“For me, eating calf’s head is a must in Lyon—even for breakfast,” says chef Daniel Boulud about this Lyonnaise specialty. “It brings back memories of family gatherings and special occasions. We used to raise and slaughter our own calves growing up.” Instead of tackling the butchery on your own, have your butcher do the heavy lifting for you: Ask for the meat, tongue, and brain to be separated from the skull, but leave the skin on because, as Boulud says, “it’s not tête de veau without the skin.”
To get the most out of your calf’s head, serve it with herby ravigote sauce.
Featured in: Don’t Mess with the Food of Lyon
- 1 (12-15lb.) skin-on calf head, deboned, meat cut into 2-inch pieces, tongue removed (have your butcher do this for you)
- 1 1⁄2 tbsp. Kosher salt, plus more
- 8 large carrots
- 6 ribs celery
- 4 leeks, trimmed and washed, white and green parts separated
- 3 medium yellow onions, peeled
- 3 bay leaves
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 6 whole cloves
- 1 bunch parsley, stems and leaves separated, plus 2 tsp., finely chopped
- 1 1⁄2 lb. fingerling or German butterball potatoes, peeled
- 2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1⁄4 cup Dijon mustard
- 2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
- 1⁄4 cup chopped cornichons
- 2 tbsp. capers
- 2 tsp. finely chopped chives
- 2 tsp. finely chopped tarragon
- 1⁄4 tsp. cayenne pepper
- Soak the calf brain overnight in cold water. Put the calf head and meat, the tongue, and 1 tablespoon salt in a large pot. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a low simmer and cook, skimming any scum that rises to the top, for 15 minutes. Add 2 carrots, 1 stalk of celery, the leek greens, 1 onion, 1 bay leaf, and 1 sprig of thyme and simmer for 1 ½ hours. Strain and discard the water and vegetables.
- Add the head, meat, and tongue back to the pot and cover with fresh water and the remaining ½ tablespoon salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes, skimming any scum that rises to the top.
- Tie the remaining 6 carrots, 5 stalks of celery, and the leek whites in a bundle with butcher’s twine. Stud the remaining 2 onions with the cloves and tie the remaining bay leaves together with the remaining thyme and the parsley stems. Add the vegetables to the pot. Cook an additional 30 minutes, then add the potatoes; continue cooking another 30 minutes.
- While the head continues to cook, remove some of the cooking liquid into a small pot and add the brain. Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, until firm, then set it aside, still in the liquid, to cool slightly.
- When the head meat is tender, remove the pot from the heat and strain out the tongue and the vegetables, keeping the head meat inside the liquid. Peel the skin from the tongue and slice it thinly, on a bias, about ¼-inch thick. Cut the carrot, leek, and celery into 2-inch segments and discard the onions and the herbs. Leave the potatoes whole.
- Meanwhile, remove the white from the hard-boiled eggs and chop finely. In a medium bowl, whisk the hard-boiled egg yolk with the mayonnaise, mustard, and red wine vinegar until it becomes a thick paste. Stir in the chopped parsley, the reserved and chopped egg whites, the cornichons, capers, chives, tarragon, cayenne, salt, and pepper, and set the gribiche aside.
- In a large, shallow serving dish, arrange the vegetables along the outside, then add the pieces of head meat. Add the slices of tongue and place the brain at the center. Garnish with parsley leaves and serve with the gribiche.