Last weekend we headed down to Naples to visit Mommy Ryan and get away from the cold weather in Boston. If you’ve briefly visited Naples before, you might not think highly of the food scene there; lots of small strip mall restaurants or overpriced large restaurants downtown. But, after a few years of visits to Naples I can confidently say it is one of my favorite places to eat despite then having to go shirtless at the beach and pool. The food is diverse, high quality, and spans regional cuisine from across the country and other cultures as well. Makes sense considering people move there from pretty much everywhere and want their favorite comfort foods nearby.
While visiting I sampled some incredible pastrami from Pastrami Dan’s (a retired New Yorker), fried sheep’s milk cheese with chicken livers and tender octopus from Pelagos, upscale Mexican from Masa, and traditional seafood at Kelly’s. The bakeries and raw materials to cook at home are equally as diverse and awse. A few examples:
Jimmy P’s and Wynn’s have supplied the ingredients for previous blog posts including lamb kidneys and all posts involving head-on shrimp. So, in addition to the two delicious pieces of meat shown above, I also tapped them for two odd items I’d never sampled before: veal brains and shad roe.
Veal brains are pretty self explanatory, but shad roe is the roe sack from a river herring that is usually only harvested for a brief period every year. I learned all of that just now from Wikipedia, but I had long been interested in shad roe since Mooman has raved about it for years. I was very excited when I saw it at Wynn’s, even though it is funky looking stuff.
Funky looking stuff, and apparently this wasn’t even half as bad as it looks when it is very fresh. What’s in the container represents the two roe sacks from one fish, connected by a membrane in the center. At this point I couldn’t understand what all the fuss (primarily from Mooman) was about; it looked just like any other roe sack from a fish. And those other roe sacks tend to cook up mealy, flavorless, and insanely dry.
While a few pats of butter melted in a sautee pan, I separated the roe sacks from the center membrane and seasoned heavily with salt and black pepper. Once the butter started to brown slightly, I added the shad roe to the pan.
After a few minutes of saute time, the roe sacks appeared to be firming up a bit so I flipped them and squeezed a little lemon juice into the pan as well.
After a few more minutes, I divided each roe sack in half and moved them to pieces of toasted baguette. The remaining butter stayed over medium heat with an additional splash of white wine and a squeeze of additional lemon juice. After a couple minutes of reducing the sauce while stirring constantly, I poured a few spoonfuls over each of the pieces of shad roe and served.
Definitely the best fresh roe I’ve ever tasted since it didn’t have any of the negatives that you usually get with fish roe; not fishy, no mealiness, and the eggs still had a little pop to them. The flavor was very mild and had a little clam-like flavor. The brown butter, wine, and lemon sauce was a nice complement without overpowering the flavor of the roe. The bread was probably a little unnecessary, but it did a good job of absorbing the sauce and minimized the need for utensils. As usual with the odd stuff, Janet enjoyed it.
Now on to the veal brains. The moment you’ve been waiting for!
I’ve had some ups (goat) and downs (sheep) with brains over the past few years, but I thought veal would be a solid choice since I assumed the flavor would be mild. The brains went into a cold water bath for about 6 hours, changing the water regularly.
Once the water remained relatively clear after 30 minutes, I removed the brains to dry them and lay out on the cutting board. You knew this foto was coming at some point and it ends up being pretty brutal.
The brains were soft and there was a fair amount of brain stem pieces. Good god this sucks to write about. Let’s fast forward to when I was done cutting into individual pieces and tossing in flour seasoned heavily with salt and pepper.
I coated the pieces in flour and fried in two batches. While I was in the process of trimming and coating, I had a pan of vegetable oil and some bacon fat heating on the stovetop. Once a small piece of bread browned within 30 seconds when dropped in the oil, I added the brain pieces to the oil.
After 3-4 minutes I flipped each piece then cooked for a few more minutes before transferring to paper towels to drain off any excess oil.
The next batch headed (wokka wokka) into the oil and went through the same flipping and draining process. Originally I had hoped to drizzle a little butter, lemon, and caper sauce but I forgot about it while it was on the stove and that didn’t really work out for me. So. instead, I squeezed a little lemon over the pieces and topped with chopped parsley and shredded parm.
I was relatively confident that these would be tasty but I was surprised they turned out as well as they did. The coating was salty and had some smoky pork flavor from the bacon grease. The texture and flavor of the brains was almost identical to veal sweetbreads, with a crunchy fried exterior. The meat was soft and creamy, which might sound off-putting but it is why it pairs so well with a crunchy coating. The flavor was very mild and only slightly beef-like, which also makes it very difficult to describe. Just try sweetbreads next time you see them on a menu and you’ll get what I am talking about.
I was most impressed with how much of that pile of fried food we went through. Janet had been in bed for a few hours so she was of no help, but between me, Tim, and Mommy Ryan we made it through all but a couple of these. Kristi pretty much sat out all adventurous foods in this meal.
I need to take a few weeks off from WCIC after this one. This one was odd even by my standards.