The brain is a complex and mysterious organ. It is not quite clear how it works, how data is stored and how memories are retained and, perhaps, reformed and recalculated with each recall. Not only that, how are our thoughts, our personality and memories maintained, especially since all of our cells are regenerated every few years. Since all of our cells are regenerated, how is the concept of the self maintained since we are a completely different person, physically, every five or so years?
A fascinating topic and one well worth having after a few drinks. Anyway…
…there are some things that people cannot contemplate eating. There are some things that many people don’t even contemplate eating. One of these things is the brain. Not human brains obviously, or not commonly at least. Human brains are hard to come by and their consumption, unless you’re a zombie, is widely frowned upon. But animal brains.
One of the butchers near where I live has a chiller cabinet full of exciting and enticing things like tongues, feet, hooves and brains. At least three different kinds of each. When I say “exciting and enticing”, I realise that these terms may be subjective.
I decided to cook brains yesterday. I have tasted them before, but only a morsel as part of a dish in which they didn’t feature as key ingredient. But I have never cooked them or really tasted them. There’s a first time for everything. Unfortunately for any future dinner guests, there’s a saying that suggests you should always try things twice.
So here goes. I chose veal brains. I have no reason why. I have no idea whether one type of brain is tastier than another. I have no idea whether the amount of thinking that an animal has done affects taste or texture. It shouldn’t but where is the research? Of course, I am not sure that calves do much in the way of active thinking. I doubt they do, but what do I know? Maybe they think all sorts of exciting things about grass, occasional witless jogs around the fields, more grassy thoughts, and er…. well, that’s about it.
Take the carefully selected brains and stick them in some water to soak. Add a splash of vinegar or lemon juice. Leave them to soak for anywhere between 15 minutes to overnight, depending on which recipe you read. I left mine for two hours and I changed the water four or five times. I also went to the local bar for a couple of beers but I doubt that’s relevant.
Rinse the brains under a gently running cold water tap, picking of any particularly bloody clots or thick veins or other such stuff.
Brains have a skin on them and it’s ever so fine. Rather like that filmy skin that lies between the layers of an onion. All the recipes I read said that it’s dead easy to peel off. Yeah right. It wasn’t. Some said peel off the skin before simmering in some court bouillon and some said after. I was having little luck before I had boiled it so I decided that after might be a better bet.
Place the brain in a pan of cold water with an onion, a clumsily chopped carrot and maybe a celery stick, chopped again. Add a bay leaf and bring to the boil then simmer for ten or twenty minutes until it becomes firmer. A brain feels very interesting. It is so soft and so heavy, almost like a flimsy balloon full of heavy syrup. After you’ve cooked it, it feels the same, except slightly firmer.
Now try and peel it again. It’s not much easier.
Do the best you can and get the thickest veins off at least. The skin doesn’t make the brain easy to cut when it’s on your plate but it’s not exactly a major problem either and I have to say I didn’t really notice it. There came a point when I thought I’m going to do more damage getting the skin off than if I leave it on.
Dry the brain on some kitchen paper and dust it with seasoned flour. Cut the brain in half. You’ll know which way. Certainly if you’re a left hand brain kind of person. If you’re a right hand kind of person, then do as you please, but at least do it artistically.
Chop some flat-leafed parsley, at least a handful and chop a clove of garlic and get a couple of teaspoons of capers [rinse these if they are stored in salt] and set aside.
Let the performance commence.
Melt some butter [two good tablespoons at least] in a frying pan and when it froths, add the brain halves. Use a spoon to spoon [what else?] the melted butter over the brain and then add a splash of white vinegar to the pan and continue cooking, probably for around four of five minutes each side.
Once you’re a couple of minutes into cooking the second side, add the parsely, garlic and capers to the pan and continue cooking and spooning. The brains should be nicely browned.
Place the brains carefully on your plate. Eat with something simple like bread, toast or boiled potatoes. I saw one photograph in which the brains appeared to have been served with dauphinoise potatoes. Honestly, you would need a belly or iron to deal with that AND brains, so rich is the dish.
This is not a low calorie or low cholesterol dish. I can honestly say I have never eaten anything so rich. The brains are creamy and unctuously bland with only a hint of meat. I saw someone wisely compare the flavour to eating a bit of pate on bread, taking a mouthful of wine and then the aftertaste a few moments later is the taste of brain. I can’t beat that.
But what I can say is that you should not attempt to eat a whole brain yourself. Even a half was pushing it for me and I’m normally up for eating loads of most things. This is not a light meal. Make sure that you have some brandy and a sofa to lie on afterwards.
As for wine, I can only pass on the advice from my better informed friends.
Dave says “I particularly like a fruity Cote du Rhone with anything buttery and quite robust. There are also some very good value Languedoc fruity wines around. In other words, nothing too subtle.”
Nick says “Beaujolais Cru, Tavel or Pouilly Fuisse or Sancerre rose with calves head. If it’s that rich though I’d be tempted to suggest a Vouvray sec or even go way off piste with a Jurancon sec? Maybe a nice Saumur rouge too? Filliatreau could be a nice foil to the richness. Failing that I would be intrigued to see how a young Burgundy would work. Creamy on creamy mmm”
Anyway, even if you don’t like the brains, you’ll have some good wine to drink. And what better culinary story to tell than cooking brains?