I had an uncle who once said, “I don’t want to see the food until it hits the plate.” His point was he had no desire to know how the food looked during the skinning, butchering and cooking phase. “Just serve me the filet mignon.”
This uncle came to mind when I read an 1856 cookbook called “Practical American Cookery” that explained how to prepare a calf’s head for the dinner table:
Let the head be thoroughly cleaned; the brains and tongue be taken out; boil it in a cloth to keep it white; (it is well to soak the head for two or three hours previously to boiling; it helps to improve the color;) wash, soak, and blanch the brains; then boil them; scald some sage, chop it fine, add pepper and salt and a little milk; mix it with the brains; the tongue, which should be soaked in salt and water for twenty-four hours, should be boiled, peeled, and served on a separate dish. The head should boil until tender, and if intended to be sent to table plainly, should be served as taken up, with melted butter and parsley; if otherwise, when the head is boiled sufficiently tender, take it up, spread over a coat of the yolk of egg well beaten up; powder with bread crumbs, and brown before the fire, in an oven.
First of all, clearly there was a severe shortage of periods in 1856 because they used a; semi-colon; in; every; sentence. Setting that aside, I’m glad they mentioned you should soak the calf’s head for two or three hours before you boil it. Details are important in a good recipe.
You also have to soak the brains, but only after you wash them. Is there a special cleaner at the grocery store for this? “Excuse me, what aisle is the brain soap in?”
Remember to also soak the tongue, but make sure the water is salty. Do this for an entire day. “Mom, what’s this soaking in the tub?” “Oh, that’s a tongue, dear, just leave it, we are going to eat that for supper.”
Then boil and peel the tongue. And remember to serve it on a separate dish. Only peasants and union organizers serve tongue on the same tray as the calf’s head.
Now you have to decide if you want to serve the calf’s head “to table plainly” or not. “I’m sorry everybody for just serving up the calf’s head plainly, I just don’t have the time these days to do anything fancy with it, now that I am helping Pa plow every day during the season,” Ma explained.
But if you are trying to impress the boss in anticipation of getting a big promotion, just cover the head in egg yolk and bread crumbs. Hello, executive suite!