Calf’s head hash: a dish for brave cooks with big appetites

You may feel a bit too squeamish to try this recipe for calf’s head hash. But for those brave enough to take up the challenge, the  reward is a stunning centrepiece.

Preparing a whole calf’s head is not for the squeamish...

Preparing a whole calf’s head is not for the squeamish…

If you saw the BBC documentary Calf’s Head and Coffee, you may well remember Stefan Gates preparing a stuffed calf’s head from a recipe of 1755.
The calf’s head hash recipe in our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies also dates from the Georgian period and should yield similar results.

It is a long recipe, and fairly difficult to unpick. Here is a basic outline of the method:

– First the calf’s head is cut in half. One side is covered in breadcrumbs and browned, while the other is sliced up as the ‘hash’.

– Next, beef is cooked on the stove to express its juices, made fragrant by the addition of pepper, allspice, winter savoury and onions. Butter is added to enrich the sauce, and when as much juice has been drawn from the meat as possible, it is strained and thickened.

– Oysters, anchovies, mushrooms, ketchup, a little mace and a touch of white wine are all stirred into the gravy. The sliced head hash is then boiled up in this surf-and-turf sauce, along with some bacon.

– Fresh forcemeat balls now need making up, and the calf brain boiled and then fried to make fritters.

– Finally, the presentation: the breaded half of the head is served with its garnish of fried brains, forcemeat, and lashings of gravy.

The calf’s head is used in this recipe – tongue, brains and all. It’s a fine example of how economical Georgian recipes could be while still making a spectacular showpiece of food.

18th century recipe for a calf's head hash. The head is breaded and garnished with brain fritters and forcemeat balls.

18th century recipe for a calf’s head hash. The head is breaded and garnished with brain fritters and forcemeat balls.

To Make a Calfs Head Hash

Boil the head fit for a hash. Take one half & drudge it with crumbs of bread & nutmeg greated. It must be first rubd over with the yolk of an egg. Baste it with butter & set before a good fire to brown. Slice the other half of the head & the tongue. Take two pound of fresh beef, slice it very thin, put it in the toss pan with some whole pepper and alspice, some winter savory & some onions slicd & a bout a quarter of a pound of butter. Cover it close with a plate or anything that will keepe it very close till the gravy comes all out. Pour of that gravy & put to the beef a bove a pint of water. Boil it till you git the good of the beef out. Put it to the other gravy & let it stand till cold & skim of the fit a gain. Strain all the gravy while it is warm. Put a bout a quarter of a pound of butter in the toss pan. Lit it boil in the pan till it leaves off boiling. Drudge it with flower & keep it stiring till it [is] brown but don’t make it to thick. Add all your gravy to it. Let it boil up. Let it stand & skim off the fat a gain. Put in a little pounded mace, some oysters, anchovys, mushroons, catchup & a little white wine. Put in your hash & some fryed bacon, give it a good boil & serve it up with forcd meat balls & the brains fryed.

You may make the forcd meat of any fresh meat. You must first parboil your meat & cut it in thin slices. Put to it some suet, some fat of bacon & some onion cut small. Season it with pepper, allspice & salt. Some crumbs of bread to it, then chop it as fine as possible. Mix it well to gether, taking out any strings. Wet it with a raw egg. Mix it well & role it into balls with a little flower. Fry them brown & keep them very hot. If you cant git suet, put same butter instead of it.

Boil the brains & beat them up. Put to thim an egg, a little creame, a little flower, some grated nutmeg & salt. Beat them well to geather & fry thim like fritters. Garnish the head with thim & the forcd meat. If the head is small, boil the sholder & slice some in the hash. It is best to make the forcd meate of it if you have it.