Glasgow's Forgotten Recipes: Brain cakes

I have a confession to make.

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When I first found the Glasgow Cookery Book and began the series of recipes, I didn't expect it to take me this long to move onto some of the more potentially divisive meals.

In fact, I would've happily begun them on day one, if it wasn't for a fairly large issue: I couldn't find the ingredients.

It has taken me almost three months to find a butcher happy to sell me brains, tongues and a whole pig's head. Some shops I've asked at have said that buying these items violates health & safety regulations, while others have been surprisingly squeamish about why on earth I wanted them. "It's for a feature!" I found myself protesting on more than one occasion. "I think it's important to use up the entire animal, and not just the bits we deem superior nowadays!"

And it's true. I'm fascinated by butchery - how an animal can be so skilfully dissected by just a hand and a blade - but it also runs more deeply than that. Why should we throw away the perfectly edible parts of a cow, or a pig, or a lamb, just because they're not fashionable or we don't like the idea of consuming them? Just 50 years ago, brains or tongue were eaten regularly because the more expensive cuts weren't an option every night of the week.

My saviour when sourcing these ingredients came in the form of online butchery Campbells Prime Meat, who delivered them right to my office door. The dish I've chosen from the book for the week shows how lambs' brains can be used instead of a more conventional meat. If your stomach is churning already: please bear with me.

This week's recipe isn't going to appeal to everyone. Some will argue that eating the part of an animal that has allowed it to think is wrong. But, if possible, what the recipe will do is show that an extremely cost-effective meal can be made from an animal, while also ensuring that less of it is wasted. Imagine if brains, tongues, ears and heads became popular once again and it ensured fewer animals were killed, which in turn allowed the ones who were to lead healthier, happier lives before they died. I hope that shedding light on recipes involving offal will help in some small way to do so.

Moreover, the Glasgow Cookery Book shows that there are plenty of recipes that maximise on off-cuts, elevating them into dishes worthy of inclusion between the covers of a cookbook. These ingredients can be integrated into some fairly familiar meals and feed diners on a fraction of the price, while also being tasty and nutritional.

For my brain cakes, I began by washing my lambs' brains in vinegar and cold water before laying them out. The instructions didn't specify trimming the brains - but I snipped some of the more obvious pale sinew away with scissors and then added them to a pain of boiling water.

While they cooked, I took a large bowl and added parsley, salt, pepper and breadcrumbs. After ten minutes of the brains boiling, I drained them, and diced them into small pieces before adding them into the breadcrumb mixture plus an egg (the recipe stated a whole one, but it would have rendered my version too wet).

We're used to savoury cakes - fish, to be precise - being fist-sized, but the Glasgow Cookery book dictates that its brain cakes must be dropped into hot dripping for drying in teaspoonfuls. Once they're golden-brown, these mini cakes are drained then served.

The taste is difficult to define; the texture is much easier - spongy, a little like liver, and quite dense. They don't hugely taste like anything at all apart from meat. Not the strong flavour of lamb we're used to, nor anything more unusual. Just mellow, mild meatballs.

Here's how I did it.

Brain cakes

Ingredients

Brains

1 tablespoonful vinegar

Cold water

4 level tablespoons breadcrumbs

2 teaspoonfuls finely chopped parsley

Salt and pepper

Egg

1 oz dripping (I used butter)

Method

1 Wash the brains in vinegar and cold water; boil them for 10 minutes then drain.

2 Chop the brains and mix them with breadcrumbs, parsley, pepper and salt. Add beaten egg.

3 Heat the dripping in a frying pan, drop the mixture in teaspoonfuls, fry a golden brown colour. Drain.

Food and drink

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