One rainy April evening in 1986, Alice Waters, Jonathan Waxman, Mark Miller, Bradley Ogden, and Lydia Shire crowded into the tiny, ill-equipped kitchen of the Cafè de l’Acadèmia on a cobblestoned side street in the Barri Gotíc in Barcelona to improvise a dinner for about forty of the Catalan capital’s most prominent restaurateurs, winemakers, and journalists. Assisting the five chefs in the kitchen were two food writers from Los Angeles, Ruth Reichl and Charles Perry. I was there, too—but I was outside, in the rain, trying to roast several dozen sweet red peppers on a sputtering charcoal grill. The rest of the group had put me out there on purpose. It was their way of getting back at me for having gotten them into this mess in the first place. The story of what we were all doing there—and of what we all did during the faintly delirious week we spent in Barcelona together, eating and drinking and just in general trying to devour as much of the city as we could—is a long and fairly complicated one, whose telling I must defer until another occasion. For now, though, I might just note that of all the dishes prepared by this illustrious crew, I think the one that most delighted and surprised our guests (the common view in Spain being that Americans don’t eat offal, much less know how to cook it) was Lydia Shire’s appetizer of deep-fried lamb’s brains. Today, at her superb Boston restaurant, Biba, Shire serves a rather more elegant version of this dish, based on a flan of brains and marrow. This, though, is the way she made the dish in Barcelona.
Soak brains in cold water for 5 to 10 minutes, pull off any loose pieces of membrane, and rinse well. Bring court bouillon to boil, then reduce to simmer, add brains, and poach for about 15 minutes.
Cut brains into pieces slightly bigger than bite-sized, then add salt and pepper to taste. Dust brains with flour, dip into beaten egg, and roll in bread crumbs into which 2 to 3 sprigs of finely chopped parsley have been mixed.
Sauté shallots in a bit of olive oil in a medium skillet until soft, then deglaze pan with sherry. Stir in sherry vinegar and mustard, then whisk in a little more than half the butter. Season to taste. Cover pan to keep sauce warm.
Meanwhile, fry capers and remaining whole sprigs of parsley in remaining butter until the capers open and get crispy. Drain on paper towels and salt to taste.
Fry brains until golden brown in an ample quantity of olive oil heated to about 375°. To serve, put a spoonful of sauce on each plate, add brains, and sprinkle fried capers and parsley on top.
© 1992 Colman Andrews. All rights reserved.