Getting Heads

Until earlier this month it never occurred to me that I was missing out on anything at mealtime, as far as the main entree was concerned. I know where to get good steaks, chops, ribs, briskets, poultry, etc. I know how to prepare every one of these cuts to get the very most out of what meat brings to the dinner table. There are only a couple of things that will taste better at the fanciest restaurant than from my own kitchen.

As you may or may not know, I am currently eating meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with no side dishes. No vegetables, chips, anything that is not meat, cheese, or eggs is to cross my lips until April. I am doing this to test something I read in “Good Calories, Bad Calories” by Gary Taubes. In that book researchers say that just eating meats keeps a person from feeling hunger between meals, and that doing it (if the meat is quality and natural) does not cause any deficiency symptoms, either.

I have been just eating meat for two weeks now. I can safely say that both of these assertions are true in my case. For the first week I had a bit of an adjustment to the complete lack of carbs. I had some difficulty sleeping because I would be thirsty at night, at least part of which is the dry winter air, and my legs would feel like I just had to move them. Those things have subsided, now that I drink enough water during the day so that I no longer have these symptoms of dehydration. I also ate some birthday cake at a birthday party, so purity is not something that I feel is critical to my test, but otherwise I have been pure to my regimen.

Another side effect of just eating meat three meals a day is that I want to eat some different kinds of meat. Yesterday I bought a new book on Kindle: “Odd Bits:How To Cook the Rest of the Animal,” by Jennifer McLagan.


Just look at a sample of these delicacies:Roasted Pig’s Head with Spiced Glaze, Cold Pig’s Ear Salad, Cheese and Just a Little Brain Fritters, Spicy Tongue Tacos, Sweetbreads (Thymus gland) with Orange and Cumin, Roast Suckling Pig, Grilled Liver With Currant Sauce, Beginner’s Tripe (stomach), Sour Lung Soup, Deviled Kidneys and Mushrooms, Testicles with Caramelized Onions. I don’t know about you, but that is the very epitome of variety, right there.

I have already called my butcher and I can get it all from him:sweetbread, whole hog heads, kidneys, livers. I didn’t ask specifically about testicles. The only thing I can’t get from him is blood. I want blood because I have a recipe for blood sausage that I want to try out, and you can’t without fresh blood. I want to try these things because I am sure that if you are going to eat meat you also need to eat the other bits and pieces, so that they are not wasted. Right now these things are ground into pet foods (and probably for feeding back to cows and pigs in feedlots and confinements).

This way of eating is not new, and obviously it’s not trendy. It is as old as cooking and eating are. Here is a recipe for a hog’s head from the 1700’s

105. To roll a PIG’S Head to eat like Brawn (beef cheeks). Take a large pig’s head, cut off the groin ends, crack the bones and put it in water, shift it once or twice, cut off the ears, then boil it so tender that the bones will slip out, nick it with a knife in the thick part of the head, throw over it a pretty large handful of salt; take half a dozen of large neat’s feet (beef), boil them while they be soft, split them, and take out all the bones and black bits; take a strong coarse cloth, and lay the feet with the skin side downwards, with all the loose pieces in the inside; press them with your hand to make them of an equal thickness, lay them at that length that they will reach round the head, and throw over them a handful of salt, then lay the head across, one thick part one way and the other another, that the fat may appear alike at both ends; leave one foot out to lay at the top to make a lantern to reach round, bind it with filleting as you would do brawn, and tie it very close at both ends; you may take it out of the cloth the next day, take off the filleting and wash it, wrap it about again very tight, and keep it in brawn-pickle. This has been often taken for real Brawn.

Elizabeth Moxon. English Housewifery / Exemplified in above Four Hundred and Fifty Receipts Giving Directions / for most Parts of Cookery (Kindle Locations 478-486).

Man! That’s complicated, but it was obviously worth writing down. It’s also obviously not something that was written down just to sell books because of the ‘gross’ factor. The old receipt (recipe) book quoted above is absolutely packed with ways to cook things it would never occur to you to cook. These were things that were fed to kings and queens first, and to the lesser folk if there was some to spare. The menu in yesterday’s post looks like the bill of faire for a feast, with enough food to feed a very large extended family. It probably was.

Here is a recipe from about one hundred years later, in 1841:

27. Sweet Bread, Liver, and Heart. A very good way to cook the sweet bread, is to fry three or four slices of pork till brown, then take them up and put in the sweet bread, and fry it over a moderate fire. When you have taken up the sweet bread, mix a couple of tea-spoonsful of flour with a little water, and stir it into the fat—let it boil, then turn it over the sweet bread. Another way is to parboil them, and let them get cold, then cut them in pieces about an inch thick, dip them in the yelk of an egg, and fine bread crumbs, sprinkle salt, pepper, and sage on them, before dipping them in the egg, fry them a light brown. Make a gravy after you have taken them up, by stirring a little flour and water mixed smooth into the fat, add spices and wine if you like. The liver and heart are good cooked in the same manner, or broiled.

Anonymous. The American Housewife / Containing the Most Valuable and Original Receipts in all / the Various Branches of Cookery; and Written in a Minute / and Methodical Manner (Kindle Locations 635-641).

So, for hundreds of years kings and queens were eating the offal parts of our food animals, relegating the lesser cuts to us commoners. Somewhere along the way everyone forgot about these pieces, and now they are only eaten by Rover and Tabby. I suppose that when we started letting one place do all of the slaughtering, bypassing the local butcher, is when suddenly there was a surplus of offal in one place, and no way to get it out to the market quick enough to avoid it losing quality through time. These pieces do not store or preserve well, they need to be eaten right away. Sometimes you can find some of these cuts in the case at the supermarket. I see tripe, brains, livers from time to time–not knowing how to treat them right in the kitchen always turned me away.

Now I know and I am going to subject my poor captive wife to my first fledgling efforts to cook them properly.  I may just start with a hog head, because pork is so hard to screw up. Next I will probably move on to sweetbread, because it has a cool name that might bring enough coolness with it to get us to eat some. I feel strongly that if we are going to kill animals for food, the very least we could do would be to eat everything we killed. It would only be polite.


Thymus Glands–Sweetbreads

About dcarmack

I am an instrument technician at the electric utility servicing the Kansas City Missouri metropolitan area. I am in the IBEW, Local 412. I was trained to be a nuclear power plant operator in the USN and served on submarines. I am a Democrat, even more so than those serving in Congress or the White House.
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