Sautéed star anise & ginger poached lambs’ brains on chickpea panizza & Asian greens

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Preparation info

  • For

    4

    main courses
    • Difficulty

      Medium

Appears in

Fusion: A Culinary Journey

Fusion

By Peter Gordon

Published 2010

  • About

Lambs’ brains are an acquired taste, but they are really rich and delicious and they have a texture much like a firm creamy mousse. They take a little preparation, but nothing so hard that they aren’t worth it. The first time I ate them they were cooked in ‘burnt butter’ and had capers and lemon juice added to them, both of which cut through their richness. They were intriguing, but not amazing. Since then I’ve eaten brains in many ways, and my favourites are always when cooked with rich aromatic flavours, with chillies and ginger, or when they’re crumbed and deep-fried, or cooked in a crunchy tempura batter, which contrasts so well with their own texture. Here I poach them in something akin to a Chinese Master Stock and then team them with Asian greens - I used wing beans, shiitake and gai lan. The last part of the dish is panizza - a sort of set polenta that’s made from chickpea flour. This was taught to me by my chef friend Gianni Vatteroni, a native of Carrara in Tuscany, who has cooked with me at various restaurants. It has a lovely texture and one which goes so well with the brains.

Ingredients

  • 6 sets of brains (12 lobes in total)
  • 100 ml cider vinegar (or white wine or red wine vinegar)
  • 250 ml soy sauce
  • 100 ml black vinegar
  • 10 star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 small onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 thumbs of ginger, thinly sliced
  • 12 baby carrots, washed and cut on an angle
  • 110 g chickpea flour
  • 1 tsp five-spice
  • 50 g butter
  • 15 ml (1 Tbsp) mirin
  • 5 ml (1 tsp) roasted sesame oil
  • peanut oil or sunflower oil for sautéing
  • 8-12 shiitake mushrooms, discard stalks if too woody
  • a handful of wing beans, cut on an angle (or use snow peas or mange-tout)
  • a bunch of gai lan or similar Asian green, cut into 6-cm lengths

Method

Place the brains in a large bowl of cold water and run water gently through them for 5 minutes then drain most of the water from them. Dissolve 50 g fine salt in a cup of warm water and add this to the brains along with the vinegar and barely cover with cold water. Leave them to sit in the ‘brine’ for 30 minutes.

While they’re doing their thing, place all but 20 ml of the soy, the black vinegar, star anise, cinnamon, sliced onion and ginger in a large pot with 1 litre of cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes then turn the heat off and leave to cool to body temperature.

Once ready, drain the brains and place these in the pot, making sure they’re not too tightly packed in. Add the carrots as well and place a paper cartouche on top of the liquid and slowly bring to the boil. Simmer for 4 minutes then turn the heat off and leave them to cool completely. Once they’ve cooled, carefully remove the brains from the poaching liquid, pull the lobes apart and lay these on a tray lined with a kitchen cloth. Strain 200 ml of the liquid into a jug and pick the carrots out. You can discard the rest, although you could freeze the strained stock to be used for a meat stew at a later date.

Make the panizza by sifting the chickpea flour, five-spice, and ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Mix in 100 ml cold water and make a paste. Bring 400 ml water to the boil with 1 teaspoon salt. Turn the heat down then gently whisk the chickpea paste in. The mixture will thicken just like polenta or porridge and when it does, turn the heat down and cook over a low-moderate heat, stirring constantly but gently. Take from the heat and stir in 20 g of the butter then tip onto a lightly oiled main course plate, or a tray, and leave to cool down and set before cutting into 6-8 wedges, depending on whether you’re serving it as a starter for six or a main for four. When you’re almost ready to serve this dish, heat up a pan and add a few Tablespoons of peanut or sunflower oil and fry the panizza for a few minutes on each side until lightly coloured. Keep warm in a low oven.

Return the pan to the heat, wipe it of excess oil then add the remaining 30 g of butter. Cook over a moderate-high heat until the butter sizzles and turns golden brown. Add the brains and cook until coloured all over. Add the carrots and the reserved poaching liquor and bring to the boil, then simmer for 4 minutes, turning the brains over halfway through until they’re warmed.

Mix the reserved soy sauce with the mirin and sesame oil. Heat up a wok or a wide heavy-based pan. Once it’s really hot add a few teaspoons of the peanut or sunflower oil and then the shiitake and wing beans. Cook over a high heat, tossing frequently, until the vegetables colour. Add the gai lan and then the mirin mixture at which point it will steam up and sizzle. Toss the vegetables until it’s all but evaporated.

To Serve

Place a wedge of warmed panizza on warm plates, add the vegetables and the brains, then spoon over the poaching liquor.