetts: He simply picked up the entire thing and started chowing down. 

“I went over to say hi,” recalls chef Tony Maws, “and he had pork fat all over his cheeks and crispy pork skin stuck in his stubble. He just looked at me and said, ‘Fantástico!’” 

Maws has been serving pig’s head since before it was cool, originally as a way to help his purveyors with a cut of meat that nobody else was ordering. The heads are split, brined, confited and finally roasted in the oven and served Peking duck–style with pancakes, boudin noir–hoisin sauce and spicy pumpkin sambal.

“It’s so visceral and makes us all get in touch with our inner carnivore,” Maws says. “I love the idea of making our guests roll up their sleeves and get messy in a so-called ‘fine dining restaurant.’” 

At CBD Provisions in Dallas, diners shred their own carnitas off the pig’s head and make tacos with the juicy jowls and crispy skin, which comes with roasted tomatillo salsa and fresh radishes. At Terrine in Los Angeles, the confited head is served whole with honey-fermented chili sauce, mint and Thai basil (it must be ordered four days in advance). And at Chicago’s Charlatan, diners actually line up early to snag one of the two heads available each night, which are served with cider-glazed apples and parsnips, black kale, bacon fat–roasted fingerling potatoes and pumpkin seeds to accent the meat.  

“You get to experience a bunch of different textures all in one roast,” Maws says. “Crackling skin, tender meat, succulent fat—each one is terrific in its own way and keeps you digging for more.”

Three More to Try

Willow Glen Meats & Smokehouse

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA

Available on request, the pig’s head is first vacuum-tumbled in a mesquite dry rub seasoning before being smoked for six hours. 

Cockscomb

SAN FRANCISCO

Chef Chris Cosentino balances char and acid by pairing his wood oven–roasted pig’s head with chicory, capers, parsley and lemon—plus a bit of blingy gold leaf on the snout. 

Beast + Bottle

DENVER

The pig’s head here is deconstructed; the tongue is removed and thinly sliced, the ears cooked overnight and fried into chips, the rest glazed with agrodolce and served with pickled vegetables and crostini.

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