Of all the produce and protein that makes it through our kitchen, the one that still excites me is pork. Mostly we get whole pigs in, though occasionally we do get some already broken down. The head on the left came with a body (an Ossabaw) but the one on the right was bodiless (an Ossabaw mix). I’d already taken the “face” off the one on the left before I took the picture but the two heads weren’t all that different in size so you can see how much edible material comes off the head. The one part of the head we don’t serve (or rather haven’t yet served) is the brain, mainly because we don’t get enough of them to put on the menu. If you have time though, it’s well worth the effort to remove but freshness is always an issue.
I’ve been told that you can use a hammer to crack the skull open, much like a coconut, but have never been able to do it. In this case, I used a trusty hatchet. Starting on the bridge of the nose I was able to split the skull in half lengthwise and expose the brain. A gentler hack in the ear-to-ear direction mid skull left me with what you see below.
You can see a membrane around the brain. This is very easy to remove and is a good indicator of freshness: less easy to remove = less fresh. Once the membrane has been removed the brain can be frozen and defrosted without noticeable degradation. My aunt makes a Mulligatawny Soup at Christmas in a huge pot with perhaps a dozen or so whole brains in it and it often takes her a few weeks of gathering, cleaning and freezing to have enough. They hold up well to being defrosted (I guess since it’s mostly fat) and don’t come apart in the soup at all. I usually dip the brain in a beaten egg and just give it light fry. This is the way my grandmother used to make them and it really highlights the natural flavor of brain. Not everyone is ready for the unmasked and unadulterated brain so this time I decided to try it Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall style as seen on one of the River Cottage episodes. So here it is with the membrane removed and poached in a court bouillon.
I then cut it up, gave it a little breading with some fine bread brumbs to try and keep the shape of the brain, and pan fried it with a little oil. I can’t believe I got 10 nuggets out of that little brain.
I should’ve plated it, but after a sprinkling of chili salt everyone in the kitchen grabbed one and then there were none. They were awesome, nice crunch and then just intense creamy richness, too much for those not used to the headiness (no pun intended). I think I still prefer it just lightly coated in egg though. Almost like an omelet. If anyone has had the chance to play with pig brains or any other brains I’d love to hear about it.