La Chatte Gitane (or The Gypsy Cat) was the name we chose for our cottage in France at the time. We chose it while on the road, moving house the first time round, from Ireland to France with 2 dogs and 7 cats in the car.
This blog began its insignificant life as a recipe book for friends and family who would ask me repeatedly for a recipe of this, that and the other.
Since then it has taken many different directions, like we did and like gypsies tend to do. Sometimes making a U-turn and revisiting familiar roads and taking a break when necessary.
You'll find recipes here, but also musings about the places we've called home, the gardens that we've established, not always successfully, the homes we've improved and the environments we've lived in. Currently, after yet another stint in Ireland, we're back in France @ Le Mas d'Ayen

Monday, November 23, 2015

Brawn or Head Cheese

You really didn't want to see this first thing, did you ?
My apologies. The worst is yet to come. So vegetarians, vegans, people who don't eat pork or people who are just squeamish, look away now.
We keep a few pigs and even though I can get a bit squeamish myself, I toughen myself up when it comes to the slaughter and using as much of the pig as possible. Some things get cooked for the dogs, mind you, but in general all is used. So too is the head.
In Belgium it is still very common in the charcuterie department at the butcher's or supermarket to buy slices of  'geperste kop'  or 'kip kap' . The first one consisting of larger pieces of meat and gelatin. The latter is when the meat has gone through a mincer, also containing gelatin, but less visible.  We eat it between slices of bread and spread mustard over it.
I was pleasantly surprised when we moved to France and noticed that you could just buy half a pig's head in the supermarkets. How cool is that ?

I ask the butcher to saw the head in half and remove brains and eyes (can't deal with that just yet). When it comes back from the butcher's it goes straight into the freezer until the time comes I feel I can deal with it.
That time came when my mum was here and she prompted me to get the head out.
The recipe I use as a guide comes from a Flemish/Dutch website But as per usual I don't follow any recipe to the letter. Here is what we did.

for the first stage
  • 4 carrots, peeled and halved or cut into large chunks
  • 2 leeks, cleaned and chunked
  • 4 large celery sticks, cleaned and chunked
  • 2 onions, peeled and (no, not chunked) left whole and pricked with 4 cloves each
  • a bunch of thyme, parsley and a few bay leaves
  • 1 pig's head, halved, tongue, included.
  • 4 trotters (if you have them)
  • bones (if you have them)
  • a bottle (or most of it) of dry white wine (keep a couple of glasses behind if you feel like you need it)
  • a scoop of salt (2 tbsp) and black pepper
  • cold water
for the second stage
  • 2 tbsp lard, butter or oil
  • 3 onions, peeled and finely chopped
  • 20 ml plain white alcohol vinegar
  • 8 gelatin leaves
for the first stage
  • Put all the ingredients into a large pot and add enough cold water to just cover everything.
  • Bring to the boil and simmer for a good 3 hours
  • The meat should be tender and start falling away from the bone
  • Take the head and other meat out of the pan and let it cool for a while or completely, that is up to you. But it is easier to get the meat off when it is still warm.

  • We (my mum and I) left everything to cool off during the night as it was too late in the day to finish this.
  • Have a few bowls at the ready. One for the good clean meat, one for the stuff that you can give to the dogs, one for the stuff you want to bury in your backyard (or dispose of in an appropriate manner)
  • Start the process of removing every little scrap of meat from the bones or let your mum do this. Just for your information, the tongue needs to be peeled from its outer lining.

  • While she does that you can busy yourself with the stock. When it has cooled it is easy to scoop off excess fat

  • When you've done that bring it back to the boil and cook ferociously till reduced considerably.
  • Strain the stock through the colander, lined with a clean tea towel or cheese cloth that you have positioned over a clean cooking pot.  Let gravitation do it's work, no need to start pushing or squeezing.

for the second stage
  • Sautee the onions in your chosen fat/oil till translucent. You might want to add a splash of the stock if it gets too dry.
  • Chop the meat you want to use in the size that you are comfy with. and add together with the onions to the stock.
  • Bring everything to the boil again, and add the vinegar. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if necessary. Take off the heat.
  • The gelatin leaves. Soak them in a bowl of cold water for 5 to 10 minutes. Take them out and squeeze the excess water out somewhat. Stir them into the meat mixture. They dissolve pretty quickly.
  • Ladle into a large or several smaller dishes. I used smaller ones, so I could freeze them individually.
  • Leave to cool completely and put them in the fridge overnight.
  • Next day you can release the brawn from the bowls by sliding a knife between meat and bowl. Turn it upside down and voilà 
  • Freeze what you won't be using in the next few days.

This, to me, would make a great contribution to a buffet table, served with cornichons (small vinegary gherkins), mustard and some rustic bread.

NOTE : You can easily imitate the brawn with less provocative meat.  When I was much, much younger I have been known to imitate this with stewing pork. These days you can even buy pig cheeks in the supermarkets, which would work very well. You would have to use many more gelatin leaves though, as you'll miss out on that due to lack of skin and bones.

Bon appétit !
Patricia xxx...x


  1. is zeer lekker jummy jummyii

  2. Oh gawd .... I would just take the wine from the ingredients list and drink the lot. I'm off now .... bye bye Lol xx


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