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What do you do with a cow’s head, anyway?
August 27, 2009 | Frank Bonanno
The chill air of this August morning made me want to cook a whole animal—pig, lamb, goat—doesn’t really matter. There’s something about fall that calls for sacrifice, celebration and feast.
With that in mind, I’d like to share a recipe and brief thoughts on a movement.
First, the recipe: Pâté de Tête / Brawn
There is something beautiful to be had from the head of a veal. First, remove the tongue and the brain (which don’t require as much cooking time and can be enjoyed separately). Then, remove the cheeks (salt for guanciale).
Place what’s left of the head in a pot of cold water; bring to a boil; drain. Sauté the entire thing with a bit of mirepoix and olive oil, season liberally with salt and pepper, and brown up just a bit. Coat with a bottle of white wine, something good and dry, and top with water until the head is covered by about an inch. Lid and simmer for about six hours.
Once the veal head is boiled to complete tenderness, part the skull down the middle with your knife as though parting hair–the meat will fall right off the frame. Pick through to remove any tough cartilage.; put this succulent meat in plastic wrap and form into a torchon. Chill. The gelatin causes a nice jellyfish log, and after a few hours call it braw (or pâté de tête or head cheese): slice and serve as a pate, or (as I prefer) slice thickly (a slab), lightly coat in bread crumbs and pan fry until just brown, rich and nutty.
Use the veal stock to make a little Dijon sauce for a smear across the meat.
Now, Thoughts on a Movement: I’ve been asked more and more these past months about “snout to tail.” How are the restaurants addressing this movement? How is my approach to food affected by this trend? People attribute the cured meat and cheese program at Luca, the suckling pigs hanging in the walk-ins at Bones and the Osteria, whole roasted animals at my family’s home—as the reaction to a movement.
As a chef:
There is an art and an expertise and a challenge to breaking down an animal. To understanding what cuts need to be made where, and why. When I cook a pig, or a goat, or a cow–I get to implement every cooking technique—searing; long, slow braising; boiling; frying; roasting; sautéing; curing . . .I get to use my fingers, my hands, my knives and I use them from training and from memory—from process and precision. I get to cook with like-minded chefs who, for this while, will talk only of food. I exercise every skill-set my trade requires.
The results are immediate (camaraderie–blood soup, roasted marrow, crackling) and long-term (friendship–prosciutto, copocola), and through a whole animal, I get to experience the array of textures, aromas, and flavors that firmly ground me as the kind of chef I want to be.
As a human being:
I understand that a whole animal has made this sacrifice—not parts and pieces of it, not just a remarkably pink set of ribs shrink-wrapped in plastic, but ribs that were protecting a heart that beat life. I celebrate this bounty with butter and salt and wine and among friends.
So call it Snout to Tail and consider it a trend, but it is a movement whose origins extend well beyond our forefathers and theirs—not just an economic need to utilize an entire animal but as an appreciation for art and artifice of cooking, and for the beauty and abundance found in every part of an animal. Even in the head.