A few weeks ago, I was greeted by something pink and squishy on my station one night at Cashion’s. Chef had planned a new appetizer for me – deep-fried goat brains. I inspected them beforehand, mostly intrigued (being squeamish won’t get you far in this business). Judging by the size of them, I concluded that goats were obviously not the most intelligent animals. The brains were dipped in seasoned eggs, battered with panko, and then deep-fried until golden brown. On the side, we served a curry-infused mayo. Prepared in this way, the goat brains taste surprisingly a lot like fried oysters. Crunchy on the outside with a smooth, creamy interior, you could even think of the goat brain as a savory chocolate truffle. Okay, maybe that’s a bit off-setting, so think about it this way – if you like oysters, then give goat brains a try.
Cashion’s often orders whole animals, such as goat, and tries to use as much of the animal as possible to minimize waste. A few weeks after the brains, Chef assigned duck livers to my station. Instead of egg and panko, the livers were dipped in tempura batter first and then deep-fried. The livers cook very quickly and will turn a slightly darker color when ready.
Cashion’s also serves a goat liver wrapped in caul fat with herbs and seasoning, then grilled. Caul fat, if you are unfamiliar with it, is fatty membrane that protects internal organs. Pork and veal caul fat are the most common, and are used in cooking to help keep meat moist and flavorful. The spider web-like appearance of caul fat (pictured, right) is only temporary – the fat melts into the meat when cooked. Liver has a very strong flavor (a little goes a long way!), whether it is deep-fried or grilled. I prefer the former, because let’s be honest, what isn’t good deep-fried?
Veal sweetbreads, or the thymus gland, have also been on the menu at Cashion’s. The sweetbreads are seasoned with salt and pepper, patted with flour and then sautéed with spinach. Out of all of the internal and organ meats the restaurant has served, these are probably my favorite. The flavor and creamy texture is similar to brain, but a little milder. Interestingly, sweetbreads must always be from young animals such as veal or lamb (try not to wince at the photo!). As the animal matures, the thymus gland, which helps protect from disease, is less needed and gradually disappears.
Sweetbreads are quickly gaining popularity, as more and more restaurants in the D.C. area are preparing them in a multitude of ways. For example, Restaurant Eve in Alexandria is currently offering veal sweetbreads with brocoli puree, kolhrabi (a vegetable from the cabbage family), and duck-glazed turnips. Estadio on 14th Street offers veal sweetbreads with filet beans (similar to haricot verts), tomatoes and bacon. Palena in Cleveland Park even has a “Head to Toe” feast, where for a minimum party of six adventurous diners, an entire cow can be enjoyed. I’ve heard that brains, heart and more make an appearance on this menu. To me, this sounds awesome.
Organ meats are not often found on menus, since they can be difficult to sell. I can understand why, as many customers would be taken aback by seeing the word “brain” in a restaurant. However, it’s a rare chance to try something new – if livers, thymus glands and brains were dangerous or inedible, then they wouldn’t be offered in the first place. So be adventurous, and trust the chef if you encounter organ meat on a menu.(Thanks to http://adventurefoodie.blogspot.com/2011/06/bheja-fry-goat-brain-fritters.html for the goat brain photo, http://www.slowtrav.com/blog/pomodori_e_vino/2011/06/amarcord_from_the_tuesday_pomo_1.html for the lovely photo of caul fat, and http://www.cheftalk.com/cooking_articles/Cooking_Techniques/124-How_to_Cook_Sweetbreads_-_the_Supreme_Offal.html for the sweetbreads.)