Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Cooking with Brains.

I am going to give you a recipe up-front today. I came across the following idea in a feature on invalid cookery in The Queenslander (Brisbane, Australia) of 29 November, 1928:

Brain Creams.
Ingredients: 2 tablespoonfuls cooked brains, sieved, 1 tablespoonful cream, white of an egg, salt and cayenne, ½ teaspoonful chopped parsley. Method: Season the brains, add parsley, cream, and fold in white of egg stiffly beaten. Half-fill a buttered mould. Put a piece of paper over, and steam for 5 or 10 minutes until firm. Turn out and garnish with parsley.

I thought (possibly because of the word ‘cream’ in the title) that these sounded rather good – except that brains don’t really taste of anything at all, so to me they are rather pointless. They are rarely offered nowadays of course, we have become a bit too precious to relish offal, and mad-cow disease has scared off those who are not disgusted by the thought of eating them. In the past, no good protein was wasted, and there was no shortage of ideas for using brains.

The Lady's Complete Guide; Or, Cookery in All Its Branches (1788) by Mary Cole (cook) has the following three ideas:

Calf’s Brains Fried.
Cut the brains in four pieces, braze them about half an hour in broth and white wine, two slices of lemon, pepper and salt, thyme, laurel, cloves, parsley and shallots; then drain and soak them in batter made of white wine, a little oil, and a little salt, and fry them of a fine colour; you may likewise base them with eggs and breadcrumbs. Garnish with fried parsley.

Calf’s Brains with Mustard Sauce.
The brains being brazed as above, make a batter with cullis, [coulis] butter, and mustard; bathe the brains in it, and roll them in bread crumbs and cheese; give them colour in the oven, or with a salamander, serve upon cullis and mustard.

Calf’s Brains with Rice.
The brains of two heads are (enough for a good dish; blanch them, and take off the little bloody fibres, cut into two pieces each, and soak them in a marinade of white wine and vinegar, &c. for an hour; boil your rice in water a few minutes, drain it off, and stew it in broth till it is tender, with a little salt and a bit of mace; dish up the brains, and pour some of the sauce to the rice; squeeze in a lemon or an orange, and pour over for serving to table.
When you procure two or three pairs of eyes, they make an excellent dish, done in the same manner of doing the sweetbreads.

There was apparently another use of brains for non-culinary purposes in the nineteenth century. Although this is a food-centric blog, I found it interesting, so perhaps you will too. It is explained in the chapter on the preparation of leather in a book with the complete title of The People's Own Book of Recipes and Information for the Million: Containing Directions for the Preservation of Health, for the Treatment of the Sick and the Conduct of the Sick-room : with a Full Discussion of the More Prominent Diseases that Afflict the Human Family, with Full Directions for Their Rational Treatment : Also, 1000 Practical and Useful Recipes, Embracing Every Department of Domestic Economy and Human Industry : with Copious Notes and Emendations, Explanatory and Suggestive (Wisconsin, 1867)

As a substitute for the yolks of eggs, the brains of certain animals are used, which in chemical nature, closely resemble the yolk of egg.

For this purpose, the brain is mixed in hot water, passed through a sieve, and then made into a dough with flour, and the lye of wood ashes. The glove leather is also steeped for a short period in a weak solution of alum. The Indians of our forests employ the brains of deer and buffalo mixed with a weak lye of wood ashes, and after this they smoke the skins, the pyroligneous acid of the wood in the smoke accomplishes the same object as the alum used by the French skin dressers.


Anonymous said...

Brains and tofu seem to be similar in that they don't have much flavor by themselves, but take up the flavor of what they're cooked with.

I've heard it said that an animal has just a large enough brain to tan its hide (a deer's brain for a deerskin, a squirrel's brain for a squirrel hide, etc.)


panavia999 said...

Anon is correct. The brain of an animal is frequently sufficient to tan its own hide. Also, hunter/gatherer people (people who do not have livestock) will save up their urine, which turns to a solution containing ammonia. After the hide is tanned - using the brain - the urine solution can be used to bleach the hide and make a lovely off white buckskin.

panavia999 said...

My father was a chef. I remember in the 70's he sometimes brought home sweetbreads and calf brains, because customers did not order them during the day. I thought it was delicious. Once he brought home ram's testicles! Size of a baseball! They were hard to peel, but sliced an fried, were tasty. That must have been the end of an era when people were willing to eat those things as a regular thing. Then it went out of fashion, and now it's a fashionable foodie thing.