Why It Works
- The brains are gently simmered in a liquid infused with garlic, peppercorns, and herbs prior to deep-frying.
- A fresh green sauce made with parsley, dill, anchovies, and capers balances the richness of the dish.
We're talking pork brains here, though they could just as easily be lamb or calf brains. A brain is a brain, and while I admit there are slight differences in taste and softness, you're dealing with an organ that is primarily composed of fat—and tastes like it.
When it comes to preparing brains, deep-frying them is about as classic as it gets. It is probably a smidge more delicious than scrambled eggs with brains, though I happen to like those very much.
MFK Fisher contends in How to Cook a Wolf that the combination of scrambled eggs with brains is "an unpleasant one, because of the similar textures of the two things. Instead, I think brains should be cooked so that they are crisp, and should be served with crisp things to offset the custard-like quality of their interiors." She goes on to offer a recipe from Barcelona for deep-fried brains served with fresh peas, hot toast, and fruit. While I wouldn't say no to that, I think if you take a good pat of butter and melt it in your skillet, toss a lobe or two of brain in there and scramble it with eggs, that's a good meal too.
This brings me to another point: How do you describe the texture of brains? "Custardy" is a good adjective, as is "rich," "fatty," "fluffy," though none of them quite capture why brains are so special. And maybe you just can't capture the special-ness. Fergus Henderson describes deep-fried brains in The Whole Beast as "biting through crunch into a rich cloud," which certainly evokes the feeling you get when you're eating them. The interior almost melts on your tongue—it is so delicate and insubstantial, yet rich all at once.
On this point all brain lovers are agreed, which is that if you are going to be eating deep-fried fatty nothingness, then you should serve it with a piquant sauce of some sort. I'm eating my brains this week with a sauce from The Whole Beast, a classic green sauce that has its base in olive oil, parsley, dill, capers, and anchovies.
Adapted from The Whole Beast by Fergus Henderson.
1 head of garlic, skin on
Black peppercorns in a cheesecloth
1 bay leaf
Bundle of fresh herbs
1 pound brains (lamb, pork, or calf)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 quart vegetable oil for deep-frying
For the Green Sauce:
1 bunch parsley, leaves only
1/2 bunch dill
1 small can of anchovy fillets, finely chopped
12 cloves garlic, finely minced or grated
1 tablespoon capers, minced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Bring a 2-quart pot of water to simmer and add garlic, peppercorns, and herbs. Simmer for 15 minutes. Then gently lower the brains into the pot and simmer for 6 minutes. Remove brains with a slotted spoon and let cool. When brains are cold and firm, separate the lobes into 2-inch chunks.
Meanwhile, prepare 3 bowls with flour, egg whisked with milk, and breadcrumbs.
Heat oil to 350°F (177°C). Roll each brain segment in flour, then coat in egg mix, and breadcrumbs. Deep-fry brains until they are golden brown and crispy, about 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately with green sauce.
To Make the Green Sauce: Finely chop herbs and mix with anchovies, garlic, and capers. Add enough olive oil so that the mixture is spoonable but not runny. Season with black pepper.
Wok or pan for deep-frying
This green sauce has a base of olive oil, parsley, dill, capers, and anchovies. Whatever else you choose to add—lemon and vinegar, and additional herbs such as fresh thyme—is really up to you.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 33g||43%|
|Saturated Fat 5g||26%|
|Total Carbohydrate 13g||5%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||3%|
|Total Sugars 1g|
|Vitamin C 19mg||96%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|