How a Toronto cook feeds his hunger for brains with nachos

How a Toronto cook feeds his hunger for brains with nachos

Mandom Hui is hungry for BRAAAAAAAAINS.

Yes, it’s Halloween, but no, the recipe developer is not a zombie—he’s just homesick.

“I want pig brains now and then,” says Hui, a former site inspector and private detective who worked with chef Chris McDonald (Cava) on The Complete Sous Vide Cookbook. “It’s a delicacy in Chinese culture. When I lived in L.A., I used to get them in Asian grocery stores. In Toronto, I haven’t been able to find them at all.”

People eat brain all over the world: as tacos de sesos in Mexico, as tete de veau in France, as maghaz in Pakistan. The Hong Kong-born Hui describes a soup made with steamed brain, commonly served to students right before exams.

Anyone committed to the true nose-to-tail ethos needs to try brain, which is similar to goat cheese or tofu in texture, but with a rich porky flavour. If you’ve eaten guanciale (cheek), sweetbreads (thymus gland) or bacon (which, if you can believe it, is made from the belly of a pig), it’s a whole new frontier.

In Ontario, sheep and pig brains may be sold for human consumption regardless of the age of the animal, according to Bianca Jamieson, a spokeswoman for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. (Bovine brains, however, cannot be harvested from animals older than 30 months due to a heightened risk of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.)

Hui is grossed out by the idea of canned pig brains, which are available for delivery from Amazon; they’re steeped in “milk gravy,” which gives Hui the whim-whams. So he tracked down some butcher shops—World Meats in Mississauga, Woodward in Oakville and Gourmeats in the Junction— that were able to accommodate his request for fresh brains.

“This is the second time in four years someone has asked for brains,” says Alam Suleman, owner of Gourmeats. “Getting brains in bulk can be an issue. The industry standard for beef is that the abattoir owns the head, so cow brains are out of the question. Lambs are sold head-on, but unless you bring in many it’s hard to accumulate a decent quantity of brains. Most pigs are split in half, though, so pork brains are easier to harvest.”

As he doesn’t often have enough brains to sell, Suleman usually eats them himself, mixed in with scrambled eggs and curry. This time, though, he set aside five pounds for a delighted Hui.

We asked Hui to showcase the utility of the organ by sharing his recipe for brain nachos. Whether you make these for your Halloween party or on the night before a big exam, we think they’re a smart (get it?) choice.

Pig Brain Nachos

Make sure to thoroughly clean and sterilize all surfaces that come in contact with the raw brain. Pig brain is extremely high in cholesterol: a serving can contain up to 1,170 per cent of the recommended daily intake.

1 fresh pig brain

½ bag tortilla chips

2 pickled jalapeno peppers, sliced

1 cup (250 mL) black olives, sliced

1 cup (250 mL) Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese, grated

½ cup (125 mL) mayonnaise

½ avocado

Soak brain in water, changing water several times, until the liquid is clear and not murky. There is a membrane covering the whole half lobe of each brain. Carefully pinch to lift off the membrane. This will usually pull the blood vessels away from the brain. Moving slowly to avoid puncturing the brain, use a toothpick or skewer to remove any excess blood vessels. Rinse the brains by submerging in a bowl of water, inspecting to make sure any fragments of bone are gone.

Place brain into a glass jar with water to cover. Place the jar in a pot surrounded by water and bring to a boil until brain has cooked through, about 20 to 25 minutes. Drain with a colander. Transfer to paper towel to remove excess moisture.

Slice into strips. Preheat oven on broiler setting.

Layer chips on baking tray with jalapenos, olives, cheese and brain. Place under broiler until cheese melts. In a bowl, use fork to mash avocado with mayonnaise. Drizzle over nachos.

Recipe tested by Mandom Hui