Monday, December 31, 2012

Tête fromagée- back to my French Canadian Roots!

Tête fromagée is a traditional French Canadian specialty usually made around the Holidays.  Now, when I say head cheese, I inevitably see noses wrinkle.  So, it's time to set the record straight because this dish is amazing!
Yes, it used to be made with a pig's head.  But, please, not anymore unless you happen to live down on the farm.  I use pork hocks and veal (osso bucco actually)  to make my tête fromagée.

No, it's not fatty.  People are probably thinking of paté or cretons which would be much fattier.  I use the veal in my recipe to actually cut down on the richness of the pork and to keep it lean.

Yes, it is gelled.  Simmering the bones "low and slow" results in natural gelling.

Please, don't buy tête fromagée from your local grocery store deli- I guarantee it won't be the same, not even close!  That stuff is probably chock full of additives and preservatives; it's definitely not the same thing.

Yes, it is delicious served on crackers or bread.  I like to have my tête fromagée on toast, sprinkled with a little salt and pepper.  Delicious.

My mom would  it make every December- the fridge shelves were lined with small bowls of "gelling" goodness.  Although it was made to serve up at Réveillon (that's the big party after Midnight mass) and Christmas dinner, it was also gifted to family and friends.

Learning to make tête fromagée was an adventure- it's one of those dishes that mama has no recipe for (I don't think she ever had a recipe for the dishes that really mattered!) and that you should just know instinctively how to make.  Every French Canadian cook has her/his own recipe.  My first few attempts generated a lot of questions- What's the ratio of pork to veal? "Three to one, but you can also use only pork".  How do I know it's cooked enough to gel?  "You'll just know."  Really!  What about seasonings and spices- how much do I use?  "Start with a little and taste it.  You'll know."  Ahemmm.

Well, I did learn and I look forward to making it every Christmas.  The following recipe will make about seven cups of tête fromagée which I divide into one-cup ceramic pots. The quantities listed are approximate :-)

For the stock:
2     medium pork hocks  (consider buying the freshest possible from a local butcher)
1     bone-in piece of veal  (usually osso bucco)
** I like to have approximately three parts pork to one part veal**
2     stalks celery, roughly cut in large pieces
2     med. onions, halved
2     med. carrots, cleaned and cut in large pieces
2-3 bay leaves
1     tsp black peppercorns
10   parsley stems
1-2 fresh thyme stems

For the tête fromagée:
2    tsp ground cloves
1    tsp ground allspice
1    tbsp dried thyme
1/2 tbsp dried savory
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely minced

Meat and vegetables simmering
Ask your butcher to cut the pork hocks in half. Place the meat and the other stock ingredients in a stock pot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then simmer slowly until the meat is tender and falling off the bones- approximately two-three hours.

Meat from two pork hocks and
one veal osso bucco
The KitchenAid meat grinder is
perfect for grinding the meat.  
Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.  Strain the stock and discard the vegetables.  When the meat is cool enough to handle, separate it from the the bones and the fat.  You can keep a little fat.  Grind the meat, using the coarse blade, either with a manual grinder or the grinder attachment for your KitchenAid.

Replace the strained stock and ground meat in a clean  pot and bring to the boil.  Lower the heat to simmer gently.  Add the tête fromagée spices/herbs and continue to simmer approximately thirty minutes.  Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding salt and pepper at this time as well.  The seasoning should be subtle, not overpowering (sorry, I can't be exact for you).  Continue to simmer and taste for another thirty minutes.  Remove from heat, stir in the finely minced fresh parsley.

This recipe makes about seven one-cup bowls
Ladle into molds/bowls- I find one cup containers work best for gift giving and serving.  Let cool on the counter for approximately thirty minutes then place in the refrigerator. It should gel within a few hours or overnight.  Once cool, cover tightly with plastic wrap.

This will keep in the refrigerator for about five days.  Enjoy!

There's more! If your tête fromagée doesn't gel overnight, you can put it back in the saucepan and simmer for an additional hour or so.  I've never had that happen, but if it does...

Also, it doesn't freeze well.  You could freeze it, but once it thaws, you need to reboil it so it can gel again.  Given that, I just make sure to eat it within the five days or so...

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