Ten years ago, I never would have thought I would be sitting here writing a quick snippet on how to cook brains. Organ meat was something that weirdos ate, and old people on West 7th st. in St. Paul. Usually on West 7th st it’s always liver in the form of frozen slices fried with bacon until well done, and grainy.
My first encounter with brains was for a special table, years ago. It was a table for two, a mother about 60 and a daughter, about 30. Their menu had a special request on it reading something to the tune of: “We prefer and enjoy offal” Now most people, when they go out to dinner, are looking to have a great time and eat some fun stuff, but going to one of the best restaurants in the region and ordering an organ meat tasting menu? I’d never seen it happen before.
I remember my dish for the meal I was instructed to execute was floured and fried brains cooked with cream and parsley, served on toast. It was an easy enough dish to make, but I’ll tell ya, the new experience you would expect from holding an animal’s brain in your hands is interesting, and real. After serving them that evening, I tasted, and enjoyed brains for the first time. The next time I made them I created a dish using dried slippery jacks in the sauce, which was about as rich as anything I’ve ever had.
I’ve always remembered that mother and daughter and the organ dinner. Mostly I wonder where they developed their taste for the odd parts of meat, which seem to be a dying piece of the human palette.
Truly though, aversions to specific foods are all in your head. Brains have a texture not unlike ricotta cheese– soft, creamy, and when treated right, it’s not gamey at all, kinda like sweetbreads. You’ll get a flavor that’s very mild, not unlike poached chicken you could throw into a salad. There are a few things that you should know about brains before you embark on a journey to cook them though. Here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way.
- Before you begin, and for at least a couple hours, soak the brains in milk. As is the case with liver and many other organ meats, this helps to remove any flavors people might describe as “funky”.
- Agitate the brains and make sure they have plenty of liquid to swish around in, as brains are a special order, it is likely the butchery place you acquired your’s from had to harvest them by hand. harvesting by hand means they cracked the skull open with a cleaver, so swishing them around in liquid will make sure to wash off any bone shards.
- It will not do to cook some brains and just put them on a plate, they are delicate, and like to be slipped into something creamy and laid on a piece of toast or stuffed into some ravioli. In other words, you need a supporting vessel to eat them.
- Brains are light and delicate. They have a soft texture not unlike ricotta cheese. Given these things, they are great cooked with soft things, such as folded into scrambled eggs, or mixed with ricotta cheese and stuffed inside ravioli.
- Typically brains, like sweetbreads, are cooked twice for most recipes. First you poach them, this helps them to hold their shape, and again, helps to leech them of offal-ness.
Simple Brains a la Creme
- Brains 2-3 oz pieces per person, pork and lamb are the most common I see
- Chopped tarragon chives, chervil, and parsley
- Kosher salt to taste
- Unsalted butter a few knobs
- Splash of white wine
- Milk as needed for soaking
- All purpose flour for dredging
- Slices of good toast like brioche
- Finely diced shallots a tiny handful
- Whisk enough milk to cover the brains by 3x their volume with salt, just until you can taste it. Immerse the brains in the salt milk, then allow to sit overnight.
- The next day, drain and rinse the brains and pat completely dry. To cook, heat a pan with butter until lightly browned, dredge the brains in flour, tap off the excess, and fry golden on each side.
- Add the shallots, season lightly with salt, then deglaze the pan with the wine, cook down by half, and add enough cream to make a good sauce, enough to completely coat the brains, and then some.
- Simmer the brains for a bit in the sauce until lightly thickened, then whisk in a tablespoon or two of butter, then the herbs. Finally, double check the seasoning one last time, adjust as needed, and serve.