Nobody knows the inside of an animal quite like chef and meat enthusiast Chris Cosentino, who helms Cockscomb in San Francisco and restaurants in Portland and Napa. His latest cookbook, Offal Good, is a dense, delicious collection of recipes for his well-known favorite parts. If you’ve ever wanted to make the most impressive, pumped-up mayonnaise in the entire business, Cosentino’s brainaise is where it’s at.
COW If you’re not getting the head in whole, go to your butcher for the best brains. Ask when they came in — freshest is best, because once they hit the air, they start to degrade in quality; ideally you want the brains to be less than two days old, and check them for any discoloration or any hint of funk in the smell. (This is a case where buying frozen brains is not a bad solution; brains survive freezing pretty well, and it extends their viability for weeks.)
For the most part, all brains are prepared using the same process. The first step is to make sure there are no bits of bone by giving the brains a quick rinse. The next step is to soak them to get the blood out. Some people use milk, others use vinegared water, but I prefer to rinse the brains and then poach them in Court Bouillon; that way they keep their creamy texture. I poach them at a light simmer for just a few minutes, until just done and almost custardy; if they’re cooked at too high a heat, everything breaks apart. Once cooked, remove the brains from the liquid and let them cool. Check for membranes on top, which will look like a cloudy veil, and if there are any, peel them off. There are two lobes to a brain, and it’s easier to cook them when separated, so use a knife to split them. From here, you can go in many directions — scramble them with eggs, hard-sear them in very hot cast iron, or even bread and fry them, which was prominent as a sandwich in St. Louis during the late 1800s because of the prevalence of beef cattle feedlots in the area. I also love This Is Your Brain on Drugs, an updated butcher’s breakfast, an homage to the early 1900s livestock yards of Chicago, the same ones described in Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle.
PIG Prepare these like cow brains. Most people only utilize the lobes of pig’s brain, but after cooking them for a while, I realized that the cerebellum (the braided “little brain” underneath the back of the lobes) is also good to eat. It’s great for a pig’s brain iteration of aioli that I make, which was dubbed Brainaise by acclaimed San Francisco chef Daniel Patterson.
- 1 clove garlic
- kosher salt
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 cup pure olive oil
- 3 ounces pig brain, poached
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
For the brainaise
In a mortar, combine the garlic and a pinch of salt, and pound with a pestle until a paste forms. Add the egg yolk and mustard and stir with the pestle until combined. Slowly drizzle in 2 tablespoons of the pure olive oil while stirring vigorously with the pestle. At this point, start adding the brains. Once the mixture begins to emulsify, transfer it to a bowl and slowly add the remaining pure olive oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly. After the pure olive oil has been incorporated, finish by whisking in a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.
Alternatively, to use a food processor, finely mince or mash the garlic and add it to the pure olive oil in a bowl. Combine the egg yolk and mustard in the food processor and process until well blended, then add the brain. With the motor running, very slowly add the olive oil–garlic mixture in a fine stream until the mixture begins to emulsify. When all of the olive oil–garlic has been added, finish with the extra-virgin olive oil. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and the lemon juice.
Use right away, or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.