Well it is none of the above. My mom is not laughing because she is particularly happy, although I assume she is in a constant state of euphoria whenever her wonderful son is around. No she is laughing to cover up the awkwardness of eating animal parts not commonly enjoyed by westerners.
Brains and sweetbreads. Veal brains and sweetbreads to be exact. Over the Christmas holiday I (with the help of Ed the Father-in-law/Butcher) was able to tackle techniques: 190-Sweetbread Terrine, 178-Sweetbreads, 179-Brains, and 21-Aspic.
I’m sure you are all aware of what brains are. They are indeed the same as the human brain, except out of the animal.
Now sweetbreads are a little different. They can be either the Thymus gland or the Pancreas. According to Father-in-law the butcher, these are thymus glands. Couldn’t you tell?
Above is a picture sort of mid-preparation. At that point the brains had been blanched and the sweetbreads blanched and pressed overnight.
We made three separate recipes with the two ingredients. The most involved was a sweetbread terrine. Named after the dish it is made in, a terrine is a “forcemeat” charcuterie technique. And like any good food technique was developed and perfected by the French. You may remember our other foray into charcuterie with the duck breast prosciutto. Most of these techniques are developed to use less wanted cuts of meat and to create dishes that keep really well.
But first we needed some other ingredients to make the terrine. Most uncommon would be lard leaf (above). Since we didn’t have lard leaf we used some thinly sliced strips of belly fat Ed trimmed before making his bacon.
One item I’ve never made before was beef aspic. To make the aspic I took some beef stock (unfortunately I did not have homemade beefstock. There was no time to make it) and turned it into a consomme. This involved boiling the stock with some lean beef and vegetables then finely strain to create a smooth rich stock much stronger than your basic stock. To turn the stock into an aspic you need to add gelatin. After adding the gelatin and sitting over night you have a beef Jello. Sounds great doesn’t it? It is. The aspic can be used as a filler for various molded dishes. After it is added and the dish cools the aspic fills any void as it re-solidifies.
The meat scraps I procured from the shop were then made into a stuffing. The stuffing was not anything special and included your basic herbs, meat, eggs. However, one ingredient that most people unaware of was pink salt. You can see it in the upper left of the above photo. Called pink salt because it is well pink, pink salt contains sodium nitrite. Sodium nitrite is poisonous and it does not take much to kill you. That is why the salt is dyed pink. and the little teaspoon you see above is really 94% salt. The sodium nitrite does not add any flavor or change any texture, but instead preserves color. Ever wonder why your corned beef is a beautiful red or your salami a dark maroon? You guessed it. Sodium nitrite. Looks are important in food.
To prepare the terrine we lined our “terrines” with the lard leaf and then began to build the stuffing. I could not convince the wife to let my purchase a terrine for this unknown experiment so we were forced to utilize a disposable loaf pan (a smaller sized one, about 8 inches). The stuffing just alternated the forcemeat mixture of pork and veal and then chunks of boiled sweetbreads. When finished the lard leaf is fold over and it goes in the oven for a slow and low bake. When it is closed to finished you start eating up some aspic in a pan to melt it back into a liquid. The aspic is then poured into the terrine and the terrine is left to cool overnight.
Served cold and with a piece of baguette, this was pretty good. I will likely venture into the terrine world again. We even saved some and served it at our NYE dinner party.
The other method we used on the sweetbreads was much simpler. Breaded and fried. These were good too. Although a little chewy, I think that I can prefect it with a couple more tries. I later tried some fried sweetbreads at Brasserie Beck in D.C. and they were great! Super tender, so I know they have potential.
The brains were also simple to prepare. They firmed up quite a bit after the initial blanch. I then floured and and fried in black butter. Topped off with capers and some vinegar. The brains were the most usual. And they did not taste bad but the texture was unlike any other meat I’ve tried. Very Very soft, some would say mushy. Oddly, Kelly really liked the brains and had seconds.
But we also made her try them first!