From certain angles, the pig looks like he's smiling, though the empty eye-sockets give him a macabre appearance. Like a porky jack-o-lantern, he's presented to the table -- to ooh's, aah's, and maybe an eww or two -- then whisked back into ink.'s kitchen. When the dish is served again it's nearly unrecognizable: chopped, shredded and served with lettuce cups, pickled radishes, and maple vinegar for DIY, Asian-style pig head tacos.
That's right, folks, Michael Voltaggio's restaurant serves pig head...And you get to look the beast in the eye before digging in. The kitchen goes through about six whole pigs every week for their various dishes, and on several weekends a month -- call ahead to see if it's your lucky day -- they'll sous-vide the heads and fry them up whole for this $45 special. It's rare, but it's worth it.
There's a surprising amount of meat on the head, and as the cheeks are one of the most-worked muscles in the pig's body, the meat is tender and moist and more imbued with concentrated porky flavor than almost any other cut. Chef de Cuisine Cole Dickinson's favorite head bits? The inner cheek and the tongue.
A mile away, Petty Cash Taqueria is embracing the same nose-to-tail, "let's use every part of this thing" philosophy.
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Chef Walter Manzke buys a 350-pound hog a week from Cook Pigs Ranch outside San Diego -- where, he says, the pigs are able to pasture and graze on acorns -- and turns it into carnitas, tacos al pastor, and incredible pig-ear nachos. Manzke then braises the head, chops it up -- at Petty Cash, diners are not able to look their dinner in the eye -- and layers it with cheese in an $8 quesadilla, topped with a swirl of avocado crema. The head is vaguely reminiscent of dark turkey meat in texture and taste, with a funky depth of flavor that's a far cry from bacon and pork chops.
Your boring, stubborn (ahem, pigheaded) dining companions may balk, but the head meat is less fatty, more flavorful and full of protein. It's a no brainer.
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