#411 Brains with Curry and Grape Sauce

Brains have never really been that popular in England, often banished to a messy tray, at least that’s when they could be found at all. They’ve made appearances in other British cook books but they are few and far between.

The final nail in the coffin for the brain in British cuisine was surely the BSE or ‘Mad Cow’ crisis of the 1990s where cows were infected by a prion which causes the disease bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). A prion is an infectious protein, and is therefore not alive, and cannot be denatured by regular heat-treatment. It may have been derived from the prion that causes the encephalopathy in sheep known as scrapie, but this link is unclear.

The BSE prion infects the CNS causing the brain to appear spongy under microscopic observation. The symptoms, unsurprisingly, are behavioural: infected individuals become solitary, aggressive and frenetic, they become anorexic and their milk yield drops dramatically. Eventually they lose all coordination. BSE is all-consuming, infecting not the just the CNS but the peripheral nervous system, bone, intestines, placenta and tonsils. It is also found in saliva and excrement, and can sit in the soil perfectly viable for years. I remember watching the pictures of the wretched stumbling beasts on the television news in shock and in horror as they were bulldozed into mass burning graves. A total of 4.4 million cattle were killed during the crisis.

The source of the outbreak was the cattle’s feed, where ground up cadavers of sheep and cows were included in their diet. Shockingly, this practise had been going on since the 1920s, so it was just a matter of time before infection spread. In retrospect, it beggars belief that it could ever have been considered a good idea to turn herbivores into not just carnivores, but cannibals

There was of course worry that BSE could be passed onto humans, not just in food but in bovine insulin for diabetics and in bone meal for gardeners. Though bovine-human transmission was possible, there was no real initial evidence to suggest it actually occurred. Nevertheless, in 1996 the EU banned the UK from exporting beef and beef products including semen, embryos, gelatine and fat. Within the UK sales of beef plummeted, the government blaming the media storm. Secretary of State, John Gummer, famously said it was the British public and not the cows that had gone mad. Douglas Hogg, the Minister of Agriculture, was adamant that there was no link between the new variant CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, the equivalent disease in humans). In the Government’s desperation to calm the country and show just how safe British beef was, the Right Honourable Mr Gummer fed his little daughter a beef burger in front of TV cameras. Idiot.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation had been collecting data, and reckoned that nv-CJD was probably caused by the BSE prion. Hogg and Gummer had been desperately slow to act, but now the country had to tackle the crisis swiftly.

The most important and easily implemented regulation was the ‘over 30 months rule’, a simple ban on killing cattle for beef older than 30 months. When it came to using any part of the CNS for food, the cattle must be under 12 months old, with the same rule applying to sheep. Pigs are not considered a risk.

Simple rules such as this helped deal with the crisis swiftly. In 1992 there was 37 000 cases of BSE, in 2004 there was just 90. By 2006 the EU beef ban was completely lifted; now the UK is back in line with the rest of the EU

Now with all this behind us, you can get hold of them from a good butcher. Order well in advance though, and expect to have to buy in bulk.

First of all you need to prepare your brains – you’ll need around 1 ½ pounds of calves’ brains, which I reckon to be 2 sets, or thereabouts. For some advice on preparing and poaching brains, see this previous post. For this recipe, poach them in milk, as you’ll need it to make sauce.

Strain the milk into a jug and slice the brains on a large plate. Keep them warm as you get on with the sauce, a cross between a béchamel and a velouté.

Start by melting an ounce of butter in a saucepan, then stir in a rounded tablespoon of flour and a teaspoon of curry powder. Mix all around in the butter for a couple of minutes, then add ¼ pint of hot chicken stock, adding a little at a time to prevent lumps forming, then add the amount of the milk the brains were poached in. Simmer the sauce gently for 20 minutes, stirring every now and again, then add ¼ pint of double cream


Meanwhile, get on with preparing 8 ounces of peeled grapes. To do this put them in a bowl and pour over boiling water. Let them sit for a few seconds and then strain them. The skin should now peel away with relative ease. When the sauce is ready, season with salt and pepper and tip in the grapes, including any juice. The sauce is now ready, but if it seems a little thick – it should be the thickness of double cream – add a little more stock or milk.

Pour the sauce over the brains and tuck in triangles of bread fried in butter and serve.

#411 Brains with Curry and Grape Sauce. Well I am glad I cooked the other brain recipe first, as this monstrosity would have put me off for life! The sauce was simply horrible; cloying in such a way, that when in the mouth, you couldn’t tell where sauce started and brain finished. The grapes simply did not go with the sauce. Obviously a thing of its time. I enjoyed the fried bread. 1/10.

#409 Calf’s Brains with Black Butter

Many years ago when I began this blog, I winced in fear at prospect of eating brains but after scoffing sweetbreads, wood cock intestines, lamb’s head and jellied eel mousse, the prospect has become an exciting one. The only reason it’s taken me such a long time to cook the brain recipes in this book that you have to order a huge box of them – it’s how butchers buy them from their suppliers and they’re not going to be able to sell the rest of them after you have bought the one or two you need for your recipe. Of course, these days I do my pop up restaurants and so thought it’s about time they appeared on the menu. When it comes to recipe-testing, I always look to Jane first, so I cooked the two brain recipes in quite quick succession.

If you want to try and cook calves’ brains yourself, find a good butcher and ask for a box of brains. You’ll probably receive ten in all, but give him plenty of notice as it could take a couple of weeks for him to get his hands on them.

Before I go on with the recipe, a few words on the preparation of brains:

First, you need to get them ready for the pot by removing any pieces of bone and then gently peeling away the thin membranous network of blood vessels that surround the brain. To do this, you need to soak the brains in salted water for a few hours in the fridge, preferably overnight. This toughens up the membrane so that it peels without breaking so easily. This is a little fiddly to do, but you soon get the knack. You might find it easier to do it under a running tap. Large calves’ brains are difficult to hold in one hand, so cut them in half. Better have two, neat hemispheres than a dropped, destroyed whole. With a little perseverance, you should end up with a nice, milky-white very delicate brain ready for the next stage.

The prepped brains can now be very gently poached in milk for five minutes so they get nice firm (if going by Jane’s exact words, but a good court-bouillon is a good other option), then cut up appropriately.

For this recipe you’ll need 1 ½ pounds of calves’ brains (about two) that have been poached in milk and cut in slices about 1/3” thick.

Swiftly fry them in some butter over a quite high heat so that the brain browns nicely, whilst they remain nice and soft inside. Keep them warm in the oven as you make the sauce by first melting a good 3 or 4 ounces of butter. Soon it will start to sizzle and froth, but then it will go silent. This is the point at which all of the water has boiled away and the butter solids will soon start to change colour. Timing is critical now; ready yourself with 1 ½ tablespoons of white wine vinegar and wait for the pale solids to turn to a deep golden brown. As soon as they do, take the pan off the heat and pour in the vinegar, swirling the pan as you go. Add a heaped tablespoon of capers and level tablespoon of parsley and season with salt and pepper.

Jane suggests serving the sliced brains on a bed of cooked spinach with the sauce spooned over the top, surrounded by triangles of bread that have been fried in butter. 

The photographs are not really doing the process justice. I really need a better camera!

#409 Calf’s Brains with Black Butter. Well I must say this was absolutely delicious! The soft and slightly-sweet brains were contrasted excellently against the fried bread, and the piquant sauce provided the dish with plenty of oomph, which bland brains need I think. I cooked an adapted version of this for a pop up restaurant by making it into a warm salad; every single plate came back clean. What a shame they have gone out of favour these days, perhaps now that the shadow of BSE no longer looms too darkly, they will begin to sneak back into our butchers’ shops again? Get your hands on some and have a go; fun to cook with, and a true gastronomic experience! 9/10

#405 Capon, Goose or Turkey Neck Pudding / Poddyng of Capoun Necke (1430)

Here’s a recipe that I’ve been dying to do since I first picked up Jane Grigson’s tome and, at Christmastime, I finally got the chance to cook it (yes, I am THAT behind on writing my posts!).

The main problem, you see, is getting hold of the neck of a turkey, goose or capon. It’s not the neck muscle that’s needed; that would be easy! All I’d have to do is rummage inside the giblets bag and pull the neck out. This recipe requires the neck skin – all of it, from the base of the neck, right up to the beak. In other words, I needed a fowl with its head still on.

The trouble is, it is very tricky to get one. I have three very good butchers close to me and none of them could get me a turkey with its head on! These birds are plucked and gutted mechanically these days, and the butcher doesn’t have to do a thing when he receives them.

To get a bird with its head on, you have to know a farmer or keep them yourself. Luckily for me Dalesbread Finest Meats, who attend Chorlton Market with me (3rd Saturday of the month!), farm and sell their own meat, including turkey and geese. No problem, they say.

This recipe comes from an early Fifteenth Century manuscript, jazzily called Harleian MS.279. Here’s the original recipe:

Poddyng of Capoun necke.—Take Percely, gysour, & þe leuer of þe herte, & perboyle in fayre water; þan choppe hem smal, & put raw ȝolkys of Eyroun .ij. or .iij. þer-to, & choppe for-with. Take Maces & Clowes, & put þer-to, & Safroun, & a lytil pouder Pepir, & Salt; & fille hym vppe & sew hym, & lay him a-long on þe capon Bakke, & prycke hym þer-on, and roste hym, & serue forth.

Essentially, it’s the skin of the neck wrapped around some spiced offal to produce some kind of hybrid between a sausage and a meatloaf.

This is Jane’s somewhat modified version of that recipe.

First job on the list is to get the neck skin removed from the bird. To do this, get yourself a pair of good, sharp scissors. Three incisions is all you need to make, and the first is around the base of the neck, as low as you can without exposing the breast. Next, cut around the neck end, close to the beak. Lastly, cut straight up the length of the neck, so that you can remove the skin in one piece.

This sounds easy. It is not.

Okay, now for the filling. Get yourself a good-sized mixing bowl and break up 8 ounces of sausagemeat and mix into it a good tablespoon of finely chopped parsley and a couple of egg yolks. Season with salt, pepper, mace and cloves. If you like add a pinch of saffron that has first been soaked in a tablespoon of hot water.

Lay the neck skin flat on a work surface and spread half of the mixture over it. Cut the liver of your bird into three pieces and arrange these in a line going down the centre then spread the remainder of the filling over the top of that. Pull the edges of the neck skin around, wrapping the filling up, turning it over and tucking it in. Pop it into a loaf tin.

This sounds easy. It is not.

I could not get the skin to wrap around the sausagemeat, nowhere near in fact. I tried my best, but it ended up essentially a meat loaf with some skin draped over it.

Bake at 180⁰C for 45 minutes. Cool and leave in the fridge so that the flavours can permeate. Slice and eat like a pâté.

#405 Capon, Goose or Turkey Neck Pudding / Poddyng of Capoun Necke (1430). This was both a disaster and a success at the same time. There was far too much filling for the neck, so as the ‘pudding’ baked the skin shrank, leaving a wrinkled line of neck flap. However, the filling was absolutely delicious! The liver was good and creamy and those mediaeval spices complemented the meaty, rich filling. All pâtés should have cloves and mace added to them, I reckon. Even though the neck ended up being completely superfluous, it’s still a high scorer. 7/10

This terrible photo doesn’t show it at it’s best!

#366 A Fine Way to Pot a Tongue

Jane Grigson gives this recipe no introduction or explanation, but one can tell from the title that this was an old recipe. It consists of a tongue inside a boned chicken that covered in butter and baked. After a quick sift through the cookbooks, I found that it is adapted from a recipe of Hannah Glasse’s that appears in the 1774 book The Art of Cookery, and the original is a little more ostentatious:

‘Take a dried tongue, boil it till it is tender, the peel it; take a large fowl, bone it; a goose, and bone it…Put the tongue into the fowl; then season the goose, and fill the goose with the fowl and tongue, and the goose will look as if whole. Lay it in a pan that will just hold it, melt fresh butter enough to cover it, send it to the oven, and bake it an hour and a half…this will keep a great while, eats fine, and looks beautiful. When you cut it, it must be cut cross-ways down through, and looks very pretty…’


It resembles recipe #322To Make a Goose Pye.



Here’s Jane’s recipe (in my words):

First of all you need to tackle your pickled ox tongue – you can buy these from your butcher pretty cheaply as I did this time, but you might want to have a go. I usually do this but the butcher didn’t have any fresh (which is understandable seeing as very few people buy them nowadays). Have a look at the post #150 How to Cure Meat in Brine for some guidance on this. Once pickled, you need to poach your tongue for 2 to 3 hours and then peel it. You don’t need to press it or anything, but see #258 Boiled Ox Tongue: To Serve Coldand #331 Boiled Ox Tongue: To Serve Hotfor more information on this.
Next, bone a 5 to 7 pound chicken. This isn’t as difficult as you think. I’ve given instructions already on how to do this in the post #322 To Make a Goose Pye. In fact this is easier because the chicken can be first split down the back with poultry shears or a hefty knife. Of course, you could ask your butcher to do it – you might have to flutter your eyelashes a little though!
Now trim your tongue, cutting off the root to remove gristle and the front portion of the tongue so that it will fit snugly within the cavity of the bird.

Before you fit it, make a spice mix from the following: a teaspoon each of ground black pepper, ground mace and ground cloves plus ½ a freshly-grated nutmeg and a level dessert spoon of sea salt.

Flip the bird over with the cut side facing you and rub in around two-thirds of the spice mix into the cavity, then place the tongue inside and wrap it in the chicken. Quickly but carefully turn the bird over to produce a surprisingly normal-looking chicken. Pop it into a close-fitting ovenproof casserole dish and rub in the remainder of the spices.


Now get on with gently melting the butter – the amount you need will depend upon how well the chicken fits into its pot. I needed four 250g packets of butter in all – that’s 2 ¼ pounds approximately. Once melted, pour it over the chicken so that it just covers it.


Pop on  a lid and bake at 200⁰C (400⁰F); if your casserole is very full, as mine was, it’s a good idea to put a roasting tin on the floor of the oven as the butter will bubble hard. When it is bubbling and boiling, turn the heat down to 180⁰C (350⁰C) and bake until cooked through. After 45 minutes see if the chicken is cooked: use either a meat thermometer (the meat should be a temperature of 73⁰C, that’s 163⁰F) or a skewer and check for any pink juices. If it’s not quite done, bake for another 10 minutes before checking again.
When cooked, gingerly take the chicken out so it can drain on a rack and pour the butter and meat juices into a bowl. Let everything cool before boiling the butter up in a pan – however, make sure none of the juices go in. Put the chicken back in its pot and tip over the butter.


You need to leave chicken for at least 36 hours before slicing it and eating with wholemeal bread spread with the spiced butter. If you want to leave it longer than 36 hours,  add more butter to fully cover the chicken.
#366 A Fine Way to Pot a Tongue… and what a fine way it was indeed!  The tongue was salty and tender with blander spiced chicken that actually balanced it very well. The spiced butter was unbelievably tasty. Three cheers for Hannah Glasse! 9/10


#347 Sawce Noyre for Roast Capon

This recipe for black sauce was popular all over Europe in the Middle Ages with many variations and alternative names like sauce infernal. They all use fried and ground livers as a base. In England it was served up with roast meat; capon in this case was used as were various game birds. Other countries used other additional flurries such as Parma ham, dried ceps, onions or garlic and spread it on toast or bread.

A banquet in the Middle Ages – this is a French picture
though at the time French and English food was very similar

The recipe comes from a manuscript with the rather clinical name Ashmole MS. 1430, dating unsurprisingly from 1430. To put the year in context, Henry VI of the House of Lancaster is on the Throne; the political bubblings are beginning that led eventually to the War of the Roses around 20 years later. The original hand-scribed pages are kept in the British Museum, but the manuscript did appear in print along with some other 15th century cook books in the late 19th century.

Henry VI, the Child King

Jane doesn’t give the original recipe that she bases hers on, but I did find it online. It is written in Middle English and takes a little deciphering:

Black sauce for capouns y-rostyde.—Take þe Lyuer of̘ capouns, and roste hit wel; take anyse, and grynde parysgingere, and canel, and a litil cruste of̘ brede, and grynde hit̘ weƚƚ aƚƚ to-gedre; tempre hit up wiþ verious, and þe grece of the capon, þanne boile it̘ and serue forþe.

I translate it as:

Take the livers of capons, and roast them well; take aniseed, ground ginger, and cinnamon, and a little crust of bread, and grind it well all together; temper it up with verjuice and the fat of the capon, then boil and serve forth.

Going back even further in time to the very first known practical cook book – Forme of Cury – written around 1390 contains a recipe for mallard in black sauce.

I made it to go with roast chicken rather than roast capon and it is best made whilst it is resting so you can skim off the fat from the roasting tin and use it to fry the livers.

Pass a beady eye over a pound of chicken livers, making sure that there are no big gristly bits or little green bile ducts left on them. Heat some chicken fat in a frying pan and add the chicken livers. Make sure that the heat is really high so that the livers brown nicely whilst keeping the insides moist and pink. This should take about 4 minutes in all – though it might be worth poking one of the biggest livers with a slenderly-pointed knife to check that the liver is not still raw. Medium rare is good, but anything less than that could be risky, there are several cases every year of Campylobacter brought about by eating undercooked chicken livers.

While the livers are frying, demolish a slice of bread, crusts removed, in a food processor; or if you want to keep it old school you can grate it.  Tip in the livers and whizz again – old-schoolers can pass them through a sieve or mincer. Season with the spices: I went with a quarter teaspoon each of ground aniseed (you could also use star anise), ginger and cinnamon. Don’t forget the salt and pepper. Give it a final spin in the food processor.  The sauce will be very thick indeed – it should be a spreadable consistency and not in the least pourable. It looked like a big scoop of liver ice cream – except that it was hot! Strange.

Reheat the sauce and add some cider vinegar or lemon juice to taste (or verjuice like in the original recipe – you can buy it online). If it is really thick, let it down with a little water.

#347 Sawce Noyre for Roast Capon. This was a strange one indeed – it was made up of pure liver and was therefore very rich, though when eaten with a big piece of relatively bland chicken it did balance out better. The best way to eat it, it turned out, was to spread it on some bread as those in mainland Europe did. I liked the spice combination a lot, especially the aniseed; I may use it in chicken liver pâté. Aside from that though, I think this one’s left in the history books! 4/10.

#336 Brawn or Headcheese

At Christmas time, be careful of your fame,
See the old tenant’s table did the same;
Then if you would send up the brawner head,
Sweet rosemary and bays around it spread.
William King, Art of Cookery 1709

Brawn, which is also known as headcheese or pork cheese, is essentially a terrine made from the head meat of a pig. All European countries have their recipes for it and appeared sometime during the Middle Ages as a peasant food where the head would be boiled to make a soup. Not that many people seem to eat brawn anymore in Britain, but it seems pretty popular still in America, maybe because of the influence of so many European countries there.
Sports Fan: Queen Elizabeth I
In 1571 Queen Elizabeth I breakfasted on “brawn, mustard and malmsey” on one of her Twelfth Days, so it had obviously reached higher status since its invention. It might interest you to know that after her breakfast in the hall, she watched some hounds kill a fox and a cat beneath the fire for sport and later, during the Twelfth Night play, a fox was let loose so that it could be chased by dogs.
The word headcheese baffled me a little. Where does it come from? Obviously, brawn is nothing like cheese in appearance or taste, but then  I found this recipe from The Compleat City and Country Cook by Charles Carter, dating back to 1732 which seems to solve the mystery:

A Hog’s Head Cheese Fashion.
You must bone it and lay it to cleanse twenty-four Hours in Water and Salt, and scrape it well and white; lay Salt on the Inside, to the Thickness of a Crown-piece and boil it very tender; then lay it in a Cheese-Press, cover it with a Cloth, and when cold it will be like a Cheese; you may souse it.
Brawn is a great thing to make ahead of time for a meal, but beware you don’t make it too soon; most of the references I found to headcheese concerned food poisoning. The problem with jellied stocks is that they are the perfect food for microbes; indeed we essentially use stock in the laboratory to grow many microbes. You don’t want to use brawn, or any kind of stock more than three days since it was last boiled.
First of all you need to order half a pig’s head from the butcher, you want the tongue too, but not the brains. Ask him to chop the head into two or three pieces for you (I learned my lesson when attempting to chop that lamb’s head in twain with a now blunt meat-cleaver and a hammer a month or two ago). Whilst you are there get yourself two good lengthy pig’s trotters and ask him to chop those in two aswell. Lastly, you need a pound of shin of beef with the shin bone too.
Bundle your meaty horde back home and if you can put the pig bits (not the cow bits) in the brine tub for a day, or at least an evening. See this post right here if you want to try and make your own brine.
Place the meat in a large stockpot, cover with water and slowly bring to a boil. This slow rate of temperature increase is important in order to achieve a nice, clear jelly because the albumin proteins are let out from the meat at a steady rate, which becomes grey scum that floats to the top. Fast boiling makes a murky, grey stock. Skim the grey scum until it runs white and then add the stock vegetables and aromatics: 2 chopped cloves of garlic, a good sized bouquet garni, 10 black peppercorns, 2 tablespoons of red or white wine vinegar, a teaspoon of salt, 2 onions that have both been studded with 2 cloves, 2 quartered peeled carrots and 2 leeks that have been split lengthways. Phew! Bring back to the boil, then cover and simmer very gently for 2 to 2 ½ hours.
When the meat is tender and can be parted from the bones, extract the head and get on with the task of rifling through the head to find all the meat. When cooked, this is not the gory task it may sound. Leave the stock simmering as you do this, adding back any bones to the pot as go along. You should find a good amount of meat with a good variety of colours and textures. Chop the meat into good-sized pieces and cover, adding a ladleful of stock so they don’t dry out.
Strain the stock through a sieve lined with muslin into another pan and reduce the stock to concentrate both the flavour and the gelatine extracted from the bones. Put the meat back in the pan with the stock and simmer for 20 minutes. Season with more salt, if required, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Meanwhile boil three eggs and chop some parsley, chives and chervil.
Now it is time to assemble the whole thing. Start by lining a loaf tin with some cling film – you don’t have to do this step, but it will make it easier when it comes to turning out the brawn onto a serving plate. Next, spoon in stock and meat until you have filled up to just under half way.
You need a good balance of jelly and meat, our Grigson says: ‘you don’t want the brawn to look mean. On the other hand, if the meat is too solidly packed, the brawn becomes too heavy to be enjoyable.’ Sprinkle in half the herbs and line up your hard-boiled eggs.
Sprinkle over the remainder of the herbs and fill the tin with more stock and meat. Let it cool and then set it fully in the fridge, covered with more cling film. When it is time to serve the brawn, turn it out onto a serving plate and press onto it brown, toasted breadcrumbs.
Serve with wholemeal or rye bread and butter, mustard and salad. Alternatively, swap the bread and butter for some mashed potatoes. I went with the bread option as I couldn’t imagine cold jellied meat with mashed potatoes to be in any way delicious.
#336 Brawn or Headcheese. I have to admit when I turned it out onto the plate it looked like a giant slab of dog food. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The meat was very flavourful and tender and the jelly, very soft, was very nicely flavoured with the infused flavour of the herbs. As much as I enjoyed it, I’d much prefer a nice simple paté as a starter, nevertheless, I reckon it deserves  7/10.

#333 Lamb’s Head and Barley, with Brain Sauce

My-oh-my! Where do I start with this one!? It is quite possible the most infamous recipe in the whole book. I must say it didn’t seem as daunting as it did when I first spotted it after I had decided to cook the whole book.
Lamb’s head was once rather popular – in particular during the nineteenth century. According to Grigson, Queen Victoria’s chef was a fan. Why has it that in the last few decades it has just simply disappeared from our food culture? It did hang on in Northern England and Scotland and it was one of Jane Grigson’s favourite meals and she emphasises that it is not “ungenteel…or even savage food”.
Still Life with Sheep’s Head
by Francisco de Goya (c.1808-12)

Mrs Beeton gives a recipe for leek soup that requires a sheep’s head and also describes how to “dress a sheep’s head” with a very similar recipe to Jane’s, though the barley is replaced with oats (as it is in the Scottish fashion). And if lamb’s head with brain sauce makes your stomach turn, I found a recipe in Elizabeth Raffald’s 1769 book The Experienced English Housekeeper for lamb’s head and purtenances, which, to you and I, are the innards. Calf’s head was also very popular; it was the main ingredient in mock turtle soup, for example. So the heads of sheep, calf and, of course, wild boar have been enjoyed for centuries in pretty well-to-do houses, so they can’t be that bad, can they..?

If you are thinking of cooking this receipt, first of all you need to find somewhere that’ll sell you a lamb’s head. I managed to get hold of one opportunistically at Global Foods in St Louis. There they were, just piled up in the freezer aisle. It is very important that you find an organic or halal butcher, then you can be sure that the animal was fed only what lambs should. The prion that causes scrapie is a concern with lamb that comes from the high-intensive farms, or at least it was. You also need to find some guests willing to eat it. Three brave souls – Anna, Vincent and Michelle – came to certainly the most unusual Sunday dinner I’ve ever had…

“Ask the butcher to clean and split the head…” starts Jane with this one. I wasn’t lucky enough to have a butcher on hand so I had to do this myself with a meat cleaver and a hammer. It took a fair few whacks and cracks before it split, but I got there in the end. I felt a little like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Carefully remove the brain and keep it one side, whilst you soak the head in salted water for an hour before rinsing it and placing it in a pot.
Pour enough water to cover and bring to the boil slowly, skimming any grey scum that rises as you go. Now add the following: a bouquet garni that includes a good sprig of winter savory (which was the most difficult ingredient to find!); an onion studded with 3 cloves; 2 carrots and a parsnip, both peeled and halved, a small peeled turnip, a trimmed and cleaned leek, 8 ounces of pearl barley and a good seasoning of salt and pepper – at least a tablespoon of salt is required I would say. Let the broth tick away slowly on a bare simmer for 1 ½ hours.

Whilst the broth bubbles, prepare the brain ready for the sauce. Begin by carefully removing the loose membranous net of blood vessels and placing the brain in salted water for 30 minutes. Remove it from its brine onto a square of muslin and tie it up. Place the brain in with the head and let it poach for 10 minutes. The brain will now be cooked and become firm, unwrap it and chop the brain.
It is quite homogenous with no gristly bits, so don’t worry. Now make a simple béchamel sauce by melting an ounce of butter in a saucepan. When it bubbles, stir in an ounce of flour and cook for two minutes before gradually whisking in ¼ pint of milk. Thin the sauce to an appropriate consistency with some lamb stock from the pot and let it simmer for at least 10 minutes, adding more stock if it gets too thick. Stir in the chopped brain and some parsley if you wish. Season and add a squeeze of lemon juice.

When the head is cooked, remove it from the pot and start having a good rummage around to find the meaty bits. I couldn’t find very much to be honest. There were two cheeks containing some good moist meat and the tongue of course. Apart from that, it was slim pickings. I thought perhaps there might be some edible palate as I knew ox palate was popular in the eighteenth century. The only other place I found some was at the base where head meets neck. Anyway, serve up what meat you can extract on a plate or bowl and surround with some of the barley along with some rolled grilled rashers of bacon and some lemon quarters and pour the sauce into a sauceboat.

The stock makes “a marvellous soup”. If you want to be in the true peasant style, serve it as the starter. Jane recommends saving it for another meal; “[l]amb soup, then lamb’s head, is too much of a good thing.” I have five tubs of it in my freezer…

#333 Lamb’s Head and Barley, with Brain Sauce. Making this is in no way as macabre as you might expect, except for the part with the cleaver and hammer that is. There was very little meat, but what there was tasted delicious and was very tender and the barley broth was hearty. The brain sauce was also good – the brain itself was tender with a certain firmness that was quite appealing and had a very mild kidney or liver flavour. I think it could have done with a touch of Cayenne pepper. So overall, not bad at all, though the amount of meat was disappointing. The soup left over is delicious but needs a touch of sugar, as lamb and mutton broths often do… 6.5/10.