Friday, October 21, 2016

Eastern European Style Head Cheese Platter












     Head Cheese!  
     Horror movie fans usually equate Head Cheese with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  A macabre Head Cheese perspective does have a way of initiating inquisitive responses from guests.  Any angle that creates interest is good for Head Cheese, because only a small niche demographic sector of the dining public actually likes this deli style offal product.  As one can imagine, Head Cheese is not an easy item to market to the masses.
     Head Cheese is not as scary as its reputation suggests.  Those who are in the know will proudly exclaim that good Head Cheese actually is a classic delicacy that should be revered for its authenticity.  
     The origins of Head Cheese lie somewhere in Northeastern Europe back in the Dark Ages.  The Barbarian clans and tribes simply wasted no food and every little scrap was used to make something nutritious.  Cooking pig skull bone scrapings in a gelatinous broth is the epitome of conjuring up an idea of what to do with the last bits of a slaughtered pig during cold weather.  After the broth chilled, the meat was surrounded with firm edible gelled aspic, which kept the meat moist for several weeks.  
     To make a hot meal, all one had to do was cut a thick slice of Head Cheese and warm it in a pot till the aspic liquified, to make an instant stew.  Eating the gelled Head Cheese cold was an option too and this tradition continued into this modern age.
     Modern Head Cheese is a delicatessen item that is shaped like a loaf or a log.  Head Cheese is most often thin sliced as a lunch meat.  A top quality Head Cheese can also be served on a banquet platter, just like a fine pâté.  
     Common grocery stores usually only stock national brand deli meats and the quality is really nothing to rave about.  Grocery stores usually only offer a couple kinds of packaged pre-sliced head cheese and these items are better off avoided.  
     So, where does a shopper find great traditional deli meats that look like they came from the old country?  Putting on the ethnic thinking cap will provide the answer!  Good Head Cheese can be found in German delis, Greek food markets, Amish markets and Eastern European food stores.  
     I shopped for Head Cheese at the Jones Eastern European Food Market in Las Vegas and found a nice selection.  They had a nice Head Cheese in a light translucent aspic that was lightly flavored with blood.  They also had a Black Head Cheese made with gelled blood sausage.  Those who prefer strong blood iron flavored items, like Blood Sausage or Black Pudding, will prefer Black Head Cheese.  The lighter flavored Head Cheese is featured in today's party platter recipe.                 

     French Baguette:   
     Fresh bread is always best!  Here is a link to the Baguette recipe in this website.
     • French Baguette Bread

     Sweet Mint Vinaigrette Potato Salad:
     This recipe yields 2 portions.
     Step 1:  Place 10 ounces of red bliss potatoes in a sauce pot.
     Cover with an extra 2" of water.
     Place the pot over medium high heat.
     Boil till the potatoes are fully cooked, but not mushy.
     Step 2:  Cool the potatoes under cold running water.
     Drain off the water.
     Chill the potatoes to 41ºF in a refrigerator.
     Step 3:  Cut the potatoes into thin slices and place them in a mixing bowl.
     Add 1/4 cup of thin sliced peeled celery.
     Add a few thin carrot strips for color.
     Set the bowl aside.
     Step 4:  Place 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar in a small mixing bowl.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of sugar.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of minced mint.
     Add 1 tablespoon of minced sweet onion.
     Add 2 pinches of sea salt and white pepper.
     Slowly stream 4 1/2 tablespoons of vegetable oil into the mixture, while whisking, to make a partially emulsified vinaigrette.
     Step 5:  Add just enough of the sweet mint vinaigrette to the potato mixture, to coat the ingredients with flavor.
     Chill the potato salad before serving.  

     Garlic Eggplant:
     This recipe yields 2 portions.
     Step 1:  Cut 1 trimmed medium size eggplant lengthwise into 3/16" thick slices.
     Place the eggplant slices side by side on a wire screen roasting rack.
     Sprinkle a few generous pinches of sea salt on both sides of the eggplant slices.
     Allow the eggplant to sweat for 20 minutes.
     Step 2:  Rinse the salt off of the eggplant under cold running water.
     Pat the eggplant slices dry with a pastry towel.
     Step 3:  Heat a wide sauté pan over medium heat.
     Add enough blended olive oil, so the oil is 1/4" deep.
     Add 5 whole garlic cloves.
     Pan fry the garlic till it starts to turn a golden color.  
     Step 4:  Pan fry a few of the eggplant slices at a time.
     Sauté on both sides, till a few golden brown highlights appear.
     *Remove the garlic cloves after they brown and discard them.  Add oil as necessary, because eggplant does soak it up.
     Step 5:  Place each sautéed eggplant slice on a platter as they finish.
     Season with sea salt and black pepper.
     Set the eggplant aside.

     Eastern European Style Head Cheese Platter:
     This recipe yields 1 banquet platter for 2 to 4 guests.
     Step 1:  Select 1" thick slice of a nice quality head cheese that weighs about 10 ounces.
     Place the head cheese on a ceramic plate that will fit on a larger serving platter. 
     Chill the head cheese plate to 41ºF.    
     Step 2:  Cut 7 or 8 long bias slices of baguette bread that are 3/8" thick.
     Brush the bread with melted unsalted butter (or olive oil).
     Heat a griddle to medium/medium low heat.
     Grill both sides of the bread till a few golden brown highlights appear. 
     Step 3:  Place the chilled dish with the head cheese on the center of a large serving platter.
     Step 4:  Mound a portion of the sweet mint vinaigrette potato salad on one side of the platter.
     Garnish the salad with a mint sprig.
     Step 5:  Fold the seared garlic eggplant slices in half and overlap them on the other side of the platter. 
     Sprinkle 2 pinches of minced parsley over the eggplant.
     Step 6:  Sprinkle a pinch of Hungarian Paprika over 4 hard boiled egg halves.
     Place the hard boiled egg halves on the platter.
     Step 7:  Arrange the grilled baguette slices on the back half of the platter.
     Garnish the platter with curly leaf parsley sprigs.

     Head cheese fans will surely like the look of this Eastern European style platter!

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