I know what you’re thinking: “Brains? No way – I’m not a zombie!” Of all the offal and lesser-loved cuts of meat available, brains are (granted) some of the least visually attractive: but they’re also some of the most delicious, when prepared properly.
While grim, Westernised perception of offal is slowly changing (Fergus Henderson has been championing lesser-loved cuts at Michelin-starred St. JOHN for almost 25 years, and many other restaurants have since followed suit), but it’s still natural for so many of us to become squeamish in the presence of brains, hearts, tongues, testicles. It’s not our fault, entirely – having been spoon-fed luxurious alternatives by supermarkets, with so much variety readily available. But change really does begin at home. As somebody who regularly eats meat, I’m in no position to take the moral high-ground. Nonetheless, I strongly believe that if we really must kill an animal in the name of greed, it’s only fair to respect all of its edible parts, no matter how unappetising they may appear from this side of the butcher’s counter.
Then there’s the matter of food waste. Last year, a report from the Waste & Resources Action Programme found that more than 400 million meals’ worth of edible food is wasted by UK shops and manufacturers, while recent research from FareShare suggests over 400,000 tonnes of edible food is being wasted in homes across the UK each year. We’re also currently approaching the Christmas period, the time of year when most food is wasted. Though the consumer conscience begins to heighten, food waste is still a pressing issue. Nose-to-tail eating won’t necessarily cure food waste, but indulging in the animal’s more accessible (often wasted) cuts is a ‘no-brainer’ in terms of sensibility.
Moreover, the key to great food is within the cooking. The consumption of fillet steak or lobster is supercilious when prepared carelessly. While calves’ brains (more synonymous with classic haute cuisine) are difficult to source – following the late eighties outbreak of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (‘mad cow disease’) in the UK, lambs’ brains are far easier to source – available in some supermarkets, even. They’re also ridiculously cheap. The below recipe (photographed) features and attempts to glorify lambs’ brains. While somewhat laborious to concoct, the results are worth every second of preparation.
Lambs’ brains and parsley salad on toast
Lambs’ brains, 2-3
Milk, to cover the brains
Sourdough, 2 thick slices
Court Bouillon, 2 litres
Rapeseed oil, for shallow frying
Salted butter, 75g
Roasted peanuts, a handful, chopped (additional)
Flour, enough to coat the brains, seasoned with salt and pepper
Egg yolks, 2, beaten
Panko breadcrumbs, 40g
For the parsley salad
Fresh parsley, 70g, roughly chopped
Fresh dill, 20g, roughly chopped
Lemon, juice of one (with a few drops reserved for the sauce)
Extra virgin olive oil, to taste
Sea salt, a pinch
For the sauce
Salted butter, 125g
Echalion shallot, 1, finely chopped
Fresh parsley, a pinch, finely chopped
Capers, 2tbsp, rinsed and roughly chopped
To prepare the brains, rinse under cold water for 30 minutes, submerge in milk and chill overnight.
Remove the brains from the fridge, rinse briefly then gently split the brain into two separate lobes. Gently poach in simmering Court Bouillon for six minutes. Remove from the pan and refresh in iced water.
While cooling, roughly chop the flat leaf parsley and dill, place in a mixing bowl and dress with a drizzle of extra virgin oil, lemon juice and a pinch of salt.
Once cooled, use a small pairing knife to remove any excess membrane or unattractive blood vessels – being careful to avoid damaging the brains.
Gently pat dry with kitchen paper, dredge in the seasoned flour, roll through the beaten egg yolks, then coat with a generous covering of Panko breadcrumbs.
Heat a splash of rapeseed oil in a wok or large frying pan and gently lower the breaded brains into the pan. (Test the oil’s heat by adding an excess breadcrumb. Once it sizzles, the oil is ready for frying). Cook the brains, without turning, for two-three minutes until coloured on one side. Gently turn, reduce the heat and add 75g butter to the pan and baste continuously for another three minutes, or until the brains are golden-brown and have firmed.
Meanwhile, toast the bread and make the sauce. To prepare the sauce, gently melt the butter in a clean pan then add a suggestion of lemon juice to prevent the butter from burning. Add the finely cooked shallots and sweat over a low heat until translucent. Add the capers, plus a pinch of finely chopped parsley and cook for one more minute, stirring regularly.
To plate the dish, place the toasted sourdough in the middle of the plate, then top with the breaded brains. Use a small spoon to drizzle some of the butter sauce over the brains, then crown with a fistful of the parsley and dill salad. To finish, drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil over the brains, toast and salad. Optionally, garnish with some chopped, roasted peanuts to add extra crunch, contrasting the capers’ sourness and the brains’ somewhat “wobbly”, cloud-like texture.