Remember that scene? From Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? My least favorite of the Indiana Jones series, mainly because of the female lead character – can't even remember the character's name right now because apparently I've blocked it. But anyway, they're at the palace, eating all sorts of delicacies like eyeball soup and baby snakes, and – chilled monkey brains. Mmm-mmm good!
And you might be wondering what any of this has to do with Seattle, which is fine, because my answer to that would be: Not a whole heck of a lot. Not specifically. Not exactly.
We didn't have monkey brains.
Bill and his brother and the kids went to the market the other day to get, among other things, very fresh seafood. Sushi grade. A wide assortment. One of the fabulous things out here is the variety of fresh seafood available AND the large populations of many different Asian populations. As a result, there are some wonderful markets that mainly carry a ton of different ingredients for lots of different Asian cuisines. And that includes a lot of fish. So the other day Bill made a lovely sushi lunch here at the house with all the fun things he picked up at the market.
But I'm going to write about that another day, because why go chronologically? I'm on vacation! I can mix it up a bit.
So in addition to the different fresh fish items, Bill also brought back a challenge for me. Yes, that's right. He selected something new and different with the express purpose of handing it over to me to figure out what to do with it.
That's what keeps a marriage alive, folks. Strange and bizarre cooking challenges.
So here's what he handed to me:
Yes. You read that right. Pork Brain. Actually, Pork Brain USA, which, for all I know, may be a real town some where.
I didn't do anything with it that day, but I kept it in the back of my mind, and yesterday, after we went into Seattle and watched the Blue Angels and high speed boat races at Seafair (which, again, I'll share with you another time), we came home and got to work on dinner. Bill and Ray put together a lovely seafood paella, and I made the appetizer.
With the pork brains.
I had an idea of what I was going to do, or what I thought I should do, but I figured that, since I lack experience in the cooking of brains, I might want to check online and see if anyone else out there had anything to say about them.
And really? Not a whole lot.
I did find out that in the south they sell canned pork brains in milk gravy. They get reheated and served with eggs or something like that. And I have a pork chop recipe that is awesome, and it includes baking the chops in a milk gravy, so the whole pork/milk combo makes sense. It's the canned thing that, for whatever reason, creeps me out a bit.
But I wasn't working with canned brains, so none of those recipes was going to work. I also didn't want to make milk gravy. I was just going for some sort of appetizery thing, not a meal.
I found a few recipes that all indicated some sort of boiling or bringing to a boil first, before proceeding to anything else in the cooking process. I also had figured that brains would be mainly fat, so they'd be soft…maybe I'd saute them in some butter and wine…I imagined them kind of delicate and lush. This is how my mind was working.
So, armed with that information and inspiration and blind faith, I headed back into the kitchen and got started.
The first order of business was to get some water ready. I poured some vinegar into a pot – maybe around a tablespoon or two – and sprinkled in some sea salt. A teaspoon or so. Then I poured in around a quart of water.
And now, time to meet the brains.
Here they are:
I poured the brains – gently, because they're pretty delicate – into a collander and rinsed them in cold water.
Here's what one piece looked like. I have no idea how big a pig's brain gets, but I think these may be from younger pigs, just by the size. But I don't know.
Either way, they look pretty cool…kind of like…well…brains.
Into the pot of water they went – carefully – and I turned on the flame and started to heat them. I figured I'd bring them to a boil and that would gently cook them but not OVER cook them.
I don't imagine over cooked brains are all that appealing.
While they started to heat up, I thought I'd add a bit more seasoning. I threw in some chopped garlic and a sprig or two of thyme, just for kicks.
Here's how they were looking as they cooked. Pretty much like I'd imagined. And look – you can still see all the convolutions in the surface. Cool, huh?
As they cooked, the top of the pot accumulated some foam and scum. I skimmed some of that off as things progressed.
And, finally, the water began to boil. I let it go for about a minute, and then I shut off the flame.
Here's a look at a bit of brain at that point. Sorry about the slight blur to the image.
At this point, I scooped all the brains out of the water and placed them (still gently) into a pot of cold water. I wanted to stop the cooking at this point, so I ran some more cold water into the pot (gently) until the brains had cooled completely.
Next, I removed the brains from the water and placed them on some paper towel to dry off a bit.
And then I sliced them, as best I could, into strips roughly a quarter of an inch wide. They were very, very soft, so I had to do it – yes, you guessed it – gently.
Here's how they looked at that point:
And here's a closer look, because I know you're very curious. The larger sections sliced pretty nicely, but some of the smaller bits and pieces just sort of mushed apart.
Ah well. It was a learning experience, so I wasn't bothered by it.
Onto the next phase. I diced to toss them (gently) with some seasoned (salt and pepper) flour, and then maybe brown them in a little butter. I started some butter melting in a pan, and "tossed" the brain slices in the flour.
Only, they didn't really toss well. They clumped together a lot, and at that point I figured I wasn't going to end up with little browned pieces of brain at all. They were going to be mush.
This must be why some of the pork brain recipes I found involved scrambling them with eggs.
I placed the floured brains in the pan of butter and let them cook a bit before trying to flip them over and maybe cook or brown or get some sort of color on the other side.
That part didn't really work out. At this point they were just plain ol' mush. So I flipped the brain mush over, let them cook a bit, and then poured in some white wine and let them cook a bit in that. As the wine cooked down, I added some fresh thyme leaves and a bit more salt and some poultry seasoning.
And I tasted them.
They were pretty bland. They tasted very vaguely of some sort of mild pork dish (which – hey – they were!) and a bit like the poultry seasoning.
Well then. That's what brains taste like.
I let them cook until the wine was completely cooked off, and then I spooned the mass into a bowl, whisked it a bit to break up any remaining lumps, and stuck a little dip-spreading knife in.
Voila: Pork Brain Pate.
I sliced up a mini baguette, and offered a smear to Bill, to Ray, and to myself.
And – it tasted okay. Not very exciting. Bill and Ray added a variety of hot sauces to each serving, but initially that was more because they were both fairly freaked out at the idea of eating brains.
I think next time (if there is a next time, and actually I kind of hope there is), I think I'd cook them in the water like I did this time, but while that was going on, I'd saute onions and mushrooms in another pan, and then add the simmered brains to that, cook them with the onion/mushroom mixture, maybe add some sherry to it instead of wine, and then, when it was all cooked nicely and the onions and mushrooms were soft, I'd puree the whole mixture, press it into some sort of mold, and serve it cold or room temperature, like any other sort of nice, fancy pate. I think the onions and mushrooms would enhance the flavor (or, frankly, PROVIDE flavor) in a nice, earthy way. And I'd serve it on thin, crisp, warm, toasted baguette slices or some other thin, crisp cracker.
And that's my pork brain story.
So, what about you? Have you ever eaten brains? How were they cooked?
I'd love to hear from you!
(And yes, okay, next post will be more about Seattle and less about pig organs.)