Lakshmi's Kitchen

The Boar's Head

It is difficult to say for certain how a 'boar's head' came to be a traditional dish over the Yuletide festivities - some say it originated in Queen's College, Oxford, others put it down to a much earlier date. Whatever its beginnings, it does make a splendid centrepiece for a Yuletide feast, which even our vegetarian friends appreciate as 'a work of art'. I look at it this way - we are honouring the pig - the cottagers' animal 'par excellence', who was fed on leftovers from the table and the garden, and provided a family with cured meat throughout the winter.

I had no idea how a boar's head was presented when I first decided to set about preparing one, but not wanting to cook just a head, complete with bones and have nothing much to actually eat, I decided that I'd have to bone out the skull and stuff it with something more edible!!

Only after I had cooked the first one did I come across the following in a Butchers Manual. There was no date in the book - the only thing I have to go on is the price of sausages in the book - 1s 4d per pound!! (That's 16 'old' pence, or 7p in today's English money - Americans will have to do their own conversion!!!) About 1900 perhaps - or even earlier.

The decorations are not to my taste, but no doubt they were considered rather splendid in their day.

The instructions run as follows.

Boar's Head

The practice of boning and stuffing boar's head is now almost a thing of the past. It requires a good deal of patience and skill to do a really creditable job, and certainly to make it a profitable one, the selling price would be almost prohibitive.

Select a well-shaped head with short ears, and the snout uncut, cut with a good collar well toward the shoulder, bone out without cutting the rind (leave snout bone in). Sew up mouth, place head in brine for three or four days. Prepare the following mixture :

5 Ib. sausage meat chopped coarse,

cut three or four cooked cured pork tongues into fairly large cubes,

about 1 lb. cooked bacon or ham, also in cubes,

6 hard boiled eggs chopped to about size of a pea,

4 oz. Pistachio kernels split.

Mix together all these ingredients, fill head very tightly with this mixture. Sew a piece of strong material to back of head bring over between the ears and under the jaws, over the snout, take back, drawing tightly until back of head is reached, then sew again.

Cook at temperature of 190 degrees for 4 hours. When set glaze and garnish.

My Method

These days it is difficult to get a pig's head which has been cut off with much at all behind the ears, but it is easier if at least a couple of inches can be left. You need a very sharp boning knife, and you must always to keep your fingers away from the cutting edge of the blade. No words, or even diagrams, can show you how - you must do it. Cut off the skin and flesh as near to the bone as possible - it takes time, but the only difficult part is around the eyes and just above, where there is skin very close to the bone. Keep the knife blade always directed towards the bone, and not the flesh. When you have got to the last two or three inches of the snout - stop - and saw through the top jawbone to keep the shape of the snout.

Brining the meat turns pork into bacon - not strictly necessary - you could go straight ahead with stuffing instead. What I normally do is bone the head and put in brine* before Midwinter (Yule), and then take out two days before needed, soak overnight in cold water, and then stuff and sew up.

The old recipe says use a piece of strong material for the back of the head, but I always use either a piece of pork skin or belly pork (also brined). You will need a leather needle which is triangular in section, and some strong linen thread - and you will learn by experience!! If you make a mess of it you can always turn the head into brawn - (recipe at end!)

For stuffing I use sausage meat at the snout end, and lean pork (boned leg) at the back, and sometimes sausage meat as well.

You will need to cover the ears with aluminium foil to prevent them from burning, then cook for about four hours because there will be quite a thickness of meat.

Here is a picture of the 2002 'boar's head'.


If you want to impress your vegetarian friends, here is one I made from a pumpkin, with carved swede for the snout, and melon rind for the ears.

*Brine recipe

To one gallon of water, boiled and cooled, add :-

1 lb 10 oz salt

7 oz dark brown sugar,

and stir until dissolved.

Leave the meat in the brine until needed, and then soak overnight to remove the salt, by which time the pork of the head will be 'bacon'.



The Boar's Head in hand bear I,

Bedecked with bays and rosemary;

And I pray you my masters, be merry,

Quot estis in convivio.

Caput apri defero,

Reddens laudes Domino.

The Boar's Head, as I understand,

Is the rarest dish in all the land;

Which thus bedecked with a gay garland

Let us servire cantico.

Caput apri .........

Our steward hath provided this,

In honour of the King of Bliss,

Which on this day to be served is,

In reginensi atrio

Caput apri defero,

Reddens laudes Domino.

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