Brains, for those who need them, love them

Brains used to be the real food of the masses; or more exactly, lambs’ brains and bacon served with a beer at the counter of your local pub. Not these days: all these old-fashioned cuts have become very old-fashioned. The new man, the new woman, have no place in their lives for brains and livers and sweetbreads and tongue.

Some of that has to do with the remarkable concentrations of cholesterol in some of them, most of it to do with a lack of familiarity. Mum just doesn’t serve these things any more it seems.

But if you put any of these dishes on a restaurant menu, you will find wonderful enthusiasm for them from the afficianados; a trusted restaurant is just about the only place they can get them now.

The few things to remember about cooking brains are:

  1. don’t overcook them and send them mushy;
  2. serve them with a heavily flavoured accompaniment – thus the bacon of the old days;
  3. because of their soft, delicate texture, serve them with something crunchy and nutty to balance that texture.

The method described here is quite unusual, but the results are wonderful. If you like brains, you will love them cooked like this.

a couple of rashers of bacon, cooked, fat removed and then chopped finely

50g almonds, finely chopped

small bunch of parsley, chopped somewhere between fine and rough

½ red pepper, skinned, seeded and finely chopped

a little salt

black pepper

enough clarified butter to cover the brains — You can use ghee if you haven’t the time to clarify the butter yourself.

2 brains per person for a main course portion — Be sure of your butcher when you buy brains. They have a short life after death. Soak the brains in several changes of cool water, removing any blood hanging about. Remember if you have diet problems and love brains: they are almost pure cholesterol.

a mild-flavoured mustard


Combine the bacon, almonds, parsley, red pepper, salt and black pepper until well mixed.


Heat the clarified butter until just warm to the touch and add the brains. The butter should be just warm to start, or the brains will fall apart.


Bring the butter just to the boil, then reduce to a bare simmer. The brains will take about 20 minutes to cook. It is rather difficult to describe how you will know the brains are cooked. They don’t feel like brains cooked just right. In fact they don’t really obey any of the usual rules of cooking. They look as though they are severely undercooked. They are not. The first time you try them, take a slice, a deep breath and eat.


When the brains are cooked, they will still retain their curious shape and softness. Smear the top with the mustard, and sprinkle with the bacon, red pepper and parsley mixture.


Serve with a little butter and lemon juice; or a chunky tomato sauce. Brains also need a few crunchy vegetables, like broccoli or beans, to assist.

WINE: In Geoff’s restaurant days, I was accused of being the entree bore — I went for the brains nine times out of ten. They have quite a lovely texture which lends itself to méthode champenoise, fine, structured cbardonnay or elegant red. Try French Chablis with some bottle age for a treat — or, if I do say so myself, Murrindindi Chardonnay with at least three years on it.