Hunan (China) cured, smoked, sous vide Pig's Head

Discussion in 'Nose to Tail' started by mark2014, Oct 30, 2014.

  1. mark2014

    mark2014 Newbie

    Here is a little known recipe for pig's head. The author, writing in English, must be Chinese. I post here to see if anyone else knows about this and can identify the woods or materials used in China to smoke the head. I know the Chinese use Cypress for some of their smoking woods. The recipe author uses wood found in or around Vancouver Canada, q.v., below. Mark2014 says: Googling “Hunan Bacon” didn’t uncover very much information. Even using Chinese characters. Plenty of pig's head for sale, no info or how-to.

    "The pig's head is cured, smoked and then sous vide to break down the collagen. Very unique.

    Aroma is very important when we taste our food. If we take away our sense of smell chances are we cannot correctly identify a lot of what we eat. In cooking, aroma is important too. It’s nice when you come home or visit a home that smells of great food. But that is not always a good thing. The smell or aroma that is in the air is actually potentially lost flavour that has dissipated from the food you are cooking. Ideally you want to trap all the good flavours into your food item, not lost into the air. That is one reason why it’s a good idea to leave the pig head in the bag and not open it right after it has finished cooking.

    You can see all the layers of porky goodness. That’s all good and dandy, but the real question is, what does it taste like? Well the first thing I notice is the the smell. The unique smokiness that is sweet and intoxicating, from the blend of smoke and the brandy. The next thing is the texture. The high temperature has rendered the fat nicely and cooked all the meat and cartilage till it is soft and dare I say ‘tender’. Pork fat has to be cooked over 70 degrees Celsius to start breaking down. Sous Vide at 84 degrees for 24 hours this pork is ready to eat.

    This is very different than a traditional bacon, that is dry cured or wet cured. I took a small piece to taste and found the texture very tender but without the heat of the Szechuan pepercorn. My initial impressions are that it was indeed a unique piece of pork product and very versatile. The fat rendered very well; moist and flavourful without being fatty.

    Now that the Hunan Bacon is done, let’s get cooking. I tried three abbreviated recipes featuring this ‘bacon’.

    1) Linguine ala Carbonara with Hunan Bacon (without any parmesan or cream)

    2) Stir Fried Garlic Stems (蒜苗) with Hunan Bacon

    3) A Sichuan dish - Fuqi feipian (夫妻肺片)

    I was at Langley Market in Lansdowne Mall when I came across what appeared to be a Pig head? I have never seen a pig head in a supermarket before. I was thinking if it was indeed actually a pig’s head? So I took my iPhone out to take a picture. Well it got me thinking about what I could do with pig’s head.

    I knew I was going to sous vide it. The center cartilage of the pig’s ear is crunchy; the controlled temperature would tenderize the cartilage without rendering too much fat off. I wasn’t sure what I was going to make. Making head cheese would be an easy way out. In head cheese you would boil the head and pull the meat and make it into a gelatinous(aspic) deli product. But I’ve yet to taste a delicious head cheese. To be fair, I haven’t tried many head cheese products. I do however remember something that I had enjoyed. Hunan Bacon! That is Hunan not Human Bacon. So why not make a Hunan Bacon with this pig head.

    BACON …… is there anything better tasting and more confusing than this cured pork product?

    There are hundreds of bacon varieties, each utilizing different pork parts (normally side, belly or back). In North America alone there are multiple options. From the cut of the pork, the method of curing, whether it is smoked, how it was smoked. The same bacon in the United States may be referred differently in Britain, Australia or even in Canada.

    In Europe the love of bacon is even more evident. Pancetta from Italy is the like bacon’s older and wiser brother. In Italy, they cure pork jowl to make bacon like product called guanciale. In Germany they call bacon “Speck”, which often refers to prosciutto. Speck is also sometimes a product like lardo, which is an Italian cured fatback.

    Asians like bacon as well. The Japanese have bacon similar to the US. Though they prefer their bacon cooked medium and not crispy. Also popular in Japan is Bara which is uncured belly slices. Koreans also have a pork belly bacon. They even name their bacon by the layer of fat, Samgyeopsal, ogyeopsal and chungyupsal. Sam is 3, O is 5 and Chun is thousand . :=D

    And the Chinese have been curing pork for thousands of years. The most visible variety is Lap Yuk. This is often a cured belly with soy, sugar, rice wine and spices. I haven’t found a particularly good Lap Yuk in the North American markets. In my humble opinion, most of the commercially available Lap Yuk and Lap Cheong (Chinese sausage) is really mediocre.

    Back to the Human Bacon, err… Hunan Bacon. There wasn’t a recipe online, but a mention of Fuchia Dunlop’s Cookbook that called for a cure of salt, sugar, cinnamon, Szechuan peppercorn, star anise, Shaoxing wine and cloves. That was enough to get me started. Fortunately, I had acquired some Szechuan peppercorn that someone had grown. Supposedly they were spicier than the store bought ones. So I was excited to test this recipe out with them.

    I broke down the step as follows:

    1) Debone the Pig Head
    2) Brine the pig overnight 12-24 hours
    3) Make a dry rub/cure
    4) Cure the pig for 2 days
    5) Cold smoke the pig for up to 2 hours
    6) Sous vide at 85° centigrade or 185° Fahrenheit degrees for 18 hours
    7)Ice bath and set for a day or two.

    Right now I am at the dry curing stage. I am hoping that the dry cure will intensify the flavor of this bacon.

    So here is my recipe for Hunan Bacon using a Pigs Head.

    You will need:

    -5 pound of deboned pigs head with the jowl and tongue (talk to you butcher and see if they will source and debone it for you)

    for the Basic Brine:

    3 lt water
    3/4 cup Kosher Salt
    3/4 cup Brown Sugar
    + any Herbs and aromatics as you desire

    I added star anise, cinnamon, garlic

    For the cure:

    10 g curing salt
    20 g kosher salt
    30 g brown sugar
    1 cup (250 ml) Szechuan pepercorns
    5 whole Star Anise
    50 ml 5 spice powder
    1 whole cinnamon stick
    10 ea cloves
    30 ml XO brandy (you can sub Shao Xing)
    45 ml light soy
    45 ml dark soy

    Cold Smoke:

    2 part Maple wood chips
    1 part Cherry wood chips
    40 ml Sugar
    40 ml Red rice
    40 ml Flour
    1 whole Star anise (break into pieces)

    Here are the steps and procedure:

    Debone the Pig Head if you haven’t had your butcher do it already.

    Here is a video of Chris Constantino butchering his pig head for porchetta di testa:

    Next make a brine.


    Bring water to a boil and add sugar and salt. Make sure sugar and salt are melted completely. I let it boil for at least a couple of minutes. Then I add the aromatic turn heat down to low and let it simmer for another 3-5 minutes. Make sure brine is completely cooled down before adding the pork. I often will use 2/3 the water and add ice at the end to cool it down quicker.

    Add the pigs head and make sure it is entirely covered in the brine. Turn or move the pig head at least once or twice during brining to ensure the brine is absorb by all the meat evenly. Leave in brine for at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours. Prepare the cure.


    Take the Szechuan peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon stick, cloves and toss it in a wok or non stick pan to warm up the spices. Add the 5 spice powder. Add this spice mix to the curing salt, kosher salt and brown sugar. Mix through

    Take the cure and rub it liberally over the inside and outside of the pigs head.

    Let the head rest on a rack in the fridge cover in a garbage bag.

    Let it cure for 2 days. Check on it periodically. There should be a little liquid on the bottom of the pan. Prep the smoker.


    See the instructions for your wood chips. You may need to soak the wood before using it. Instead of just water you can use some flavouring in the liquid or juice.

    Toss all the ingredients together. If you have a smoker follow your smokers instruction. Or you can use a wok.

    I make a pouch with heavy duty aluminum foil. Start the fire and get it going. I use the heat from my BBQ and a torch on top to get it nice and smoky. Turn off the heating elements.

    Move the pouch to one side and let it continue to smoke away. On the cool side add your pork and close the lid. Leave it in there 20 mins – 2 hours.

    Sous Vide:

    Before I vacuum seal the pig head, I would cut a little piece and cook it off. Now is a good time to test the seasoning.

    You can add more seasoning or smoke it longer depending on your personal preference.

    Place a cheese cloth, table cloth, bib, jeans under the pig head. Fold an end piece over, tuck it under the pig head and roll like making a sushi roll. Roll it over and the bring the ends it and tighten the wrap. You can also use butcher’s twine to hold the pieces into place.

    Vacuum seal the wrapped pigs head and Sous Vide it for 85° centigrade or 185° Fahrenheit degrees for 14-24 hours.

    Drop the bag into an ice bath and leave in the fridge for a day or two. Cut open the bag and it is ready to the used.

    If there are interested I can suggest a shorter version of this recipe. That would not require using a food saver and immersion circulator."
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2014
  2. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    1) Debone the Pig Head
    2) Brine the pig overnight 12-24 hours
    3) Make a dry rub/cure
    4) Cure the pig for 2 days
    5) Cold smoke the pig for up to 2 hours
    6) Sous vide at 85 degrees for 18 hours
    7)Ice bath and set for a day or two.

    I know that is Degrees C.... but it should be noted for the folks that don't know.....

    Click on the pencil on the lower left of the post and edit the post to reflect Deg. C..... Thanks much...... And you might add the Deg. F also....

    Last edited: Oct 31, 2014

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