Classic English brawn with Homemade Piccalilli

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • serves


Appears in

Today's special: A new take on bistro food

Today's special

By Anthony Demetre

Published 2008

  • About

This is our own version of the ancient traditional dish and bistro favourite fromage de tête, or brawn as it is known in this country. I am sure French and British food historians still hotly debate whose version came first. Apparently the name came from the fact that in medieval times it was always made from wild boar, the flesh of which was then known as ‘brawn’.


  • 2 pigs’ heads (ask the butcher to split them and remove brains)
  • 2 pigs’ trotters, split
  • 2 onions, halved
  • 1 clove
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 4 carrots, halved
  • Handful of black peppercorns
  • 12 shallots, chopped
  • 2 handfuls of chopped parsley
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 large lemon
  • Good crusty bread, to serve

For the Brine

  • 600 g salt
  • 600 g sugar
  • 100 g saltpetre (potassium nitrate – get this from your butcher)

For the Piccalilli (About 1kg)

  • 250 g cauliflower
  • 250 g green beans
  • 250 g cucumber
  • 250 g silverskin onions
  • 150 g sea salt
  • 400 ml white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon mustard powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 100 g caster sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornflour


First make the piccalilli (ideally this is best made well in advance). Cut the vegetables into pieces about 1 cm. in size, sprinkle with the salt and leave overnight.

Next day, put the vinegar in a pan and bring to a simmer. Drain the vegetables of any residual liquid and add them to the simmering vinegar with all the remaining ingredients except the cornflour. Cook until al dente.

Mix the cornflour with a tablespoon of water, add to the boiling liquid and cook for a further 2 minutes to get rid of the floury flavour.

Set aside and allow to cool, then transfer to sterilized sealable containers or kilner jars. The piccalilli is at its best after a week, as the flavours will have developed, and it will keep for at least a few months in the fridge.

Start making the brawn at least 3 days before you want to serve it. Soak the split pigs’ heads and trotters in cold water for 4 hours to get rid of all lingering blood.

While they soak, make the brine by mixing all the ingredients with 6 litres of water in a large pot. Bring to the boil, skim and leave to cool.

Take the heads and trotters from the water and soak in the brine for 48 hours.

At the end of this time, remove from the brine and rinse well. Place in a large pan with the onions, clove, bay leaf, celery, carrots and peppercorns. Cover with cold water, bring to the boil, skim and simmer very gently until the flesh lifts away from the bones readily, about 2 hours.

Allow to cool, then remove from the cooking liquor, reserving it. Pick all the meat from the bones, discarding the fatty skin, and put all in a suitable earthenware crock or dish. Add the shallots, parsley, lemon zest and juice, and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. (The lemon juice is there to cut through the fat, so don’t be afraid to add more if you think it needs it.) Cover with the cooking liquor and leave to chill overnight.

Serve in spoonfuls with crusty bread and the piccalilli or cornichons, or just some mustard.