The Silence of the Lambs

Warning: Explicit images

I know that you are fine with the piece of lamb roast above. Ok, some of you readers are vegetarians, but just a few; and some don’t like lamb. But most of you have no problem with eating lamb. You all have had your Easter lamb roast, haven’t you? Leg of lamb, lamb shoulder, as is here the case, even a rack of lamb. You eat it, the braver ones among you have cooked it.

Lamb Shoulder

This is already where it starts to get touchy for some. See, I have friends who tell me that they “eat meat as long as it doesn’t look like the animal it comes from”. Last time a friend told me this, I started thinking. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against vegetarians. I am an omnivore, but not only do I think everyone should make the food choices he is comfortable with, I even have empathy with vegetarians. I really can understand if someone has problems with the taste or health implications of meat or with the conditions most animals are kept and slaughtered. But why eat meat if you don’t want it to look, smell, taste the part? Why should another being get killed for you if you do not acknowledge or enjoy it? Isn’t all these meat-eating-but-not-caring-for-it people the reason (well, part of it at least) for the mass production, the cruelty, the low quality?

This is where it gets really touchy:

Head of lamb

Roman cuisine, actually a poor man’s cuisine, uses all parts of animals. The innards are called “the fifth quarter”, all the parts that the butcher gets after selling more noble parts to the well-off. Well, let me tell you, the poor in Rome have been eating tasty dishes!

My favorite butcher in Rome, Annibale (that really is his name, don’t you also think he chose the right profession?), after testing me during my first visits, finally decided I am to be trusted and won’t run away shrieking if he gives me the head belonging to the lamb shoulder (actually a quarter of a lamb, since his lamb are so small). He sent me away with a couple of suggestions, but I already knew what I wanted to do with it.

Inside a lamb\'s head

The split-in-half head went into the hot oven, dressed with a couple of drops of olive oil. When it looked done, I scooped out the brains, cut the tongue out, picked the little scraps of meat on the cheeks. With the roasted and now naked skull I made a stock, added a can of tomatoes (it is too early in the year to be using fresh ones), the bits I had pried away and cooked my pasta directly in this sauce. Yes, it tasted of innards, a deep and satisfying taste. Cheap, simple, humble food fit for gods. And that lamb, it didn’t live and die in vain!

12 Responses

  1. ooooh, controversial! I’ve never eaten brains but I was intrigued when I saw recipes for them in the Silver Spoon. We have an excellent local butcher and I do eat most other bits of the animal so I think I could give it a go. Do you think you would eat brains often or is it a once in a lifetime experience?

  2. Hi Helen,
    I have eaten and will continue to eat brains (and other innards) often. I wouldn’t want to eat innards as my only meat, but they are definitely a totally different and yummy taste I wouldn’t want to miss anymore. What is also nice is breadcrumbed and then fried brains or kidneys and testicles sauteed in butter… If you have a good butcher and are already an adventurous eater, I would say “go for it!”.

  3. i love the title!
    (oh and i am one of those adventurous easters who will eat all parts of the animal – or at least give them a try. brains? check. like them too)

  4. i’m an omnivore and my husband is a vegetarian.
    my husbands attitude is that he won’t eat anything he’s not prepared to kill himself.
    i agree with your sentiments exactly. if we’re going to kill animals for food we do have to face up to the fact that they die for our pleasure.
    your lamb certainly was used to the last fleck of offal, but that little face looks so sad and pleading!

  5. I’m a vegetarian and a pretty hard core one at that, but I love the spirit of this post. If one is going to eat meat, the least one can do is to try and move away from the industrialization that adds a layer of animal cruelty to the ancient practice of animal husbandry (whatever one thinks of that) and produces food that is less nutritious.

    Growing up in a Pakistani household, we ate brains whenever we could find them, which was not often. Many in my family only ate Halal, which in those days meant getting meat from the local Jewish butcher, who was quite a character. One day my father asked him “do you have any brains” and received the answer “if i had any brains, do you think I’d be in this job?” Turns out not all innards are Kosher, though Muslims do consider them halal…

  6. This blog, specifically this post, is basically a combo of what we love: italy + a hardcore omnivore! I think I’m in love…

    I just got to your blog and I’m excited to read more. But this post has sealed the deal that I’m going to be a regular reader. MMMMM brains! MMMMM innards! MMMMMMMM meat!

    amy @ we are never full

  7. Excellent post!

  8. Andreea,
    thank you, and keep on eating!
    Anna,
    I understand your husband fully, thanks for writing me your sentiments, too. For me that lamb really looked as if it was smiling!
    Sameer,
    I am glad all my readers understood my sentiments in this post and also happy that you wrote a comment although you are a vegetarian. Love the story about the Jewish butcher. I neither knew that brains are not kosher.
    Jonathan & Amy,
    your blog title could have been mine! Please do keep on reading me.
    chefjp,
    your bolognese doesn’t look bad, either!

  9. How long did it take to roast in the oven? Looks kind of gruesome, and I know a lot of people who wouldn’t eat anything that still had the head on – eg. fish and chicken. I cooked a pig’s head once for a salad. I’d like to think I’m not squeemish when it comes to food, but having to pick up the head and rinse it before putting it in the pot, caused me to pause a little.

  10. Y,
    it was about an hour in a hot oven, it looked really done. As I think you have experience, I am sure you’ll see when it is done. And picking the head was the most fun part, believe me, after an hour in the oven, nothing was looking at you ;) and the bits were really delicious, you have to put them into the sauce. Oh, and: I didn’t rinse the head after roasting and de-meating, I had rinsed it before and I figured after that hot treatment there was no need to rinse again. It even would lessen the flavor, I guess.

  11. […] the market, about once a week. We are not vegetarians (see 6 & 7), but a substantial piece of meat like a steak, roast or chicken etc. we buy only around once a month from our favorite butcher […]

  12. […] PS: For more explicit pics and a discussion on eating meat, please read this blog post. […]

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