Lamb’s Brain Terrine

This recipe is closely inspired by a recipe of Paula Wolfert who, in turn, points out she has been inspired by Lucien Vanel; so thank you Lucien Vanel, and indeed Paula Wolfert.

As well as being delicious and textural to eat, this terrine, when sliced, beautifully exposes a cross section of brain, caught in a meaty square.  Although this may not sound it at all, it s a thing of beauty.

A happy new year to you and yours!  To kick it off I decided that I’d try something new for my first post of 2009.  Sadly, while making a terrine is new experience for me, this is the last lamb’s brains recipe in the book.  I’ve actually grown fond of brains’ light, custardy texture.  They truly are a unique ingredient and I can see myself using them again in the future.

I need to again thank the very kind folks at Zituna World Food Market for saving eight lovely brains for me and my very good friend Sharon Peters for putting up with me.  These brains were lightly poached …

… and laid out to dry after being shocked in ice water to keep them from cooking too much.

The duck livers needed for this recipe were actually the hardest ingredient to find to make this terrine.  Thankfully, my trusty Asian market has just recently been putting more ducky parts out for people to buy and livers are plentiful now.  I suppose I really should consider duck hunting at some point this year.  I still need duck necks…

Anyhow, the duck livers were whizzed in my food processor along with some garlic, shallots, ground veal, ground pork and some fatback.  Mr. Henderson urges extreme caution at this point, as he relays in the recipe that texture in a terrine is a very grand thing.  Not wanting to make a mistake–that will come later–I made sure to pulse the food processor just enough.

The meaty mixture was transferred to a bowl and, along with a splash of brandy, various spices were added.  Mr. Henderson asks for allspice, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg, calling them quatre épices–though every result for quatre épices on Google says that pepper is usually considered one of the four spices–and that they are vital for making various terrine and sausage recipes.  The spices are used to “wake up” the ground meat’s flavor.

A little while ago, one of my wife’s co-workers ended up getting a very nasty bit of software on their home computer.  Thinking that it would be a trivial thing to set the computer right, I volunteered to go and fix it.  It ended up taking two evenings to banish the ugly little bugger from their PC, but I succeeded in the end.   My rewards were a bottle of vodka from Russia, a very nice Cuban cigar, a wonderful dinner and the lovely little terrine pan you see above.  Thank you very much, John Michael and Karen!

I lined the terrine pan with tin foil and then lined it again with strips of streaky bacon.  Carefully I filled the bottom with the meat mixture, and then placed a few brains down the very middle of pan.  As you’ll see in the final picture, I should have added more brains, but I was afraid that I’d end up with a layer of brain rather than the cross section Mr. Henderson described in the foreword.  On top of the brains more meat mixture was piled in and streaky bacon was laid on top to finish the terrine construction.

To cook the terrine, I needed to set it into a water bath.  I had originally wrapped the terrine with plastic wrap, but it just wasn’t water-proof.  I ended up vacuum sealing the whole thing just to make sure.  After two hours in the water bath, the terrine was transferred to refrigerator with a weight on top to set everything into shape.

I’d like to think for my first effort, this turned out pretty nicely.  You can see that there is a bit of brain there in the middle, though I really do wish I had put more in while I was making it.  You can see bits of fatback here and there also, so the texture must have been pretty close to correct.  The real kicker–and the mistake I eluded to earlier–is that the meat needed salt.  It needed it badly.  In the ingredient list, Mr. Henderson warned caution on salt usage.  If the bacon and fatback had been salted–which they had–the instructions say not to add any more.  For whatever reason, it just wasn’t enough.  After my first bite ended up bland, I sprinkled a small amount of sea salt on a slice and tried it again.  The taste was greatly improved, and I could make out the other spices finally.  Texturally, the lamb brains were perfectly light and wonderful–as they have been for every recipe, thankfully–and the meat mixture was rough and crumbly.  The two really complimented each other, with the brains almost playing the part of a sauce, as they melted and coated the mouth.

This is a very fine terrine recipe.  I swear, I’ll be making it again.  I really will.  With more salt next time.  It’ll be totally worth the effort.

One down, ninety to go.

Lamb’s Brains, Endive, And Shallots

To serve four.

This is the third of the four lamb’s brains recipes Mr. Henderson has shared in the cookbook, and sadly, it’s my least favorite of the trio I’ve made so far. Maybe I made a few mistakes while assembling it, thus the poor result. I’d much rather point the finger at myself as the reason I didn’t enjoy it, but I tried to follow the recipe as close as possible.

I started off by placing the endives in an oven proof dish with a few knobs of butter, some salt, pepper and a big splash of lemon juice.

Next, I covered the endives with aluminum foil and set them in a medium hot oven for a little under an hour to soften and soak up the butter and lemon juice.

While the endives cooking, it was time to pay attention to the shallots. I tossed a dozen peeled shallots with olive oil, sea salt and pepper before placing them in the oven with the endives.

As I was prepping for this dish, I poached the lamb brains exactly the same way I did for the Cold Brains on Toast. After they had cooled enough, I slipped them into hot, large-ish frying pan with another knob of butter for browning. When they had taken on a bit of color I removed them from the pan.

The now softened endives also needed browning, so I sliced each of them in half, dropped them into the same pan I used for the brains and turned the heat up.

With everything properly browned, the brains and shallots were re-introduced to the pan along with a splash of chicken stock. I bumped the heat back up to let the ingredients “get to know each other.”

Right before I plated the dish, a dash of sherry vinegar was added and then slightly cooked off. I then divvied up the brains, shallots, and endives. Finally, I sprinkled each plate with capers and some curly parsley.

Modesty aside, I think it’s a very pretty presentation. I just wish that the taste was proportional. There were so many flavors fighting for my taste-buds that I was really thrown for a loop. Sweet, sour, bitter, salty, savory; it ran the entire gamut. Again, maybe I made a mistake somewhere. I’d like to think I did, because otherwise this recipe just doesn’t seem to work at all.

One down, one hundred and fifteen to go.

Sweetbreads

Once you have mastered this you are on your way, your sweetbreads ready to welcome any number of companions on the plate with them.

We tend to use lamb sweetbreads, mainly because of cost and the small nodule factor. This is not to put down the larger and equally delicious veal sweetbread.

The first time I had sweetbreads was at Original Joe’s in San Jose, CA after leaving an opera. The sweetbreads were sauteed with mushrooms and finished with a bright tomato sauce. The glands had a slightly metallic, slightly sweet, but meaty flavor to them that I’ve never found anywhere else. I’ve been in love with them ever since.

Locally, I’ve only been able to find veal sweetbreads, so I ended up I ordering a pound of lamb thymus glands from Zituna with the lamb brains. Here they are after a good rinsing in cold water to remove all the residual blood.

The recipe called for enough water to cover the sweetbreads, a healthy splash of white wine, garlic, a bouquet garni and a few peppercorns. Thanks to Michael Rhulman’s “The Elements of Cooking”, I knew that I was making a court bouillion. I’d have not know that otherwise; thank you Mr. Rhulman!

Once the bouillion came up to a boil, I slipped the sweetbreads in and left them poach for only a few minutes to let them firm up a little bit.

After letting them cool for a while, I began removing the outer membrane. A few months back, I had to remove the membrane from veal sweetbreads, and I can’t begin to tell you how much harder it was compared to the lamb variety.

One scorching hot pan filled with butter and olive oil later, I started to brown my now seasoned sweetbreads. Mr. Henderson instructed me to look for the “nutty nodule”, not the “burnt offering” or the “anemic gland”.

I’d like to think of these as fine representatives of “nutty nodules”. Served plain with slices of lemon, the whole pound of sweetbreads was devoured in under five minutes by my wife and I. We timed it with a stopwatch. Really. To me, they tasted exactly like the sweetbreads I remembered so fondly at Original Joe’s, while my wife countered that these were better. That brought a huge grin to my face.

One down, one hundred and seventeen to go.

Deep-Fried Lamb’s Brains

Before I continue my lamb brain tour, I’d like to again thank John Dossal, the manager of Zituna for being so accommodating.

Zituna is located at 970 N. Coit #3025 (SE corner of Coit & Arapaho) in Richardson, TX. Their phone number is 972-470-0101. Special thanks again go out to Sharon Peters for finding Zituna for me.

Now, back to the brains.

Before I started working on the brains recipes, I noticed that three of the four called on me lightly poaching them. So when I brought the brains home, I promptly poached all of them for use. The entire process was detailed in my last update.

A simple seasoned flour mixture, eggs and milk, and breadcrumbs were needed to coat the outside of the lobes. The process is pretty familiar to anyone that has breaded chicken.

It’s tough to tell that those are brains under the breading, isn’t it?

After a quick dip in hot peanut oil, the lamb brains came out gold brown and, quite frankly, delicious with just a smidgen of green sauce. My wife and I agreed that this was a preferred preparation method over slicing the brains and placing them on toast. Then again, I can’t think of an instance where frying something didn’t make it better. The subtle flavor of the brains was more pronounced; they tasted slightly like sweetbreads, but richer and more delicate. I could very happily eat this dish every week if the brains were easier to procure.

One down, one hundred and eighteen to go.

Cold Lamb’s Brains On Toast

This is a dish for those who particularly enjoy the texture of brains.

Before I started this blog, I was grappling with the prospect of finding some of the more exotic ingredients. I finally decided that if I could find a source for lamb brains, then I’d probably be able to beg, borrow or steal the other hard to find bits. Sure enough, a vendor at the the Austin Farmers Market assured me that his boss would be able to pony up lamb brains at my request. Unfortunately, when push came to shove, the vendor flaked out on me. Obviously this was after I had already started working my way though the cookbook, and I’d have to find someplace that could sell me brains. If it came down to having to pay for them to be shipped to me packed with dry ice, then I’d have done it.

Luckily for me–and my wallet–I managed to cross paths with Sharon Peters on eGullet. Sharon has incredibly intimate knowledge of Texas and where to find pretty much anything one would need for cooking. She initially helped me find the necessary ingredients for making haggis–which I am saving for a later update–by recalling that there was a halal friendly butcher in Weatherford, Texas. A few phone calls later I had an order in for various lamb guts. Two months later, I had a message from her: she had found a market that was able to sell me as many lamb brains as I wanted.

The weekend before last, my trusty puppy and I made our way up to Dallas to meet with a group of hardcore foodies from Dallas Food for some absolutely fantastic Mexican food before picking up my brains order. It was some of the best mole verde I’ve ever had without a doubt, and I look forward to catching up with them again in the future.

After finishing off my second glass of horchata, Sharon, Stumpy and I went to pick up my lamb brains at Zituna World Food Market in Richardson, TX.

Zituna offers a nice selection of fresh produce …

… packaged Middle Eastern, Greek, Persian, and Eastern European foods …

… and fresh lamb parts. The testicles are on the bottom left, and heads on the right.

Sharon introduced me to the store’s manager, who was very kind and incredibly accommodating. He brought my order out and offered to supply me with anything else I needed. I dearly regret that Zituna is a three hour drive from Austin. If it were closer I’d be a permanent fixture in the store.

Once we got home, I immediately jumped into action because I had no idea how long brains would keep.

Three of the lamb brain recipes call for a quick poaching in a light vegetable stock. I assembled the appropriate stock vegetables, added them to a pot of water and brought it all to a boil.

With the poaching done, I laid the lamb brains out on a kitchen cloth to let them cool and firm up.

To complete the dish, I sliced two of the lobes, placed the slices in a fish scale manner on the toast and topped them with olive oil, green sauce and sea salt. Of the four brains recipes in the book, this probably the easiest one.

When it came time to take the first bite of brains, my wife and I counted down. “Three … two … one!” Overly dramatic, I admit, but we were expecting some kind of transcendental moment, a tectonic shift in how we viewed food. It turns out that brains are almost tasteless. Maybe my palette just isn’t refined enough to catch the subtle nuances that brains have, because the powerfully flavorful green sauce just took over my taste-buds. That being said, brains are very rich and amazingly light. Imagine taking a bite out of a toasted bagel that has a softened pat of butter on it. It’s just like that. I could actually see myself making this again in the future.

Special thanks to Sharon Peters for her help finding me lamb parts of all makes and models.

One down, one hundred and nineteen to go.