Red-Cooked Brains

Hongshao Naohua

Preparation info

    Appears in

    Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook

    By Ellen Schrecker

    Published 1976

    • About

    Flavor: Reddish-Brown: Red-cooked

    Brains seldom appear on Chinese menus or in Chinese cookbooks in America; they have been sacrificed to American eating habits. This is a loss, because Szechwanese-style brains are delicious. They were a favorite of Mrs. Chiang’s family, although they were such a luxury they were reserved for special occasions. On Taiwan, where brains were easily available, she often made them for us. Like bean curd, their soft, custard-like texture and mild flavor make a splendid foil for the complex and powerful seasonings of Szechwan.

    Mrs. Chiang’s recipe contains ginger, scallions, hot pepper paste, Szechwan pepper, and garlic, but it is easy to make and cooks in a flash. Depending on how much time you may have to spend cleaning the brains, the whole procedure, including 20 minutes’ worth of marinating, shouldn’t take more than half an hour from start to finish.

    Pork brains are traditionally used, but, since they are almost impossible to find, even in Chinatown, we use calves’ brains.



    2 whole calves’ brains (about 1-½ pounds) Clean the brains very carefully, using a toothpick or similar pointed implement to remove the membrane surrounding the brains and to pull out any blood vessels that are still attached to them. Rinse the brains thoroughly under cold running water, then cut them into pieces roughly 1 inch in diameter. Put the pieces into a large bowl.
    4 scallions Clean the scallions, then chop them, both white part and green, into tiny pieces, about the size of a match head. Add the scallions to the brains.
    1-½-inch piece fresh ginger Peel the ginger, then chop it as fine as you can, until it reaches the consistency of farina. Add the chopped ginger to the brains.

    1 teaspoon salt

    1-¼ teaspoons granulated sugar

    2 teaspoons sesame oil

    3 tablespoons soy sauce

    2 teaspoons ground roasted Szechwan peppercorns

    2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or cooking sherry

    1-½ tablespoons cornstarch

    Add the salt, sugar, sesame oil, soy sauce, ground roasted Szechwan peppercorns, wine, and cornstarch to the brains. Mix well, then set aside to marinate for at least 20 minutes.
    8 cloves garlic While the brains are marinating, peel the garlic and chop it into tiny pieces, about the size of a match head. Set aside.


    5 tablespoons peanut oil Heat your wok or pan over a fairly high flame for 15 seconds, then pour in the oil. The oil will be hot enough to cook with when the first tiny bubbles form and a few small wisps of smoke appear.
    (garlic) When the oil is ready, add the chopped garlic. Stir-fry it for 30 seconds, using your cooking shovel or spoon to stir it around in the hot oil and make sure it doesn’t burn.

    2 tablespoons hot pepper paste

    (brains and their marinade)

    Quickly add the hot pepper paste and stir-fry it, along with the garlic, for another 30 seconds. Then add the brains and their marinade and continue to stir-fry, over the same high flame, for 1 minute, using your cooking shovel or spoon to scoop the contents of the pan off the sides and then stir them around in the middle.

    Cover the pan, but don’t reduce the heat. Cook the brains, stirring occasionally, for 4 or 5 minutes. Then, when the brains are thoroughly cooked, serve immediately.