All day long yesterday I was doing my “little brain” dance and squeaking with excitement. A day I had waited 46 years for had finally come round. This is in the top ten reasons of why I keep sheep.
But back to Saturday night – which I spent scooping out lamb brains – as you do. We know how to have a good time here.
I reckon If you can’t look eyeball to eyeball with your dinner and be OK with the fact that you helped bring it into the world and looked after it (and ideally dispatched it too), then maybe, just maybe you should stick to tofu and beans for dinner. I hasten to add that we love tofu and beans for dinner and mainly eat a vegetarian/vegan diet, but sometimes we don’t – yesterday was one of those “don’t” days. I also passionately believe that we owe it to an animal we have bred, raised and killed to use up every last bit. To waste any part would be a sacrilege, to waste the best bits is just lunacy
I have wanted to eat lambs’ brains since I lived in Turkey. On New Year’s Eve 1997, just after my mum died my Dad and sister came over to visit me in Istanbul where I was doing research for my PhD. He didn’t really want to come, mired in grief as he was, but that night I remember him sparkling a little again. We went out to a local restaurant where a harpist was playing and they offered a wonderful set feast of Turkish meze. My Dad was delighted to see that there was beyin salatasi as part of the selection. Although he was pretty much a meat and two veg man he liked to try unusual food items. He assured me the beyin salatasi (cold brain salad) was delicious – sounds better in Turkish doesn’t it? I wanted to try it because my Dad and I really bonded over food. Every day or so on the phone we talked about what we would eat for special holidays, what we would eat when I visited at the weekend, what I was having for dinner, what he was having for dinner (or more truthfully what he said he was having for dinner, but wasn’t actually ever going to make), what they had made on Ready Steady Cook that afternoon – this despite the fact that my Dad basically didn’t eat much of anything apart from Turkish Delight for the last 14 years of his life – it turns out that you can survive for quite a long time on wine and cigarettes.
I digress, I didn’t try it because when I lived in Turkey I was vegetarian. I haven’t eaten it since because I now basically only eat meat that I have raised. Moreover, in this country you can only have the skull and brains back if the animal (in this case sheep) is less than one year old. The wether we slaughtered (see here) was technically hoggat (between 1-2 years) – I actually prefer hoggat. But in the interests of finding out about lambs we decided to slaughter a few just before they were one.
And thus I was able to make Sumac and lemon breaded fried lambs’ brains for my dinner and fulfill another dream. Recipe is pretty much from McLagan Odd Bits (41) – I used lemon zest not lime and added some walnuts to the breadcrumbs as that was what I had in the freezer.
I have never made court bouillon before – I am quite a lazy person in many ways – I made it yesterday – it is easy and I have been ridiculous in not doing this earlier. You need to soak the brains for a while – I did mine over night – just saying you know ….
Also on reflection I should have taken a little more care in scooping out the brains from the skulls – I am sure with practice I will get better. They were fine for this dish, but if you were making a salad you might want them to look slightly less knocked about.
So Dad, I have made this for you, I know you would have been excited to try it and I am pretty sure you would have liked it.
Sumac and lemon breaded fried lambs’ brains: three sets of lambs’ brains; breadcrumbs; zest of two lemons; 2 tsp of sumac; pinch of chilli powder; 1 egg; beaten; flour; court bouillon (recipe below) for poaching.
Soak brains in clean cold water for hours and hours. Change the water a few times as well. You can try and pick off the membrane, I did for about 30 seconds and then left it – apparently it is just a cosmetic thing. Pop the brains into the court bouillon and slowly bring to a gentle simmer. Poach until they are just firm to the touch – maybe 5-10 minutes or so depending on size. Drain and leave to cool on kitchen paper.
Mix the breadcrumbs with the lemon zest, sumac and chilli. Cut your brains into morsel-sized pieces. Dip in the flour, then the beaten egg, then the breadcrumbs.
Leave to firm up in the fridge for a bit while you do other stuff.
Fry the brains in lard or oil or whatever. I used loads of my home-rendered lard – yum yum – don’t think about your arteries.
I served the brains with a gribiche sauce (recipe below). There appear to be many recipes for such a sauce so I used one loosely based on Thomas Keller’s recipe in Bouchon, but with just parsley and many more gherkins and capers than he recommends, oh and no shallot, but do I look as if I care?
We also had it with the first purple sprouting broccoli of the season with more of the gribiche sauce on top.
They were fantastic – I loved them. They are quite rich. I basically tried to eat all these myself – I think for more normal people they would probably serve 2 as a main course or 4 as a starter. James had one, but not surprisingly didn’t really like them, but good for him for trying, as brains certainly don’t qualify as safe-food. He even said that he much preferred breaded, fried pigs’ trotters, that they were even quite nice …. I consider this a win for trotters!
Gribiche Sauce: half a cup of olive oil or a more neutral oil; tsp dijon mustard; 1 tbs red wine vinegar; small handful of finely chopped parsley; heaped tbs of each gherkins and capers, finely chopped, 1 boiled egg finely chopped, salt and pepper.
Put the oil, vinegar and mustard in a bowl and mix to emulsify, add the rest of the ingredients and mix.
Court Bouillon: carrot- peeled and sliced; onion – peeled and sliced; (celery if you have it – I didn’t); strip of lemon peel; two star anise; cinnamon stick; 10 peppercorns; 4 cloves; small sprig of thyme; bay leaf; juice of half a lemon; 5 cups of water. Pop it all in a saucepan and bring to simmering point for about twenty minutes. Strain and you have a wonderfully aromatic court bouillon.
N.B. Don’t worry, the heads will not be wasted. I will roast them as they do in Turkey and try and find a way of making them look slightly less like a roast head so James won’t know.
N.B. Thank you lambs for feeding us. We tried to give the you the best life and a quiet death.