Leche of Brawn
“Tyrion was toying with a leche of brawn, spiced with cinnamon, cloves, sugar, and almond milk, when King Joffrey lurched suddenly to his feet. ‘Bring on my royal jousters!’ he shouted in a voice thick with wine, clapping his hands together.” -Storm of Swords
It’s slightly unclear as to what exactly a leche of brawn was to the medieval diner. It seems to have evolved from once being a simple cut of pork to what we know as brawn, or today as headcheese, sometime between the Middle Ages and Victorian Age. We’ve opted for an historical version of the brawn, and in order to keep the disembodied craniums in the kitchen to a minimum, have made only one version. Perhaps there is a modern version in our future, who knows!
With a binding aspic similar to that used in our jellied calves’ brain recipe, this dish is salty, savory, and sweet at the same time. Essentially a rustic, primitive version of a mortadella, the brawn is perhaps not the first choice for out modern palates, but it is easy to see why this would be an historical staple food. Cheap to make, packed with nutrients, and essentially self-preserving, a brawn like this would be gold in a medieval kitchen. George’s addition on non-traditional spices and accompaniments (cinnamon, cloves, almond milk) gave our Victorian recipe a decidedly medieval turn toward the unexpectedly sweet, adding another layer of complexity to the dish.
Recipe for Leche of Brawn
Brawn. — Prepare a hog’s head, by cutting off the ears, taking out the brains, and cleaning generally; rub in plenty of salt, and let it drain a whole day and night. Rub in two ounces of saltpetre and the same quantity of salt, and let it stand for three days. Next, put the head and slat into a pan and cover it with water for two days. Now, wash it well from the salt, and boil till the bones can be easily removed. Extract these and take off the skin of the head and tongue carefully. Chop up the meat into bits, but do not mince it, and season with pepper, salt, an shallot to taste. Place the skin of one half of the head into a pan, closely fitting it, and press into it the chopped head and tongue. When this is done, take the other skin in the pan and proceed as before, and turn out when cold. Should the head be too fat, add some lean pork. For a sauce, boil a pint of vinegar with a quart of the liquor in which the head was boiled, and two ounces of salt, and our over the brawn when the liquor is cold. The hair should be carefully removed from the ears, and they must be boiled till tender, the divided into long narrow pieces and mixed with the meat. Time to boil, from two to three hours. Probably cost for a pig’s head, 5d. per pound. – Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery, 1883
- 1 pig’s head, cut into manageable pieces that fit in your largest stockpot
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- handful parsley, chopped
- small onion, chopped
- 3 egg whites, beaten to soft peaks
- 1/4 tsp. cinnamon, ground cloves, sugar
- 1/4 cup almond milk
Thoroughly rinse the pig head, singeing off hairs with a kitchen blow torch, and remove the brain. Cut off the ears and tongue. Rub with kosher salt and refigerate overnight.
Rinse the head, ears, and tongue, and place in a large stockpot. Fill with water and boil for three hours, or until cooked through. Remove the head, ears and tongue from the pot, reserving the stock, and allow the meat to cool enough to be handled. Chop the meat. Season with cinnamon, ground cloves, and sugar (these spices can also be added on top of the final product if you don’t want to add to the initial mixture).
Pour 6 cups of stock into a new saucepan and allow to cool to at most room temperature. Add the chopped parsley and onions to the beaten eggs, and fold into the cooled stock. Slowly bring back up to heat and simmer for 15 minutes, making sure to create a hole in the middle of the egg float. This step will clarify the aspic broth.
Skim the cooked egg whites off the top of the stock, and continue simmering the broth until it is half the volume at which it started. Season with salt after the aspic has been reduced, and remove from heat.
Pack the meat into a terrine, or dish of your choice. Pour the reduce stock over the meat, cover with cling film, and refrigerate overnight. Turn out the brawn onto a serving dish, dipping the underside of the terrine dish into hot water if the brawn sticks. Serve with almond milk and crackers.