Bill Walker, chef at the Kennison, has nothing against offal. He’s even open to brains as long as they’re fresh. But when Stephen Hasson of Ugo’s challenged Walker to create a dish with Rose Pork Brain in Milk Gravy, Walker struggled with fact that the product comes in a can. For one thing, its smell and taste reminded him of another canned meat—namely, cat food. “[The brains are] just off-putting in a pink paste of milk gravy in a can,” he says.
Pork brains are traditional in southern cuisine, especially in the breakfast dish known as brains and eggs, which usually consists of pork or calf brains that are panfried and then scrambled with eggs. Brains have fallen out of favor over the years, though, and two other brands of canned pork brains in milk gravy—Armour and Kelly’s—have been discontinued, making Rose the only canned pork brains currently being produced.
Walker and his cooks tasted the brains straight out the can and concluded that “the smell is more off-putting than the taste,” Walker says. “The texture’s really strange. They just disintegrate in your mouth—not in a good way. They’re not very pleasant.”
To improve their texture, Walker dredged the pork brains in flour, cornstarch, salt, and pepper and deep-fried them. “It’s supposed to play on a dish that I always get when I go to Sticky Rice, which has ground Chinese sausages that they then fry with green beans,” he says. “I was looking for some sort of heavy flavor profiles and umami bombs that can cover up some of the funk of the pork brain.”
In Walker’s dish, the brains stood in for the sausages. He stir-fried haricots verts with garlic and tossed them with a sesame vinaigrette, adding sesame seeds and togarashi (a Japanese spice blend that typically includes chiles, orange peel, ginger, garlic, and seaweed). Plating the green beans with the fried brains and a sprinkle of cilantro, he admitted, “I’m trying to mask the flavor of the brains here. They don’t smell as bad once they’re cooked, though.”
Tasting the dish proved more pleasant than Walker expected. He says, “It’s almost like chicken.”
Walker has challenged Joshua Marrelli at Standard Market in Westmont to create a dish with aji amarillo, a chile native to South America and common in Peruvian cuisine.