“The wedding feast began with a thin leek soup, followed by a salad of green beans, onions, and beets, river pike poached in almond milk, mounds of mashed turnips that were cold before they reached the table, jellied calves’ brains, and a leche of stringy beef.” (Storm of Swords)
Jellied Calves’ Brains
Yes, we said we wouldn’t be making this dish.But I couldn’t help myself when I saw the lonely package in the freezer at Savenor’s labeled “Half Veal Brain”. It had to be done. So I dived in, probably more enthusiastically than is normal.
The final product is nothing short of decadent. When working with brains, it’s important to remember that they essentially have no flavor, although their texture is delightfully creamy and rich. Which is why the flavor of the aspic and the Montpellier butter becomes important. I implore you, if you are brave enough to try this, not to skimp on your stock preparation. It provides the lion’s share of flavor in the dish and allows the other components to shine.
Eaten by the spoonful, or spread on toast, the brain aspic delightfully exceeded our expectations. The saltiness of the butter is balanced by the creamy texture of the brain, and unified by the familiar flavor, if not texture, of the stock. Certainly not for the faint of heart, more for the culinarily daring, this side dish is steeped in history and an adventure to both create and consume.
Jellied Calves’ Brains Recipe
Calf’s Brains in Jelly – Put some jelly into a plain round mould, and set it in ice; as soon as the jelly is well set, turn it on the table-dish, which must be placed over pounded ice; put on the jelly a whole calf’s brain, cover it entirely with iced Montpelier butter; on this lay three more brains boiled very white; ornament the top with pieces of jelly, and garnish your dish with a border of jelly or coloured butter, and serve. -The Cook’s Dictionary, and House-Keeper’s Directory, 1830
- 1 cup butter, room temperature
- 3 anchovy fillets, rinsed and chopped
- 2 gherkins, chopped
- 2 shallots, chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, chopped
- 3 egg yolks, hard boiled
- 1/2 cup parsley
- 1/2 cup dill
- 1/3 cup spinach
- 2 split trotters
- 1/2 market bunch parsley
- 1/2 market bunch dill
- 1 turnip, quartered
- 1 parsnip
- 1 carrot
- 1 onion, quartered
- 3 egg whites and their crushed shells
Put all ingredients, except the eggs, into a large stockpot, and cover with water. Put over medium-high heat and allow stock to simmer for up to 4 hours. Remove from heat, drain through sieve, and refrigerate overnight.
Skim fat layer off. To clarify the stock, whisk the egg whites till they are foam, fold in the crushed shells, and stir into the cold stock. Slowly allow stock to come to a simmer. Do not stir. When the egg whites form a raft on the surface of the stock, create a two inch hole in the middle. Simmer with raft for 15 minutes, then remove from heat. Cool for 10 minutes and strain through a sieve by pushing aside the raft and ladling out the broth. Allow the clarified stock to simmer till the liquid volume is about 1/4 of the original.
To test if your aspic will maintain its shape, spoon a bit onto a saucer and place in the freezer. If after 10 minutes the liquid has gelled, it it ready to use. If you are worried about it not keeping shape, you can add gelatin or agar agar.
- 1/2 calves brain
Rinse the brain in cold water. Bring a saucepan of salted water to boil and quickly poach the brains till they turn a grey-white. Remove with a slotted spoon and set on a towel to firm up. Once firm, slice thinly with a very sharp knife.
This recipe will make 4 small, or one larger aspic. Allow your aspic stock to cool till just before it gels, and ladle the first thin layer into the mold. Wait for the first layer to harden, and layer on thin slices of Montpelier butter. Add another layer of aspic, and a layer of brain in the same manner. Continue till your mold is filled. If the aspic is taking a long time to gel, you can place your mold in a bowl of ice to accelerate the process. Allow to set in the refrigerator for two hours before removing form the mold and serving with toast.