Lamb’s Brain Terrine

This recipe is closely inspired by a recipe of Paula Wolfert who, in turn, points out she has been inspired by Lucien Vanel; so thank you Lucien Vanel, and indeed Paula Wolfert.

As well as being delicious and textural to eat, this terrine, when sliced, beautifully exposes a cross section of brain, caught in a meaty square.  Although this may not sound it at all, it s a thing of beauty.

A happy new year to you and yours!  To kick it off I decided that I’d try something new for my first post of 2009.  Sadly, while making a terrine is new experience for me, this is the last lamb’s brains recipe in the book.  I’ve actually grown fond of brains’ light, custardy texture.  They truly are a unique ingredient and I can see myself using them again in the future.

I need to again thank the very kind folks at Zituna World Food Market for saving eight lovely brains for me and my very good friend Sharon Peters for putting up with me.  These brains were lightly poached …

… and laid out to dry after being shocked in ice water to keep them from cooking too much.

The duck livers needed for this recipe were actually the hardest ingredient to find to make this terrine.  Thankfully, my trusty Asian market has just recently been putting more ducky parts out for people to buy and livers are plentiful now.  I suppose I really should consider duck hunting at some point this year.  I still need duck necks…

Anyhow, the duck livers were whizzed in my food processor along with some garlic, shallots, ground veal, ground pork and some fatback.  Mr. Henderson urges extreme caution at this point, as he relays in the recipe that texture in a terrine is a very grand thing.  Not wanting to make a mistake–that will come later–I made sure to pulse the food processor just enough.

The meaty mixture was transferred to a bowl and, along with a splash of brandy, various spices were added.  Mr. Henderson asks for allspice, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg, calling them quatre épices–though every result for quatre épices on Google says that pepper is usually considered one of the four spices–and that they are vital for making various terrine and sausage recipes.  The spices are used to “wake up” the ground meat’s flavor.

A little while ago, one of my wife’s co-workers ended up getting a very nasty bit of software on their home computer.  Thinking that it would be a trivial thing to set the computer right, I volunteered to go and fix it.  It ended up taking two evenings to banish the ugly little bugger from their PC, but I succeeded in the end.   My rewards were a bottle of vodka from Russia, a very nice Cuban cigar, a wonderful dinner and the lovely little terrine pan you see above.  Thank you very much, John Michael and Karen!

I lined the terrine pan with tin foil and then lined it again with strips of streaky bacon.  Carefully I filled the bottom with the meat mixture, and then placed a few brains down the very middle of pan.  As you’ll see in the final picture, I should have added more brains, but I was afraid that I’d end up with a layer of brain rather than the cross section Mr. Henderson described in the foreword.  On top of the brains more meat mixture was piled in and streaky bacon was laid on top to finish the terrine construction.

To cook the terrine, I needed to set it into a water bath.  I had originally wrapped the terrine with plastic wrap, but it just wasn’t water-proof.  I ended up vacuum sealing the whole thing just to make sure.  After two hours in the water bath, the terrine was transferred to refrigerator with a weight on top to set everything into shape.

I’d like to think for my first effort, this turned out pretty nicely.  You can see that there is a bit of brain there in the middle, though I really do wish I had put more in while I was making it.  You can see bits of fatback here and there also, so the texture must have been pretty close to correct.  The real kicker–and the mistake I eluded to earlier–is that the meat needed salt.  It needed it badly.  In the ingredient list, Mr. Henderson warned caution on salt usage.  If the bacon and fatback had been salted–which they had–the instructions say not to add any more.  For whatever reason, it just wasn’t enough.  After my first bite ended up bland, I sprinkled a small amount of sea salt on a slice and tried it again.  The taste was greatly improved, and I could make out the other spices finally.  Texturally, the lamb brains were perfectly light and wonderful–as they have been for every recipe, thankfully–and the meat mixture was rough and crumbly.  The two really complimented each other, with the brains almost playing the part of a sauce, as they melted and coated the mouth.

This is a very fine terrine recipe.  I swear, I’ll be making it again.  I really will.  With more salt next time.  It’ll be totally worth the effort.

One down, ninety to go.

6 thoughts on “Lamb’s Brain Terrine

  1. Ryan, aside from my own Gourmet posse (and Carol’s Alinea blog) yours is the one I read with the most fascination. You’re forging ahead in territory I’ve never even dreamed of! Good stuff–thanks so much.

    And, a numerical question: when you say “one down, seventy-two to go”, surely that’s not accurate since you’ve cooked far more than one…shouldn’t it be something more like, “fifteen down, seventy-two to go”?


  2. Melissa, thank you so very much for the compliment! I follow your blog as well, I really should comment more. I blame the fact I use the RSS feed for that, I’m sorry. Speaking of which, crown roast? WOW.

    When I say “one down, so and so to go”, sometimes I manage to fit two or three recipes in one post. It’s pretty rare, but then I get to say, “Two down, so and so to go”, which feels very nice. 🙂 I suppose you’ve got a point though. It’d just be tough to switch now. 🙂

  3. Ryan,
    A beautiful dish, and, as always, a wonderful blog! If you’re looking for duck necks, the easiest place should be the Asian market where you bought your livers. “Confucian Style” ducks are slaughtered and kept whole, with minimal processing. At the Asian markets in Minnesota, they’re available both fresh and frozen.
    As for the salt, I use a lot more of it in pates and terrines than other things, simply because they’re served cold. A leaky terrine mold is a good reason to have the Le Creuset enameled cast-iron terrine.
    Duck Fat and Politics

  4. Thank you very much pganey! I’ve been looking at picking up one of the cast-iron terrines. Maybe one of these days…

    Buying whole ducks has also crossed my mind. I don’t think it’ll be too terrible dealing with all that lovely duck meat. 🙂

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