Thursday, October 4, 2012

Do not enter unless...

.... you are any, some or all of the below:
  •  a fan of Andrew Zimmern's Bizzarre Foods
  •  an adventurous, curious eater
  •  a person with a strong stomach
  •  a fool for Halloween or anything gory
  •  NOT a vegetarian
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the testina di agnello, or roast lamb head, an ancient recipe and a prized part of the animal for aficionados.
It had to chuckle while posting all these warnings because this was a common, much appreciated meal all over the world back in the day when meat was scarce and you did not throw away any part of a slaughtered animal.
According to one of the many websites I read, the carpenter Peppino used to celebrate the sale of every piece he made with a special dinner. He wanted his 12 children to understand and appreciate hard work from an early age, so he would have his wife prepare a feast making capùzze au furne, the roasted head of a lamb, a cut of meat the wealthier families threw away.
The family ate the meal slowly, savoring every bite, because it was a rare privilege. They ate each and every part of the head with great precision, enjoying the different textures and flavors.
Now I am a person who will eat pretty much anything and I am always willing to try something new. I'm the kind of girl who loves eating the pope's nose (the chicken's tail) and fish cheeks, nibblings on necks and sucking shrimp heads. I eat all kinds of sweetbreads and I love lamb, so when we came across some freshly prepared testine at the supermarket and my children squealed in glee at the sight of them, I thought it would be a fun adventure. 
I have watched Andrew Zimmern eat roasted animal heads in jungles, in deserts, on beaches countless times and wax lyrical about them. If you love brain, tongue and the tender, collagene-rich cheeks of bulls, how can you not enjoy all the different textures and flavorful cuts of meat in one dish?
I was not in the least bit worried so I bought the head, accurately sliced in two and went home to read up and make it. What I was not expecting was the feeling of slight avversion that hit me when I picked up the half head and turned it over. The eyelashes made me feel guilty, the furry nose made me feel a little sickly and the random teeth left behind literally grossed me out.

I now have a little (I said a little) more understanding for the many people, especially my fellow Americans, who freak out when they are served a meat/fish dish that vaguely resembles the animal it comes from. I will agree that it can be quite shocking if you are not accustomed to eating things a certain way. Then again you already know how I feel about the subject (lucky you, no getting onto the soapbox today!) and I by no means wanted my children to feel my  unease, so I just proceeded in the preparation.
There are a variety of recipes out there in all languages. Some suggest soaking the head in water and vinegar for a few hours, others insist on cooking the meat for hours while many insist it should just be cooked through to maintain the texture. I rinsed mine, dried it, brushed it with olive oil and seasoned it with a mix of salt and herbs and put it in the oven insides facing up for about 40 minutes (I think at 200°C).
The result?
Well, first of all one head for two adults and two children was barely enough for an appetizer, especially if your kids are fighting over all the good bits with you. If you are making it as a main course, I would suggest making at least half each.
The meat looked much more appetizing once it had been roasted: eyelashes and fur had pretty much burned away but I still did not enjoy pulling the nose skin off and when a tooth hit the blade of my knife the metallic sound sent a little shiver down my spine.
I actually only used the knife to cut the tongue into equal parts. This is a dish to be eaten with your hands. The best parts are hidden in nooks and crannies and you don't want to miss them, or do you? And like most meat on the bone, it tastes better this way. Not to mention the kids had a ball.
It was good, tasty and fun to eat. I am not lying when I say both my kids have asked me several times when we will make it again and loved telling their classmates about it the next day.
So if you are looking for a new dish for your Halloween party, forget the gory look-alike food and serve the real thing. Your guests might be more surprised by how much they enjoyed the meal than by what you actually served!




  1. Here in Lebanon and in all of the Middle-East, people eat the entire lamb for a party (and even stuff it); personally, I am one of those bleeding heart types who prefers to befriend an animal than eat it, but then hey, I understand that others don't feel the same as I do; maybe I was grossed out when as a kid we'd go to the mountains for a picnic and there was always some folks nearby who were skinning a live goat and roasting it. Well, I applaud you for being way more adventurous than I am and your kids clearly enjoyed the ride!

    1. I'm not sure I would enjoy having a picnic while people are skinning an animal right next to me, even if it were dead, even if I am adventurous. I love animals and would not be capable of killing one to eat it, but once it is cooked I can eat pretty much anything (although I haven't gone down the insect road yet and don't know if I ever will).

  2. I'll eat just about anything—and this actually looks pretty good to me! I've always enjoyed tête de veau (boiled veal's head) with grebiche sauce, so why not roasted lamb's head?

    I"ll have a little brain and a slice of tongue, please.... You can keep the eyeball. ;=)

    1. If, like me, you enjoy roasted meat you would love this. I am sure your local butcher will give one to try, maybe even for free!
      Yeah, not an eyeball lover myself...

  3. I made head cheese recently using a pork head and I was a little grossed out by the teeth, but the meat itself was delicious! Unfortunately in my case they had already removed brain and tongue :(

    I'll have to look for lamb though!

    1. Was that headcheese in your cured meat post? Wow, that is impressive! As I wrote Frank, I am sure your butcher can give you the head of an animal.

  4. What an amazing dish! And you know I was so intrigued by your opening warning I couldn't wait for the page to load! Well done, it looks so amazing!

    1. Hehe, you did come to mind when I thought of a gory Halloween buffet! I always love yours.

  5. I am quite adventurous too... but seeing teeth would have put me off. The final dish looks delicious though! I love roasted meat! My dad makes testina di maiale in gelatina... he LOVES it... I should get his recipe! :-)


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