Head cheese (yum!), otherwise known as brawn, is a terrine traditionally made with scraps of meat from animals such as pigs or cows and set in aspic or jelly made from the slow cooking of the head of the animal. This traditional European peasant dish is still popular in some countries. In the UK however, we are losing some of these dishes that would have made the most of every tiny morsel. Nothing is wasted with a dish like brawn. Thankfully the concept of nose to tail eating is coming back in to vogue, but it also now tends to have a hefty price tag. If you buy cheap, gristly cuts of meat and cook them long and slow, the meat will be tender and far easier to digest while containing way more nutrients than the lean muscle meats like chciken breast or pork loin.
Slow-cooking the head of an animal produces a gelatin-rich broth, teaming with nutrients and the gelatin, giving the jelly-like quality, allows a terrine to be set. Gelatin provides the body with lots of collagen, the most abundant protein in the body and required for good joints, healthy skin, hair and nails. Collagen is also a really important component of a healthy gut lining.
This photograph my husband’s lunch taken recently in a Gasthof in Austria. The dish is called Eierschwammerlsulz. Eierschwammer is the word for chanterelle mushrooms, themselves full of nutrients including B vitamins and vitamin D, and sulz meaning brawn. Here you see it served with some green leafy salad dressed in extra virgin olive oil and finely sliced raw red onions steeped in apple cider vinegar. This is a standard Austrian dish, packs a serious nutritional punch. It’s not considered fancy nor is it expensive yet this traditional meal combines a wide range of macro and micro nutrients, antioxidants and crucially tons of taste and texture.
Making dishes like brawn, and so many more traditional dishes, make great use of every part of the animal. Simply slow simmering bones and cartilage of any leftovers from a roast will provide a rich liquor full of nutrients and if it is gelatinous when cold, you know it contains gelatin, providing collagen. Collagen supplement are all the rage at the moment, but you can get a good dose simply slow cooking the bones you would normally throw away.
From a gut health and therefore overall health perspective, the broader range of foods, the better, so, if travelling, be brave and try something you’ve never eaten before; or maybe aim to make a new dish once a week / a month, to experience new tastes and textures that can also provide critical nutrients that may be missing in your regular diet. Buy a cook book with recipes from countries or cuisines you’re not familiar with so you can experience new combinations and textures and build confidence in using a wider range of herbs and spices.
A nice challenge that I like to do wherever possible is to try and have 15 ingredients on my plate. This will usually include salt and pepper, olive oil and garlic – there’s 4 already. Add in a range of salad leaves, a few vegetables, some protein etc., it’s a great thing to work towards as you’ll start adding in extra spices, healthy oils, a wider range of fresh produce and now you’ve supercharged your meal from being good to great!