What we set out to do here was to make a pig’s head more approachable” says The Cannibal’s chef Francis Derby of the General Tso’s pig's head ($85), a menu staple. The large format feast is a continuation of a tradition at the restaurant. The head has been served in a variety of styles, including as tacos with a chorizo rub and corn tortillas; as a gyro with pita and tzatziki; and even as a ruben with a corned beef spice rub, sauerkraut, and rye bread. But the latest incarnation has proven to be the most popular. It is, of course, based on the popular dish General Tso’s chicken that is actually of Taiwanese origins but has found broad popularity here in the states (and is virtually unknown in China). While the original uses bite size pieces of chicken, The Cannibal version is somewhat larger.
Derby takes in whole pig heads and splits them asunder before brining them for two days in a solution of water, salt, sugar, and aromatics, including ginger, star anise, and cinnamon. Next, the half head is cooked overnight at 185° in a C-Vap oven to fully render the fat and convert the collagen to gelatin. The head is then allowed to cool completely before being scored with a knife and roasted for half and hour at 450° at before service. The scoring creates striations of supremely crispy skin and makes the head easier to pull apart. Derby wanted to create "crispy little nuggets" similar to those of General Tso’s chicken with the technique, but it also ended up making the pick-up quicker as an added benefit.
The final touch before service is ladling the General Tso’s sauce — a heady blend that includes tobanjan, soy, ginger, scallion, ketchup, and Sichuan chiles — atop the head. A ream of moo shu pancakes is served alongside. The meat is also accompanied by a blanched broccoli rabe salad that's dressed with a soy peanut vinaigrette, and spiked with scallion and cilantro. Derby added it to mimic the Chinese broccoli commonly found in the original dish, but wanted something brighter and more acidic, to balance the richness of the pork.
"What we set out to do here was to make a pig’s head more approachable" Francis Derby
Like much of the food at The Cannibal Derby was looking to make the dish "fun and interactive." You are given chopsticks to pull the head apart and pancakes upon which to lay the unctuous ribbons of flesh and crispy skin. This is a dish made for sharing. While it is listed as "for two," it can easily feed twice that number, although the chef reports that it has also been taken down by a single diner.