About Beth

Beth
Beth, along with her husband, Mike, is co-owner of two Italian Deli/Markets in St. Louis - Viviano’s Festa Italiano. When not creating yummy new menu items for the deli, she’s the pediatric research lab supervisor at Washington University School of Medicine. Read more out about Viviano’s Festa Italiano.

About Irene

Irene
Irene loves to think, read and dream about food. She enjoys cooking & eating in general. Although she demures about her talents, Irene has a finely-tuned palate that her friends envy. She bakes on occasion. The rest of the time she's creating memories with her family and friends. . . or she's learning a new needlecraft technique.

About Deborah

Deborah
Deborah is a wife, mother, grandmother, traveler, bootlegger, and a very poor speller! As Victor Hazan so eloquently puts it, Deborah has chosen Umbria to be the home of her soul. When she can’t be there in body, she spends her free time cooking & reading about Italy. She blogs mostly about food and about trips – past and future – here: Old Shoes New Trip.

About Doug

Doug
Doug lives in Eastern Ontario in a farmhouse built in 1903. He is a retired teacher with four adult children, a wife, a son-in-law, two Irish step-grandchildren and one grandson who he is lucky to hang with a lot. He has way too many books. Doug also blogs at To Slow Time Down.

About Cindy

Cindy
Cindy lives in Eagle River, Alaska where her freezer is always full of salmon, halibut & shrimp. Cindy participates in several regular cooking challenges. You can read more about her cooking and life in the last frontier on her blog, Baked Alaska.

About Sandi

Sandi
Sandi is a true Southerner, but a traveler & Italian cook at heart. She lives in Alabama and knows more about fried green tomatoes than fricassees. Her family owned the WhistleStop Café for many years. Sandi also blogs at Whistlestop Cafe Cooking.

About Jan

Jan
Jan, a serious home cook, has owned “Essentials” since 1992. She is passionate about all things Italian, especially the cuisine & the language. Jan blogs about her travels (next trip Italy May/June of 2010) at: Keep your Feet in the Street.

About Jerry

Jerry
Jerry is a food obsessed Canadian. He learned to love Italian food as a child while eating the meals prepared by his Napolitano uncle. He learned to cook Italian foods by watching his uncle cook these feasts for the family. This love of Italian food has been honed through serious personal experimentation in eating and cooking. Willing to try most anything once, Jerry isn't so sure about tripe! Jerry also blogs at Jerry's Thoughts, Musings, and Rants!

About Palma

Palma
Palma is a Marriage & Family Therapist in Palm Desert, CA. She’s an Italian-American with a passion for cooking, entertaining, & travel to Italy. She’s always planning her next culinary adventure to Italia on her blog, Palmabella's Passions

About Kim

Kim
Kim is our permanent sub and the image above gives you a good idea of the look on her face when she realized she was drafted. Kim loves to eat, drink, travel and cook - probably in that order. When she's not here, you can find her organizing and leading food, wine and beer tours in Europe as co-owner and operator of GrapeHops or blogging at What I Really Think.

« Sautéed Lamb Kidneys with Onion, Garlic, and White Wine | Main | Oxtail, Vaccinara Style »

Fried Calf's Brains

Back in March when Cindy graciously organized our recipe assignment, I did a double take as I read through the “Variety Meat” section. Did that say calf brain? I immediately grabbed my newly purchased cookbook to make sure this was not a typo. Sure enough there it was –Fried Calf’s Brain. I have to admit I was excited. I have looked forward to making this recipe since then. My only concern was would I be able to find a calf brain.

The first step I took was looking on the United States Food and Drug Administration website. Thanks to a Mad Cow Disease indecent a few years ago I was not sure I could even buy beef brain in the United States. The guidelines clearly state that the sale or purchase was not prohibited if the listed guidelines were met. Good news but were can I make the purchase.

I called every grocery store and nearby butcher in the area. I e-mailed several organic farms in Missouri and not one of them was kind enough to respond. No luck. I even spoke with the meat purchasing managers at Whole Foods and Global Foods. Both said they were not allowed to order brains because it was illegal and the company did not want to deal with any liability issues. The truth was really the latter.

Then one afternoon after visiting my in-laws, I drove past a butcher shop I had not called. This little place by the railroad tracks looked like its heyday was a couple of decades ago. I walk in and looked around at the many cases of fresh and frozen meats. There was so much meat in there it smelled like a meat locker. I half heartedly asked the man behind the counter if he could order calf brain for me. He replied, “I have some right over there in the freezer.” I was shocked and quickly hurried over to grab the Cryovac package. He told me he had a good relationship with the farm where it came from. He also mentioned how sad the two of them were because she may not be able to continue providing brains in the future because of pressure from the government.

Now let’s fast forward a few months until last Monday. Deborah and I visited Schubert’s Packing Company. The first thing I noticed when I walked in was the smell. There was not much of one at all. The only thing I small was a little smoke. As I looked around I realized the smoke smell was from their house made sausages. I took several deep breaths. This butcher shop had that fresh non- smell that indicated cleanliness. I had a great time chatting with Larry and his helpers and sampling sausages. I could not believe I was standing in front of a case of freshly slaughter meat. This is the way it should always be. Larry learned all about our variety meat section. I mentioned I would have to make calf brains soon. He said they have them from time to time.

I could not get the smell or lack there of the new butcher shop out of my mind. Maybe I had made a mistake buying from the other place. My frozen package looked like dark chopped up meat bits not brains. How old was it? Was it safe to eat? I wondered if it was too late to find calf brain somewhere else. For two whole days I pondered if I should use what I had or try to get more. I only had five days left. I could not rest so I called Schubert’s to ask when they would have calf brain again. The lady on the other end remembered my visit and said we have some now. We just slaughtered this morning. She offered to put it aside for me. I hung up the phone and shouted, “Road Trip!” My husband, son and I piled in the car and traveled to Illinois to pick up order. I walked in the butcher shop, gave my name at the counter, and they gave me this:

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HOW COOL IS THIS! Who would have thought I would get to buy a whole brain. First of all this dish violates my innards policy but for some reason I did not care. I felt like a mad scientist as I prepared the brain for poaching. After soaking in cold water the membrane and outer blood vessels are removed. The membrane is extremely thin. The flesh of the brain is very delicate. One must use patience and tender care to remove the membrane without tearing up the brain. I learned this with the first section I prepared.

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Top Side -membrane removed

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Underside - membrane removed

The texture of the raw flesh was wonderful. It was soft and almost silky. I could not stop rubbing it. I realized right then that cleaning chicken was much grosser than cleaning calf brain. At one point I stopped to sniff the brain so I could remember the smell. I wanted to be completely present during this process. To my surprise it smelled very faintly like beef. In a blind smell test I would not be able to guess what it was. The poaching liquid was water with carrot, onion, celery and salt added. I slipped the clean brain into the liquid and gently simmered it for twenty minutes.

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Poached brain draining and cooling. Now it looks like gray matter.

The brain is placed in the refrigerator to cool until firm. Next it is frying time. The chilled brain is sliced into 1/2 inch pieces, dipped in egg and rolled in plain bread crumb. I fried the pieces in vegetable oil until golden brown and served immediately.

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Pile O' Fried Brain

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One piece cut in half

The brain must contain a lot of fat because it has a creamy smooth, rich taste. In fact it reminded me of the fatty bits you get on cold water fish. The texture was like a cross between hard boiled egg whites and soft tofu. It was firm enough to cut through but still soft and slightly spongy when squeezed. These little bites don’t really have a lot of taste. This is my best description:

Imagine you took a bit of very high quality pate. After you chewed and swallow it you take a drink. You start to chat for a couple of minutes with one of your friends. The flavors that linger in your mouth are what this tasted like to me. No, it does not taste like liver or beef. It has a unique taste I have never had before but at the same time it seemed familiar. I liked it better with a squeeze of lemon. The acid cut through the richness and provided a nice citrus kick to the crunchy coating.

My husband could not get past seeing me prepare the brain. He was adamant about not tasting this dish but I insisted. I’m sure he only complied to have some peace. I should have taken a picture of his face as he bite down. You would have thought he was eating an unripe kumquat. I know he really could not tell what he tasted because he was having a mental block about what he was eating.

This is the most exotic thing I will probably ever cook and possible eat. Who knows? Given the right fresh ingredient, good company and a glass of wine…the possibilities are endless.

Comments (5)

David:

Wow. Congratulations! What a great effort.

Irene, this post should be submitted to a food magazine. Your decriptions (not to mention the photographs) were so vivid I felt like I was in the kitchen with you.
Dan and I are picking up our Christmas beef roast at Shubert's this afternoon...Wonder if there are any brains today.

jgk:

Fabulous, Irene!

Marcella Hazan:

Deborah is right, Irene, this would make a superior piece in a food magazine, although I don't know of any that have the nerve to publish a story about calf brains. In these days of heart healthy diets it cannot become a regular fixture of the family meal, but it is lovely food, delicate in texture and delicious. I am not a fan of French cooking, yet one of the dishes that Victor and I used to go wild over is cervelles au beurre noir. Now that you know how to get a hold of brains, Irene, (not a chance for us in Sarasota) look up the recipe in Julia's book, it's worth the try.

You have my unqualified admiration for your determination to secure the ingredient, your open mind, and your sensitive handling of it.

Alice Pearson:

When I lived in the very rural area of northern Wisconsin, one of the members of our church had cattle and saved the brains and sweetbreads for me. Since then I have not been able to find either anywhere. I live in the D.C. area and would LOVE to find a source for these delicious foods. I'd really appreciate any lead you might have that would result in being able to buy these delicacies. Thanks.

Deborah responds: Alice, your best bet is to contact your local food coops or SlowFood movement. Ask for recommendations of farmers in the surrounding rural areas. Or for the names of local slaughter houses that process for those farmers. You will probably have to make some personal contacts and drive a bit out of the city, but you are bound to find a source somewhere withing a reasonable driving distance.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 20, 2010 4:20 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Sautéed Lamb Kidneys with Onion, Garlic, and White Wine.

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