Sheep’s Head Soup

Kelle Paça

This is a dish to help you sober up at 4 am and in Istanbul is likely to be found in an offal specialist that is closed during daylight hours. These places, in the more colourful suburbs, catch the customers who stagger out of a meyhane in a confused condition after midnight and look after them until the breakfast cafés start opening around 6 am.

I first encountered kelle paça when I was seventeen at an eatery called Apik in the abattoir district Dolapdere. It’s filled with Romany musicians, prostitutes, and characters you would not want to meet in a dark alley. In my merry condition at the time, I found the scene intriguing, and was happy to go along with the Turkish conviction that the gelatine and protein in this dish helps you sober up.

Clearly, this recipe depends on you being able to source a whole sheep’s head. If you can’t, leave out the head and make the soup with lamb knuckles and brains.

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  • 1 sheep’s head, skin off, top of skull removed


  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon plain (all-purpose) flour
  • pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • 125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) vegetable oil, for frying


  • 1 onion
  • 2 lamb knuckles
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 egg

Garlic Sauce

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 70 ml ( fl oz) red wine vinegar


Remove the brain from the head and wash under running water. Remove the outer membrane. Put the brain in a saucepan and cover with water. Add the vinegar and half the salt, and bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and boil for 5 minutes. Strain off the water and put the brain in a bowl. Cover with cold water and then transfer to the fridge to cool.

To make the soup, peel and halve the onion. Put the head, minus brain, and knuckles in a saucepan, add the onion halves and add enough water to cover. Add the salt. Boil for 1½ hours over medium heat, partly covered with the lid. Skim any scum off the surface.

Remove the sheep’s head from the pan and remove the tongue. Return the head to the pan and set aside the tongue. Continue to cook for another 20 minutes. Remove the head and knuckles from the pan and leave to cool on paper towel. Strip all the meat off the head. Take the meat from the knuckles and remove the fat. Set aside in a bowl.

Peel the outer layer from the tongue and remove any connective tissue from the base. Thinly slice the tongue.

Strain the stock into another saucepan to remove the onion and any floating scum. Put the stock and all the meat back in the original pan and place over low heat. When the soup is warm (not boiling), scoop out 250 ml (9 fl oz/1 cup) of the liquid and mix in a bowl with the flour, lemon juice and egg. Whisk together and then add to the soup. Increase the heat to medium and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer.

Remove the brain from the fridge, strain off the water, and slice into four pieces. Mix the egg, flour, remaining salt and pepper, and 1 tablespoon of water in a bowl, and then coat the pieces of brain in the mixture.

Heat the vegetable olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add a drop of water to the oil. If it sizzles the oil is ready. Place the brain pieces in the pan and fry for 2 minutes on each side until golden. Using a slotted spoon, scoop four heaped spoons of meat out of the soup and place each in a bowl. Put one piece of brain on each mound of meat. Ladle the soup around each mound.

To make the sauce, crush the garlic and mix together with lemon juice and red wine vinegar. Drizzle a little of the sauce over each bowl and serve.