Brawn (Πηχτή η Τσιλαδιά)

Well, we made a right pigs ear of this one!

A very traditional meze for the Christmas holidays here in Crete. Once upon a time, it was popular in England too, but now it`s rarely seen.  Thank goodness, the tradition holds strong here and Cretan housewives still indulge in this ageless recipe.


1/2 a pigs head

4 pigs trotters 

2 cow hocks

500 g beef pref on the bone

10 – 20 pepper corns

2 – 3 bay leaves

2 – 3 tsp cumin powder

1/2 – 1 glass lemon juice

1 glass orange juice, sweet or sour, or a 1/2 1/2 mix (optional)

Rock salt

Quantities of spices, salt and lemon are totally dependent on your personal preference, you may prefer more or less.


Begin by slitting the nostrils and the ear cavities, this will allow them to be cleaned thoroughly.  Using a razor, shave the head, the nose and ear channels, meticulously, as finding a grizzly pigs whisker in your food is awful. 

Under running water, wash the head very thoroughly and it`s exposed cavities until you can see no impurities whatsover.  Pop the head into a bowl with water and leave for at least 15 minutes.  This will allow any unseen impurities to surface and dissolve any traces of blood.  Follow the same procedure with the pigs feet if required, but nowadays, pigs feet are sold fully cleaned.  

Wash the hocks and the beef.  Place the meat, head and trotters into a large saucepan, cover with water, add the bay leaves and some of the pepper corns and bring to a boil.  The water will need defoaming 3 or 4 times until it cleans completely.  Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, cover and leave till the meat falls away from the bone.  This may take up to 4 hours.  Add water if necessary.

Remove the saucepan from the heat, lift out the meats and leave to cool a little.  Strain the broth, returning it to the cleaned saucepan. When the head has cooled enough, begin removing all of the meat, chopping into chunks.  Here, every single part of the head has been used, including nostrils, ears, tongue, brain.  If you feel you are unable to cope with the head complete, exclude whatever you don`t want.  

Continue by chopping the meat from the hocks, the beef and the trotters in the same manner.  Return the chopped meat to the broth. Add salt and pepper corns, cumin, a sprinkle of oregano and lemon juice.  Bring to a boil once more.  Make sure you test for salt and lemon and adjust if necessary.  Then it`s ready to pour into the mould.  

These quantities filled 3 moulds.  Make sure you share out the meat equally between the moulds, following up with the broth.  Once you have your broth and meat in the moulds, place a piece of cling film over the surface to avoid a crust forming.  Allow to cool out of the fridge, once it has set, it can be covered and will keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.


A successful brawn should not be completely packed with meat, but should have a nice layer of jelly too.  Try to adjust the liquid levels accordingly whilst you are cooking the brawn in the final stages, but be careful not to add too much water as this may alter the final result.  

This meze demands flavour, so be generous with the salt, cumin, pepper and lemon.  The last taste test is vital to get this correct, as it would be a shame to spend all the time and effort to create this dish and the seasoning not be correct. 

Some people singe off the hairs with a burner, but I find it can leave an after taste.

Recipe kindly provided by Stella Manousaki