Cracking the brain case. That's what's worst about eating sheep's head stew. Trust me.
My recipe for Nigerian goat's head stew calls for an axe. But if, like me, you don't have the requisite axe laying around the house, you're stuck hacking through the sheep's skull with a ten-inch chef's knife a noble tool, but hardly up to the task.
After a few futile chops, I move to a meat tenderizer, figuring blunt force trauma is the way to go. But this sheep, presumably so sheepish in life, in death proves defiant.
It's not until I wedge the chef's knife into the back of the skull and then use the tenderizer to tap the blade, hammer-and-chisel-like, into the cranium that I make any real progress, revealing the pinkish-gray soup that guided this animal through life.
Once I pour the sheep's brain from its head, the skull starts to act much more sheepish. The "butchering" is now going fairly smoothly, and I'm able easily to detach the lower jaw and remove the tongue.
After bathing the skull's remnants in lemon juice, I place it in a pot with onions, garlic, tomatoes, chicken broth and seasonings. After 30 minutes on the stove, the stew even begins to emit a fragrance rich with lamb, onions and tomatoes.
By now I've scrubbed the cutting board, cleaned the knife and put away the tenderizer. The cracked brain case has become little but an unpleasant memory. I'm cooking couscous now, and I'm even starting to look forward to the meal. That is, until I look into the pot and find myself staring straight at my dinner's curdled eyeball.
That unblinking eye is disconcerting, but it's no deal-breaker. And anyhow, even though the eyes get cloudier as they cook, they also begin to recede into the skull, making them look less ocular, more appetizing.
What's more, once you've dined on the bit of meat formerly known as the masseter muscle, your options are pretty limited. The tongue (forgive me) is pretty tasty, but I could do without the anatomical amorphousness of the soft palate, or the tender (then crunchy!) pockets of flesh lining the nasal cavity. Then there's the roof of the mouth, which falls, as a ridged piece, from the bone not even I could bring myself to eat that.
With options like these, boiled sheep eyes can seem almost delightful.
Then again, outside high school biology class the eyeball is considered a delicacy, reserved for dinner guests and favorite children. We couldn't convince any guests to share our sheep's head stew, so I had to remind myself of the organ's vaunted culinary status as I eyeballed the orb and girded myself for the crunch of its lens.
Of course, the great thing about expecting the worst is that you're never disappointed. My sheep's eyeball hid no crunchy lens and delivered no surprise burst of liquid.
It was rich and tender, just like a meatball should be.