What is it about eating brain that causes such visceral reactions in some people? There are cultures where scooping up a bowl of brain is natural. The French eat it in dishes like tête de veau. You can find in a taco in Mexico. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, China, India, there are thousands of people where brain is a delicacy not something that makes them scrunch up their face and pull back from the table. In the US though, brain is not a common dinner table item. I guess that is why I found myself after 29 years with my first forkful of brain.
Remember last post when I mentioned those distinctive moments that await me in the upcoming weeks at the Nordic Food Lab? Well, today was a moment. At around 9:30 one of the cooks from Noma strolled over here with a plastic container full of meat. The delivery went to the wrong building. Peering inside, four skinned goat heads looked back, Kritika had received her meat order. Kritika is from Pune, India and joined the lab two weeks ago. She is researching a variety of topics one of which is involving offal. Guillemette(an intern from Southwest France) and Kritika went to work, sawing the heads to access the precious brain. The six of us watched discussing distinctive moments with brain, favorite dishes, mental aversions, and in my case the complete lack of something to add to the conversation.
Lunch preparation ensued. The tiny morsels where excavated from the skull and placed in a container of water to be purged. From there Kritika worked her magic and “scrambled” them with sautéed onions, garam marsala and turmeric making for us Bheja Fry, a special occasion dish from India. If I didn’t know what it was, it would have resembled scrambled egg whites. The moment had arrived, my first bite of brain.
The texture is incredibly creamy. Imagine soft tofu or soft scrambled eggs. It has the slightest of give between the teeth but if I had wanted I could have swallowed in one gulp. The flavor was that of the spices, the sweetness of the onions, the complexity of the garam marsala, but with something else. Not ever having brain before it was hard to describe that something else, I just knew it was there. That slightly offal twinge was there, almost metallic but delicate, hiding amongst the burst of cumin and pepper. Brain is fatty. As expected, the fat coated my mouth giving a presence behind the small morsel of food on my fork. The fat acts as a raft allowing the flavors to hold on just a bit longer before being washed away by saliva. I went back for a second bite.
Do I like brain? I don’t know. The American is drilled into me a bit and I can’t help but shake the taboo thoughts around consuming brain. I also find that with textures that creamy there is nowhere to hide, the bite has to be experienced, causing me to face whatever preconceived notions I am sitting down with. I have to admit it confused me a bit. Faced with spices I rarely consume, textures I don’t normally cross, and a product that I have no experience with was a lot for my brain to comprehend. I guess the main question is would I eat brain again? Absolutely.