Calf’s Brains in Brown Butter

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


Appears in

Shaun Hill's Cookery Book

Shaun Hill's Cookery Book

By Shaun Hill

Published 1990

  • About

Aset of uncooked calf’s brains does not look mouth-watering; in fact, it’s a sight more reminiscent of Burke and Hare than anything gastronomic. Overcome this challenge, for the taste is delicate and savoury, and the texture pleasantly creamy.

Calf’s brains used to be a staple brasserie dish, often served as part of a head meat collage — tête de veau vinaigrette - with herb and shallot dressing. Along with similar dishes, ox tongue, pigs’ trotters, and tripe, they are very much part of another generation’s eating habits, and now, like flowered shirts, it is their turn to come back into fashion.

You may have to wait for a while for well prepared tête de veau to be readily available (unless you have an exceptional butcher), but calf’s brains are not too tricky, and they are inexpensive. Brains are the most delicately flavoured offal, and rich sauces are not appropriate.


  • 2 sets calf’s brains
  • 2 fl oz (50 ml) white wine
  • 1 shallot, peeled and sliced
  • 1 lemon
  • salt and freshly ground pepper

To Complete

  • 8 oz (225 g) unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon chopped parsley


The Brains

  1. The best things in the world to eat, like brains and foie gras, require the most attention in basic preparation, or else they are very nasty. Soak the brains for 24 hours in several changes of cold water.
  2. They will be soft and you don’t need anything other than your fingertips to clean them. Each brain will separate into larger pieces and a smaller piece which you should discard. Pinch away the creamy white parts from the underside of the brain, also any damaged or very dark areas.
  3. Put the brains into a saucepan with the white wine and shallot, squeezing in a little lemon juice and seasoning with salt and pepper. Add just enough water to cover themf then put a circle of buttered or greaseproof paper on top.
  4. Bring to the boil and remove from the heat. Allow them to cool in the cooking liquor.

To Complete

  • Remove the brains from the cooking liquor and pat dry. Season each with salt and pepper.
  • Melt a knob of butter (say 2 oz/50 g) in a warm pan. When it is sizzling hot, but before it browns, add the brains. Fry until nicely coloured, almost crisped on each side, about 7 minutes a side.

    Once brains are blanched, you can’t really hurt the texture by overcooking.

  • Lift them from the pan on to warmed plates. Squeeze a little lemon juice on each one.
  • Heat the rest of the butter in the pan you have used to fry the brains. As it turns brown, strain it into a jug or container and add the chopped parsley. Pour this foaming brown butter over each brain.

    If you pour the butter straight from the pan on to the plate, you will find the plate is showered with specks of butter; unfortunately it will look as if you forgot to wash it.