Pork brains, canned sausage, and Chang
Since the dawn of Taste Test, only a smattering of the dozens of products that have made their way into our laboratories have caused outright disgust and avoidance in your intrepid tasters. The briny, swine-y siren call of pickled pig lips drew only a few brave souls, and the one and only Internet Eating Sensation Dave Chang was the only one who stepped up to take on Chicken In A Can (by candlelight, no less). But nothing has sent as many tasters scurrying away as today’s entry; even Chang balked, eventually backing down only after months of wheedling from Chief Instigator Josh.
What could strike so much fear into the hearts and stomachs of The A.V. Club’s roster of hardened, professional(ish) tasters? Nothing less than the favorite delicacy of zombies and naegleria fowleri: brains. Canned pork brains in milk gravy, to be exact, in keeping with our ongoing quests to one day collectively consume an entire porker and eat anything and everything commercially available in a can. Consuming said organ meat during the height of swine-flu mania only amplified the sense of danger/stupidity (and the opportunity for nervous joking), but the real danger of pig brains lies in the nutritional information label.
That’s right, 1,060 percent of the recommended daily value of cholesterol. In a package smaller than a tuna can. Surely something so decadent must hold some hidden taste treasure—a vaguely taboo, naughtily delicious delicacy on par with foie gras or veal, right?
Well, that is very, very debatable, which we’ll get to below. But first, in defense of this supposed Southern delicacy, we’ll turn the floor over to the honorable Howard Coble, the Republican Congressman for North Carolina’s sixth district. Coble, who contributed his mom’s famous “Brains N’ Eggs” recipe to the Congress Cooks! cookbook, has this to say:
“When I was a youngster, my mom used to prepare Brains N’ Eggs for breakfast. It was a fairly regular breakfast, not at all unusual. So that’s when I started eating them. I’ve enjoyed them ever since, but I can’t find any on Capitol Hill. I’ll admit the name of the dish is not the most appetizing, but try ’em, you might like ’em!”
We might like ’em? Who could resist such a tentative endorsement, delivered with such folksy punctuation? You’re on, Coble!
To complete this breakfast of the damned, we augmented our Brains N’ Eggs with a can of Beverly brand bulk sausage, because nothing says “balanced breakfast” like a puree of beef tripe, pork stomachs, beef, and beef heart floating in a pool of salt, vinegar, spices, and sodium nitrite. After all, what better way to start the day than with a massive coronary? Mmm, invigorating!
Because we somehow foresaw the need to wash these tastes out of our mouths and erase them from our brains as fast as possible, we had a six-pack of Chang brand beer (Thailand’s Favorite Beer) at the ready. Please note: IES Dave Chang does not officially endorse Chang beer—but he’ll drink it, because he’s the Chang. We also rewarded ourselves for a disgusting job well done with a slab of the best part of a pig: bacon. Specifically, some delicious Boss Hog bacon that arrived mysteriously in the mail from baconfreak.com earlier that morning, along with a bunch of other bacon-y goodness that you’ll see in future Taste Tests. Clearly, the pork gods saw the sacrifice we were about to make and saw fit to reward us.
Only a handful of brave souls manned up and faced the brain, though everyone but Chang and Brett opted to go the Brains ’n’ Eggs route rather than eat brains straight from the can. Our courage wavered a bit once the can was popped open to reveal soggy pink chunks floating in a milky pink liquid, accompanied by a smell very akin to cat food and dead tissue. But Chang gamely popped a wiggly chunk into his mouth, proclaiming it not terrible enough to inspire him to go back for a second bite. Brett’s reaction was a little more relatable for us non-Internet Eating Sensations: horror accompanied by repressed gagging.
The rest of us waited for our brain scramble, prepared by Josh on our trusty office hotplate, though Chang had to take over once the increasingly terrible smell drove Josh from the room. Basically, Brains ’n’ Eggs tastes like ham and eggs—albeit ham that’s been left out on the counter for a few weeks next to a vat of formaldehyde, soaking up its chemical essence. There’s a disconcertingly dead flavor that isn't apparent at first, hidden as it is behind the familiar (and usually delicious) taste of pig, but after a few moments, that initial whisper of revulsion grows louder and louder until your tongue is screaming, “You are eating brains. GROSS!”
A couple of tasters proclaimed the bulk sausage to be worse than the brains, but anyone who’s ever eaten substandard hash at a greasy diner could probably get this down without too much problem. The worst thing about it is its strong, strong resemblance in both odor and appearance (and, according to Chang, taste) to cat food. It’s crumbly and grainy, like the inside of a casing-less sausage—which is essentially what it is. It’s also very, VERY salty, but anything that masks the flavor of canned pork stomach and beef heart is probably a good thing. Judge for yourself with this fancy-shmancy video, edited up all professional-like by our awesome video interns, Joe Hanson and Hassan S. Ali. (Also, consider this a plug for Joe’s alternate hip-hop ego, Bino White.)
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Rose pork brains in milk gravy
• “It’s pink! It’s cute!”
• “It smells like cat food.”
• “It looks like a finger.”
• “It’s like mayonnaise, milk, water, and tuna all blended together.”
• “I don’t think pig brain is meant to be eaten.”
• “It looks like cancer.”
• “I’m getting a distinct aftertaste of Band Aid.”
• “There’s something vaguely corpse-y about it.”
• “An hour later, there’s a constant rumbling in my stomach that makes me fear sharting myself with every breath.”
Beverly bulk sausage
• “Ugh, it’s porous!”
• “That actually looks worse than pork brains.”
• “Tastes like more cat food.”
• “That tastes exactly like Fancy Feast. Don’t ask me how I know what Fancy Feast tastes like.”
• “It’s like gefilte fish—which is a Jewish delicacy that’s basically the hot dog of the sea.”
• “It doesn’t really taste overpoweringly like much of anything, just sort of loose meat. With a hammy, bologna-y tinge. That’s mostly liquid.”
• “I’m guessing this is what rations taste like, which I guess means they taste like can.”
• “Rose and Beverly are cruel bitches.”
Where to get it: Assuming you want to, Rose and Beverly brand products are reportedly available at several grocery stores, mainly in the South. If your local grocery is not stocked by sadists/zombies, do what we did and get it online: shopfoodex.com has them both.