Brains on a stick
Last summer, when my mama-in-law told me that I'd have better luck finding calf brains (cervello di vitello) only in the springtime, the look on my face must have immediately conveyed confusion and disappointment. The spring? But why only in the spring? — “Because,” she explained, “calf brains are more perishable in the hotter months. Stores usually carry them only during the cooler seasons.”
Now how many people do you think (besides yourself) keep calf brains on a mental shopping list? Let's see a show of hands here. One? Two? Yes, okay, well I didn't think there'd be a whole chorus of me's!!!! coming back at me. Summer is around the corner but the weather conditions near the Alps has been more cool than hot; store managers must have taken notice. Beef tongue, cockscombs, pig's feet and now this; the only part(s) missing from the offal picture are chicken testicles (fagioli di pollo) - ahem...beans of chicken. Oh dear. Beneath all those feathers? Really? I had no idea.
Anyway, the whole reason why I wanted me some calf brains was so that I could experiment with a genovese dish called stecchi. Stecchi translates to nothing more than "sticks", and this kebab-type of snack is just a bunch of skewered offal, veal and vegetables coated in bread crumbs and fried to delightful deliciousness. The problem (and dammit, why is there always some sort of snag when I reaaally want to try something different?) is that not only did I need calf brains, but sweetbreads, cockscombs, chicken livers and those aforementioned chicken nuts too! Grrrrr...it irritates me to no end when I can't find everything at the store!
Says *I* to the MotH while pawing through the packages of brains at Auchan supermarket:
“These are almost a pound! I'm looking for the lightest one, I don't need a lot of brains!”
With brains on-the-brain (ooops, I know I said jokes 'til the end), my idea was for a simpler version of stecchi, substituting chicken breast for cubed veal and using zucchini and artichoke hearts while omitting the mushrooms. Still, wanting a bit of an island flair, the memory of a bowl of Hamura's saimin and teriyaki chicken stix on the side morphed into a vision of cold buckwheat noodles. Breading a couple of the completed skewers in japanese panko, I thought they would serve as a nice textural contrast, the slippery pasta drizzled in sesame oil, black sesame seeds and lemon-shoyu. Man was I right or what!
Preparing fresh calf brains is - a no-brainer. The important thing is soaking them in several changes of cold water until the H20 runs clear. I cooked them by poaching in simmering liquid (court-bouillon, chicken or veal broth, you choose), then set the drained blob-mass in the refrigerator to chill and firm before cutting into chunks. The breading process is simple: flour, beaten eggs, breadcrumbs. Apart from the type of bread crumbs, the only difference between the italian version and the asian one was the addition of grated parmigiano to the beaten eggs after prepping two for the buckwheat noodle dish. Also, the choice of frying oil for each type: olive for italian, rice for asian (although you could just go with veggie oil).
1. Brains after poaching in liquid. The texture is silken - like a perfectly cooked egg custard.
2. Skewers ready for breading (partially saute the vegetables in garlic and olive oil first).
3. Into the hot oil.