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.

Main

Variety Meats Archives

December 10, 2010

Cotechino with Lentils

We are getting into the really 'good stuff' on Pomodori e Vino. Y'all might think that the pasta section was good... but we are coming into the 'Variety Meats'. Hold on folks~ this is going to get good.

This week is the perfect example.

Cotechino sausage with Lentils.
What the heck is a cotechino? I wasn't sure... but spent days looking in Birmingham and even in Atlanta. No luck.

With a little help from Marcella and Victor, I was able to order it online. Only a Pomodori e Vino'ette' would be willing to go to the ends of the earth to find that one special ingredient. Cotechino is a specialty sausage typically from Modena Italy. (why oh why didn't we make this while we were in Bologna??)
This recipe calls for the elusive cotichino sausage, served with lentils. The perfect good luck meal for the new year. It had a good flavor combinatin of pork sausage and beans. We enjoyed it very much... hopefully our good luck will carry through to 2011. In the mean time... Liver, Sweet breads, Brains and Tripe.

Remember to follow us along daily on Facebook or on the Pomodori e Vino Blog ...

Ciao Y'all,
Sandi

December 12, 2010

Sautéed Calf’s Liver with Lemon, Piccata Style

I have to agree with Jerry’s post yesterday, this chapter is going to get messy.

When I was contemplating the recipe for this week, I had some mild trepidation. Like most of us, my Mom forced me to eat liver and onions when I was a kid. I hated it, but when you are from a farm family, the meat in the freezer contained all of the parts of the cow that was butchered, so there inevitably came a day when liver was on the menu. I remember those dinners as being very long, because my sisters and I would delay eating the liver until the last possible moment. Not a pleasant childhood memory.

I have learned this week, that there is a big difference between beef liver and calf’s liver or as my butcher called it, veal liver. Calf liver is a very pale red, much different from what I was accustomed to as a child. This recipe is also very different. No onions, and the liver isn’t cooked until it is as tough as shoe leather. Now, don’t get me wrong, my Mom was a great cook, but once liver has been cooked and then left uneaten for a long time on your plate, it tends to get tough. That was not a problem with this recipe. This recipe calls for the liver to be floured and then quickly cooked in a mixture of butter and oil. The liver is then removed from the pan and butter and lemon is then added. The browned bits are incorporated into the sauce, and then the liver is returned to the pan to coat with sauce. The liver is then topped with parsley and served.

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Okay, I have to admit, I liked it. Not one of my favorite recipes, but definitely better than I anticipated. The lemon, butter sauce was a nice combination with the mild tasting liver. I really should have known that I would like this, because I do like a good pate, but sometimes it is hard to let those childhood memories go.

Back to the messy reference- the liver itself is really soft. Handling it while it was raw was a little disgusting. My recipe for next Sunday is lamb kidneys. I can hardly wait to dive in to those!

December 13, 2010

Sautéed Calf’s Liver and Onions, Venetian Style

I hate liver! This was the only recipe in the entire book I was concerned about. I have never liked liver or liver dishes. Growing up my mother forced me to eat liver with methods I'm convinced were borderline abusive. I recently shared my horror story with Dan, Deborah’s husband, and he laughed. I’ll telling you those old liver dinner days were no laughing matter.

No Foie Gras. No Rumaki. No Pâté. I just say no to liver. Yes, I have tried each one of these foods. Some I have even tried twice. This week I must again remember my pledge and enjoy the cooking process. I will also cut the recipe in half.

Sautéed Calf’s Liver and Onions prepared Venetian Style is very easy to cook. Just two ingredients--Liver and Onions. Thinly sliced onions are sautéed until brown. Then the liver quickly cooked over high heat. Salt, pepper, done.

The liver looked delicious. This is the first time I have seen cooked liver be flexible. When pressed with my finger the texture was slightly springy like a cake ready to come out of the oven. I took a deep breath, cut a small piece, and took a bite. It still tastes like liver. The texture was moist which was a surprise, but even topped with all those delicious onions I have to pass.

Shortly after Steve and I were married, we made a promise to never cook liver in our home or feed it to our future children. He has his own horror story. I had to be very persuasive to get him taste the end result. Why should I be the only deal breaker? [grin] His feelings remain unchanged also. Oh well, I can’t like everything.


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December 15, 2010

Grilled Pork Liver Wrapped in Caul

As Doug explained in the Tuesday post, we traded days this week. He found it impossible to find caul in his neck of the woods, and I do love a challenge. As it turns out, it wasn't any challenge at all. I just needed to make an appointment to pick it up on butchering day. You're going to have to bear with me, I got a little carried away with my story.

May I introduce a bag of fresh caul - so fresh it was still warm from the hogs body when I took this photo. May I also introduce you to the Schuberts. Schubert's Packing Company is across the Mississippi from St. Louis in the historic German town of Millstadt, Illinois. They've won so many awards for their German sausages, they were invited to Germany to demonstrate how they made them. Larry Schubert is pretty good at growing a mustache too, don't you think?

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My pork liver and a bag of fresh jowl needed for next weeks recipe were already in the case waiting. So while Irene and I were waiting for the caul, I took a picture.

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When I got home with my treasures, I rinsed and soaked the liver in several changes of water. This is the first time I've worked with pork liver. I expected it to be a darker color, but it was a nice light pinkish -- and very meaty. I had enough for this recipe with plenty left over for future use. While some others here have expressed a distaste for liver, I must admit that I love it. I love fried chicken livers, I love liver and onions, I love liverwurst, I love liver pate, I love...well you get the idea.

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Next step was to rinse the caul and remove the larger rope-like sections. I ordered several extra pounds, so while rinsing and cleaning it, I packaged up the excess in a series of 1/2 pound packages for the freezer. I've got some goat shanks I want to do a slow braise with next week, I'm thinking that wrapping them in caul could be very interesting. By the way -- don't you just love the beautiful lacy appearance?

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The liver should be cut into 1 x 2 x 3 inch pieces; sprinkled with salt and pepper; wrapped (along with a bay leaf) in a 5 x 7 inch piece of caul; and secured with a large toothpick. It should then be grilled over hot coals for a few minutes on each side. Here is what my grill looked like yesterday.

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I really didn't want to face having to get the snow and ice off the grill cover. Plus, I told myself it wasn't good for the grill to fire it up in 14 degree weather, anyway. So, I wimped out and kind of cheated. I set a grill/griddle on high flame on my range. Heated it up good and then "grilled" the liver indoors.

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I think after seeing how beautiful it turned out, Marcella will forgive me for wimping out. Some nice roasted root vegetables seemed like good companions for the dish. I had sweet potatoes and beets, so that's what I roasted. We also had a fresh green salad and some Spanish red wine.

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The caul did it's job, slowly basting the liver in flavorful fat. The result was a very moist and still slightly pink liver. No shoe leather tasting of blood, iron, or bile here. Just a tender, almost creamy texture with a sweet slightly mineral tang.

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December 16, 2010

Sauteed Chicken Livers with Sage and White Wine

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Marcella, you must forgive me this week. There is only one food that I know I really dislike, and that is liver. Beef liver, chicken liver, it doesn't matter. Well, except I do love foie gras. Give me tripe (I've only had it once, in Florence, Italy, and it was delicious), or oxtail, or beef tongue, but liver I just do not like.

But, I knew if there was ever a time I would like it, it would be with one of Marcella's recipes. Okay, the recipe didn't change my mind about liking liver, but if you do like chicken livers, you will love this recipe. It's very easy and quick to make.

You saute finely diced onion in a little butter until the onions are golden. You then add sage leaves and the chicken livers, and cook, turning often, until the livers are no longer that raw, red color. Then you remove them from the pan, add a little white wine, simmer for a minute then add the liver back to the pan. Season with salt and pepper, turn a couple of times, and that's eat-they're ready to eat.

I discovered that if you like liver, chicken livers are very inexpensive. 3/4 of a pound cost me less than $1.50. So I didn't feel so bad, after my 3 small bites, to put them down the garbage disposal. Well, I did save a little for my dog, who thought they were the best thing she's ever tasted.

Next week, when you read my post, you'll no longer be reading about the interesting variety meats. We will be moving on to vegetables. I can't believe all of the recipes we've made so far. We started with our first post on March 28th. We've worked our way through appetizers, soups, pasta, risotto, gnocchi, crespelle, polenta, frittate, fish and shellfish, chicken, squab, duck, and rabbit, veal, beef, lamb, pork and as you know, we're currently on variety meats. Amazing. Next up is vegetables, then we'll have salads, desserts, and focaccia, pizza, bread and other special doughs. The last recipe will be posted on June 5th. I can't wait to read about more of the wonderful recipes we're all cooking. Thank you again, Marcella, for the work you put into Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking and the comments/suggestions you've been providing us with over the past 9 months.

December 17, 2010

Sauteed Sweetbreads with Tomatoes and Peas

OK everyone knows that Sweetbread are the Thymus gland. Just had to clear that up first.

First I had to find sweetbreads in our less than sophisticated Tallahassee market. Clusters & Hops was the place. They were frozen in plastic and pricey but I was committed.

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After defrosting them in a pot of cold water, I worked to remove the membrane. Marcella says, “It takes a little patience”, which is not my strong suit but I managed. They poach for about 5 minutes and then you can remove the rest of the membrane.

I cooked some onion in the butter and oil mixture and then added the chopped sweetbreads. They were supposed to “become a light colored brown all over but that didn’t happen. I’m not sure where I mad a mistake but the brown was all going onto the pan and the sweetbreads remained beige.

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I added salt and (canned) chopped tomatoes with their juice and let it all simmer.

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Finally I added the peas.
The dish was very pretty—actually Christmassy looking with the green peas playing off the red tomatoes.

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BUT I really discovered that I don’t like sweetbreads. The texture just was off putting to me. My mom always orders them in high-end restaurants and I remember tasting them once at Michy’s in Miami.
Even Marcella could not make me warm up to the mushy-soft, livery, organ meat.


December 18, 2010

Sauteed Lamb Kidneys with Onion, Treviso Style

I wasn't even sure what to expect when I brought home the package I had ordered from the butcher. What would lamb kidneys look like?

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Cute, huh?

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So, the first step is to wash them and put them in a bowl with vinegar and cold water for at least 30 minutes.

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Here's what they looked like after 45 minutes:

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Not much of an improvement in appearance.

Then they are sliced like mushrooms, discarding the whitish core. Saute them for a couple of minutes until they shed a dark red liquid you discard. Then you wash them again. EWWWWW

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Drain and pat dry the slices and quickly cook them with oil, butter and onion. Finally add parsley, salt and pepper and serve with pan juices.

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I REALLY, REALLY wanted to like them. I like liver a lot, so I thought I might have a chance, and sauteing anything with onion and parsley sounds good too. Brad and I each tried a bite. It wasn't horrible, in fact, they tasted a lot like liver... sort of. We ate a couple of bites and decided on ham and brie panini for dinner.

It seemed like a lot of prep to make the kidneys edible. Marcella says about the process, " By this device they extract and discard some of the liquid responsible for the sharpness that is sometimes an objectionable component of kidney flavor." If someone served me this dish, I would really think it was slightly odd flavored liver. I had a couple of liver dishes in the Veneto on our latest trip to Italy that I really enjoyed. I think I prefer liver to kidneys.

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Sauteed Lamb Kidneys with Onion, Treviso Style

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Before you go back and check, yes, Palma posted about this already. Funny story though . . . way back in the spring when we were trying to decide who would be responsible for which recipe on 'our' day we were able to trade off fairly well - then we reached paged 443 - our only recipe in the variety meats section. Neither Palma nor I wanted to make the lamb kidneys. Not one bit. So we decided that we would both make them! We are firmly int eh miserly loves company camp.

And here we are.

I've been dreading making the kidneys. I've never eaten kidneys before but I was sure that they would taste awful - no amount of Marcella's skill or art would raise these to the level of anything I'd want to find on my plate.

I am the one who suffered through 'liver night' as a child by making multiple trips to the bathroom to spit a mouthful of liver in the toilet or coughing liver into my hand and surreptitiously putting it down on the floor for the dog to eat.

We had the fattest dog on the street.

I hate the smell, taste, texture . . . everything really . . . of liver. I have never eaten any other 'organ' meat. Well, that isn't completely true - there is the time mom served up a huge cow tongue. . . now known as 'the night all four of us refused to eat a thing'.

We North Americans tend to like our meat packaged into a non-recognized format - a hunk of steak, chop, or roast sitting on a brown piece of paper bears little resemblance to a living, breathing animal. We don't use the whole animal the way our ancestors did, well, I suppose we do if you happen to be visiting McDonalds and purchasing a box of Chicken McNuggets or you purchase a hot dog from a sketchy street cart - all sorts of animal parts might appear in those treats.

Yet I'm a big ol' carnivore (you're heard me say if we weren't meant to eat meat we wouldn't have incisor teeth . . . we don't need incisor teeth to gnaw on a carrot). I LOVE meat. I just don't love the thought of organ meat. I know that many do enjoy organ meat and love it to bits, not me. After making my last recipe I know that Marcella can understand the human curiosity of taste because she explained that she can not abide the taste of cinnamon.

Finally I could avoid it no longer. Page 443 was looming and I had to get busy.

I called my usual store to see if they could get some lamb kidneys in for me - the butcher laughed and said 'we have to order a 50 pound box and no one will buy them.'

I knew I didn't need (or WANT) 50 pounds of them!

Then I started calling around to the wonderful butchers in Toronto's St Lawrence Market. Sure enough I found one who had some kidneys in stock but not many - I had to promise to come that same day to get them because they would soon be gone. I started thinking positively about the kidneys - clearly someone in Toronto LOVED them.

I left the office, took the subway, and walked three blocks to the market. The butcher had a HUGE pile of lamb kidneys. HMMM - no doubt his 'they'll fly out of the fridge' comment was a ruse to gets someone down to the stall to actually take some lamb kidneys off of his hands! HA

They were CHEAP - $ 3.80

I also found some wild boar at the same stall. It was NOT cheap. Visions of papardelle with wild boar ragu soon danced in my head - I gladly forked over $ 38 for IT and went on my way.

Funny - no regrets at all about spending $ 38 for wild boar but most unhappy about spending a measly $ 3.80 on kidneys.

Back at work I stored the boar and lamb kidneys away in the refrigerator near my office. When I left at the end of the day wouldn't you know . . . I left them behind!

Apparently even my sub-conscious was balking at the thought of cooking lamb kidneys.

Happily one of my colleagues was able to deliver them to me on Thursday.

We were having company on Saturday so I decided to serve the kidneys as a starter. Now lest you think badly of me (nice guy to spring kidneys on unsuspecting dinner guests) I did talk to our friends, wonderful gourmet cooks, in advance and see if they were OK with it. They are of the 'we'll try anything once' group of eaters so the kidneys made it on the menu.

The kidney recipe was easy to follow. Marcella leads you through some critical steps that she writes are necessary to 'extract some of the liquid responsible for the sharpness that is sometimes an objectionable component of kidney flavour'.

Spilt in half, the kidneys soak in a vinegar/water mixture for 30 minutes before they are sliced into smaller pieces. These pieces, resembling slice mushroom caps, sautéed for 2 minutes until they lose their colour and release a dark red liquid.


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Objectionable is right. The smell of the liquid was horrid. Memories of my childhood liver nights traumas flashed back and I almost had to race to the bathroom. I hadn't even tasted the kidneys and I was sick.

Literally.

I opened the windows and sprayed room deodorizer around before our guests arrived.

Once the liquid is all released the kidneys are rinsed, drained, and dried.

Marcella writes 'rinse the sauté pan and wipe it dry'. I wanted to throw it out and buy a new one. I am sure it will have 'kidney' smell forever.

I put the recipe on hold at this point while we enjoyed cheese, crackers, cured meats, prosecco and laughter.

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Soon the moment could not be avoided any longer. . . we moved into the dining room and I quickly finished up the kidneys by sautéing a bit of onion in a bit of butter and oil, quickly re-warming the kidneys in the onion mixture, tossing in some parsley, and then serving it up on plates.

The next dilemma was trying to figure out what wine to serve with kidneys! In the end I don’t think it matters because whatever wine will not work.

The verdict?

Paul ate all of his kidneys - suggested that they tasted like liver. He loves liver apparently. Our guests ate some of them and agreed with Paul. I ate one piece and put the rest down on the floor for the cats who came over, gave a sniff, scratched me in disgust, and walked away thereby proving once again that cats are smarter than dogs.

Now there are those of you out there who like this sort of meat - you'll love this recipe! Honest, you will. It is quick, easy, and apparently the taste is amazing if you are programmed to like this type of meat.

Thus ends our only foray into the Variety Meats chapter someone else will get to try poached calf’s brains and tripe (which I’ve had in Florence and enjoyed actually) . . . on to vegetables for Palma and I . . .

December 19, 2010

Sautéed Lamb Kidneys with Onion, Garlic, and White Wine

I hope that you all read Jerry’s post from yesterday, because it contains great pictures of what the kidneys look like raw, soaked, sliced and then cooked. This recipe is similar to Jerry’s in that the kidneys are soaked in a mixture of vinegar and water and then sliced. Onion is sautéed in olive oil until golden and then garlic, parsley, and the kidneys are added. Like yesterday the kidneys are quickly cooked and then removed from the pan to shed their liquid. Wine and cornstarch are then added to the pan to make a sauce and once it is thickened the kidneys, minus the juice, are added back. This is mixed together and then served.

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This recipe was a mixed blessing for me. It was an interesting exercise in dissection. I spent the time slicing the kidneys, thinking about what I remembered from biology class about the structure of the kidney. Collecting ducts, glomerulus, and distal tubules were all vaguely remembered terms. Yes, I am a science geek at heart and I really enjoyed that trip down memory lane, but overall I think I was just trying to distract myself from thinking about eating the final dish.

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I would like to say that we loved this dish, but alas, that was not the case. Michael and I tried it, but couldn’t handle eating more than a few bites. I did think that it had undertones of liver flavor with a similar texture, but we found the flavor to be very strong and overall different than anything we had ever tried before. In the past, I had always considered myself an adventurous eater, but this challenge has brought me face to face with the fact that I really am not one. Oh well, we can’t all be.

December 20, 2010

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.

December 21, 2010

Oxtail, Vaccinara Style

Although I don't agree, I can understand why oxtail is classified as a variety meat. Variety meats are those parts of an animal that are left after the butchering process. So, technically, I guess the tail is a 'left-over'. But variety meats, by nature, are an acquired taste. Like coffee for someone who grew up drinking only tea. Or grits for anyone north of the Mason-Dixon. Oxtails are delicious at first bite, even for the variety meat novice.

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Most variety meats are organs. They have tastes and textures that the average American of the late 20th century doesn't appreciate. If you grew up eating them well prepared, you are likely to enjoy them. If you didn't, you will probably need to learn to like them.

In generations past, variety meats were the parts that required the talents of creative home cooks who didn't have a choice. Because they didn't have the luxury of wasting even the sow's squeal, they figured out how to turn it into a nurishing meal. Maybe when that first cook put that first dish of chicken gizzards on the table, it wasn't greeted with relish. But, you can be sure it was eaten with gratitude.

Likely it took several years, even several generations, for chicken gizzards to become a favorite family tradition. But it eventually did. Because what you grow up eating, you grow up loving.

Now, back to my oxtail. A lot of ingredients and time go into preparing this dish, but it's worth it. If the richest flavors are closest to the bone, then the best of all surrounds the tail bone. After laying down the flavors of olive oil, lard, parsley, garlic, onions, and carrots, oxtails and fresh pork jowl are added to the pan and browned.

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Then comes the wine, tomatoes, salt, pepper and water followed by some long slow simmering. After about 90 minutes, celery is added and the simmering continues for another 45 minutes or so. When the meat is fork tender, spoon off the excess fat, and you have Oxtail, Vaccinara Style.

We enjoyed ours with polenta, green peas, and some nice Barbera from Paso Robles' Castoro Cellars.

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Our grandsons are growing up in a typical young American family. Busy parents with too many commitments and too little time to devote to developing their young palates. So I take every opportunity to introduce them to the unusual. You may remember this little guy from my post about Squid and Artichoke Soup. He declared that he loved the oxtail "Because I'm a carnivore, MeeMaw".

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Oxtail is indeed delicious. So delicious that you won't want to waste a single morsel. So, I recommend that you set aside your knife and fork; drape a large napkin across your lap; and make use of the best utensils for the job.

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This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Pomodori e Vino in the Variety Meats category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Soups is the previous category.

Veal is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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