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Sheep's head for Rosh Hashana

So I think we are going to indulge in getting a sheep's head as part of the simanim this year. Am I supposed to cook it?

How? Does it go in a sauce? I need guidance here.

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  1. I admire your intrepid spirit. I can only tell you what I have seen in ethnographic sources, I have never seen this done, let alone done it. and I may be conflating Jewish and non-Jewish ethnographic sources in my memory.

    It was certainly eaten, in the olden days. And it was not set on the table raw Because If you killed the head with the rest of the sheep it would have been pretty smelly by the time you were ready to serve dinner. Since the refrigerator has been invented, you probably could. You'd need to wash the blood off.

    Get your butcher to remove the hair. Or, trim off the hair, then singe the remaining hair to remove before cooking.

    The brains are traditionally removed and prepared separately.

    the head can be boiled (the eyeballs are said float out intact) or roasted. You'll want to roast since boiling will caluse the meat to soften off the bone.

    You want presentation, so roast. I don't know how you would spit an intact skull. If I was doing this, I would place a heat reflector of some kind behind the head and turn it regularly in front of the fire. Or, in modern conditions, bake.

    Wish I could tell you more. Dry heat in a hot oven should give you an intact, dark brown head to set on the table. I'll be curious to know how your guests react. I have no idea what the eyeballs will look like after an hour or two in a hot oven.

    1 Reply
    1. re: AdinaA

      I have dealt with this as I am Sephardi. Growing up in England, I recall as a young child we had the whole head on the table, and I believe it was boiled first and then roasted. I vividly recall my various family members eating parts of it. The only part I would eat was the tongue. We also had brains, which were boiled and then mashed up with raw egg into what you would call a latke.

      Fast forward to recent times. I have been able to get brain in the past, but it's been a number of years. Glatt Mart told me they could get it, but when I got there, they said the Mashgiach said it was too time consuming to take all the veins out and therefore, they would not kasher them, and could not sell them. They thought the mashgiach wanted them for himself.

      The heads themselves have very little meat on them, and most places I have seen sell them in halves. Admittedly, being out in the boonies of NJ means I don't really have access to the butchers in Brooklyn that might offer this, but if someone could guarantee me a place that would have head and brains, I would willingly make the trek.

      Given that there is very little meat on the head, I don't think you want to plan on serving it at the table. Also, most people are grossed out by it.

      Last year, I boiled the head, and then scraped off all the meat I could, and mixed it up with a couple of eggs, and made latkes with them. Another option, especially if you do not want to deal with a head, is to buy lambs tongue. I found them in Glatt Mart, 3 to a pack but they are tiny. The packet was perhaps one pound in weight.

    2. The one time I was at a RH meal with a sheep's head, a friend prepared it and brought it over to our house with the meat already taken off the skull, and roasted. We knew what it was without actually having the head on the table. Wish I could give you more help with this.

      1 Reply
      1. re: asf78

        I was once at a meal where one of the guests had a strong minhag to have a lamb's head for RH. The ba'alat ha'bayit, on the other hand, had a strong minhag not to be grossed out, and she made him leave it in the paper bag in which he had brought it!

      2. Last year, Pomegranate Supermarket had stacks of pre-roasted sheep heads in what is normally their "prepared salads" section. Had to have been the smallest sheep ever. Looked like the teeth were still in-place. They looked pretty nasty. I'll stick to the vegetarian "Simanim".

        3 Replies
        1. re: psycomp

          The teeth are always there. My daughter who is usually up for this stuff, picked up the head last year in Queens and once she had seen it, in all its glory, could not even eat the latkes I made.

          1. re: psycomp

            NJKosher....how Boonies are you? Sussex County? Warren?

            Rabbi Elkin of Bisra Meats (Hackensack, NJ) said he would do one for me "no problem". He will give you EXACTLY what you want.

          2. Why am I thinking of the scene in The Godfather?

            Invite me over for kale, pomegranate, or even a piece of fish, but I can't stand looking at fish heads let alone a sheep's head.

            With much love for klal Yisrael and my best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year, here's one Chowhound that would respectfully turn down that invitation. Reminds me too much of HS biology class.

            Of course the only way I can buy meat is wrapped in plastic where it doesn't look like the animal it came from...

            26 Replies
            1. re: SoCal Mother

              You and my mother.... SoCal (re: the Godfather reference).

              1. re: vallevin

                Of course I ate sweetbreads this weekend in Oxnard, but the server refused to tell me what it was while my husband and his buddy smirked.

                But it didn't LOOK like...whatever part of the body of ...whatever animal it was and ...NO DON'T TELL ME!!!

                  1. re: DeisCane

                    LALALALALA I can't hear you!!! I have NO idea what they are and I STRONGLY suspect that I don't want to know!!! If I paid attention to the source of my food I would end up a vegetarian.

                    But I am grateful that you have reassured me that at the very least I have not set myself up for a case of Mad Cow (or sheep, or chicken) disease.

                    1. re: SoCal Mother

                      SoCal Mother wrote: If I paid attention to the source of my food I would end up a vegetarian.

                      You and me both! During my last trip to England ( I am going back this spring for the next Bar Mitzvah!!) my cousin had a leg of lamb thawing one day on her counter for dinner. I ate salad that night and the mere thought of eatting lamb makes me ill:(

                      1. re: SoCal Mother

                        It's not a particularly gross part of the animal, imo.

                        1. re: DeisCane

                          Well I was once invited for Shabbat lunch in Israel and my hostess told me that she was all excited because her butcher was FINALLY able to sell her "reyot." I came over and while I was choking down what tasted to me like little pieces of cosmetic sponges in beef gravy, I remarked on the similarity of the name "reyot" to the Hebrw word for lungs...

                          Do I need to finish the story?

                            1. re: SoCal Mother

                              I don't know what reyot are but sweetbreads (groshitze in yiddish) can get rubbery if overcooked...and they're not lungs(g'linglach).

                              1. re: DeisCane

                                Reyot are lungs. (Sorry PrettyPoodle, DeisCane wanted to know.) My friend, who also made me ptcha* once, fed me lungs.

                                My public apology to the sheep-head-for-Rosh-Hashana folks on the list. This is my fault that the thread turned into a parts-of-the-animal-I-bet-you-didn't-know-you-could-eat thread. Full disclosure: My all time favorite restaurant meal is liver and onions.

                                *ptcha is a sort of aspic made from calves feet. Looks like the stuff left behind in a jar of gefilte fish but tastes meaty.

                                1. re: SoCal Mother

                                  Unusually among Ashkenazi foods, ptcha involves a huge amount of garlic. Garlic aspic, with cow knuckles. My father-in-law, z'l, adored it. I think its popularity passed with that generation. Most contemporary Jew react to it about as warmly as they do to sheep's heads. but who knows, with the current vogue for old-timey Ashkenazi foods, even ptcha may come back soon to upscale, Jewish-style restaurants in Tribeca.

                                  1. re: AdinaA

                                    I don't like p'tcha because I don't really like anything gelatinous and never really have--even jello doesn't really interest me much.

                                    1. re: DeisCane

                                      Agreed. But once upon a time, in a country called America, molded jello salads featuring miniature marshmallows and canned fruit salad suspended in sweet, cherry-flavored, gelatinous goo were the fancy dish served at holiday meals.

                                      Tomato aspic was the sine qua non of a ladies luncheon.

                                      I expect some chef to revive the gelatinous any day now. Including not only ptcha, but such delights as fish-shaped molds to produce clear, salty aspics quivering with suspended bits of cold carp.

                                      1. re: AdinaA

                                        Well there are jello shooters. Pretty popular with college kids. I don't think that Ko-jel gets stiff enough to use for that though. (Just joking!)

                                        My mom (A"H) used to make jello molds for parties. I remember the recipes used to warn than pineapple will keep the mold from hardening.

                                        Tomato aspic sounds interesting. I need to google and see what's in it.

                                        1. re: SoCal Mother

                                          Tomato aspic is delicious. I haven't eaten one in years, but, now that you mention it, I suppose it could be made in a bundt cake mold. It's nice for Shabbos lunch with cold chicken.

                                          1. re: AdinaA

                                            All the recipes I found have gelatin in them. I guess I should have figured that.

                                            1. re: SoCal Mother

                                              I know that I've seen this done with one of the vegetable-based jelling things (carageenan maybe), I don't have the recipe, but I know it can be done. Unfortunately, I don't try to jell things often enough to know how to tell you to do this. Maybe I'll make this a project next summer. Someone produces a retail, supervised carageenan, right?

                                              1. re: SoCal Mother

                                                That's what aspic is: tomato jello, essentially.

                                            2. re: SoCal Mother

                                              "MY" mom was :famous: for her multi layered jello molds. If it was a gathering the hiant brnady sniffer came out an the jello went in If by some xhance someone really wants to make one and MUST have oineapple in it, you can used canned pineapple with NO issues. Just an FYI.

                                      2. re: SoCal Mother

                                        Calf's-foot jelly is a standard food for invalids in Victorian novels. Every time someone gets sick, people bring lots of calf's-foot jelly, much like grapes, or chocolate today. The reason is that it has lots of calories in an easily-swallowed form, perfect for someone who must eat but has no appetite. Sort of an old-timey Ensure.

                                        1. re: SoCal Mother

                                          It is ok. I was just day freaming about chicken.org when I read your post and that kinfs took my mind off the (icky) topic,

                                          if tommootw's rain is not moonsoon -ish i will go there and pick up a dinner special to be enjoyed later that night.. Cooking dinner tommow night is NOT in the plans. I be a few blocks away getting a test done to make sure I really can breath so it seemed like a good idea to stop there.:) May have to grab a burger for lunch too at thier sister store. YUM!

                                        2. re: DeisCane

                                          A lung, in Yiddish, is "loong", or with a Galitzianish accent, "ling". A small lung is a "loongele", or "lingele". And the plural is "loongelach", or "lingelach", again depending on accent. Where the initial G is coming from I have no idea.

                                          1. re: zsero

                                            It comes from my grandmother. That's what she called it, or at least, how I remember it.

                                            1. re: DeisCane

                                              The g' is used as a reflexive. Maybe the name of the dish was something with lung so it was <some food made together with lung > g'linge.

                                              Like shmutzy (dirty) and geshmutz (got dirty.) I'm not explaining this well...

                                              1. re: SoCal Mother

                                                Not really. "Ge" appears at the front of past tense verbs. "Go" is "geh"; gone is "gegangen". "run" is "loif"; "ran" is "gelofen". There's nothing reflexive about it, and it doesn't happen to nouns. "Dirty" is "shmutzik" (or "shmitzik" in the same accent that calls a lung "ling"), and "got dirty" is "shmutzik gevoren".

                                                1. re: zsero

                                                  Well I don't speak Yiddish but I was trying to figure out where the g' in front of lung could be coming from.

                          1. I always roast my 'rosh keves' or lamb's head - usually with some olive oil and rosemary, although sometimes, if i'm lazy, i'll make a rub with onion soup mix (gasp!) and evoo and rub it all over. my mums usually pours duck sauce over and bakes it like that.

                            1. In previous years I've made "Tongue in Cheek" for my head siman. See the recipe here:

                              http://carolcookskeller.blogspot.com/...

                              1. Just a quick post-script....

                                I don't know what happened, but I was not able to get the sheep's head, so I'm going with a whole carp instead.

                                Shana Tovah

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: vallevin

                                  We're spending Rosh Hashana at my parents this year. My family traditionally serves the largest fish head we can find, and then we traditionally squabble over who gets to eat the eyes. My wife traditionally tries not to throw up during the proceedings and wonders out loud how she came to be mixed up in this family. Of course, *her* family traditionally bites the heads off of jellyfish and call it good.

                                  I'd like to do a sheep's head one year, but I don't think the wife would go for it.

                                  1. re: The Cameraman

                                    Where's your wife's family's minhag from?

                                    1. re: craigcep

                                      I doubt it's a minhag so much as a generic custom, because jellyfish aren't kosher.

                                      1. re: GilaB

                                        I'm sure "jellyfish" = "gummy fish (the candy)," not actual jellyfish. (I don't think even non-Jews eat jellyfish.)

                                        1. re: queenscook

                                          Yeah, they do... eat jellyfish. They are popular in East Asia.

                                          I suspect that eating the heads of candy fish this is less a minhag than a joke, which probably started when the jokers were in grade school. Family yom tov jokes are like that.

                                          Besides, it would be hard to bite the head off a real jellyfish, because, does a jellyfish even have a head?

                                          1. re: AdinaA

                                            Oh, you guys.

                                            I knew I should have been more specific. Yes, I was referring to the candy. Yes, it began as a joke. No, an actual jellyfish does not have a head, per se. Yes, people do eat the actual Stomolophus meleagris and Rhopilema esculentum: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jellyfis... Yes, it is an actual minhag, if minhag is defined as "thing we do in rememberance of our parents having done a specific thing at a specific time".

                                  2. re: vallevin

                                    Will you be storing it in the bathtub?

                                    1. re: cappucino

                                      Nope...it's dead and thankfully gutted.

                                  3. What a difference a day makes! I now have a sheep's head boiling in my kitchen. I put sugar, salt, pepper, lemon slices, carrots and an onion in. I figure I should stay simple.

                                    I will report on how it tastes motzi Yom Tov.

                                    Shana Tovah everyone.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: vallevin

                                      You never reported back. Making another one this year?