Brains for Breakfast

Recipes from the past.

Have you ever felt that your brain was fried, or that you were brain-dead? Well, maybe it’s because you never ate brains for breakfast. Archaeologists learned early on that European Neanderthals consumed brains as a morning ritual. During my years documenting New Mexico’s Hispanic history I discovered that my ancestors regularly ate the brains of cows, goats, and sheep. The consumption of brain matter doesn’t sound too appetizing, but from a nutritional standpoint it is rich in DHA, the omega-3 fatty acid found in some types of fish. It’s also low in calories: an ounce of lamb brains has 35 calories, while beef brains have 41 calories per ounce.

A Cultural Delicacy

Even today, the brains of pigs, squirrels, horses, cattle, and monkeys are considered a delicacy. Animal brains are consumed in some of the best restaurants in France, bathed in their famously rich sauces. In the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America, brains are served with curries, in spicy Sichuan dishes, as fritters, and in any imaginable way suited to one’s culinary culture. In parts of Indonesia, monkey brains are served in the skull and passed around the dinner table.

Perhaps there’s something to the brain-eating theory. I’ve always wondered why my grandparent’s generation was so hearty, able to spend long, hard hours doing manual labor out in the fields all the way into old age. There’s research out there indicating that because of the rich source of DHA oils found in the brains of land animals, children who grew up eating brains had better brains and healthier nervous system than those who didn’t. Now I know why some of these old-timers smoked, drank, never even took an aspirin, and lived to be a hundred—it’s because they ate brains as a child. My father used to eat fried brains with scrambled eggs, and he lived to a ripe old age.

Although it should be a no-brainer to include this nutritionally rich delicacy in my diet, my brain just can’t fathom the idea of consuming the contents of another mammal’s head! However, for those adventurous souls out there, here’s a recipe that may interest you from my cookbook, Las Comidas de los Abuelos:

Sesos Fritos (Fried Brains)

2 pounds lamb or goat brains

1/4 pound bacon

1/4 cup dried onion

Fry the bacon, brains, and onion in a covered frying pan, stirring frequently, for 30 minutes. Serve with fried or scrambled eggs or eat in a tortilla sandwich.

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