Saturday, April 16, 2016

Trying my first Sheep Head!

Preparing to try the palate.
Trying sheep's head has been on my "to do" list since I first watched the episode of Bizarre Foods: Mongolia in which the host Andrew tries a sheep head. I watched the episode four or more times before I left the U.S. in hopes that it would desensitize me. I can't think of animal heads that American's eat...except those that suck the brains out of crawfish in the South. 

During Spring Break this week my good friend Doogii had me over for fellowship and my first try of sheep's head. Per my request, I got to observe the entire process. We walked home from the market with the head in a small plastic bag. The going rate for a sheep head? 4,000 tugrik or about $2. You have to keep in mind that while this country has only about 3 million citizens, there are approximately 45 million livestock animals! Sheep, goat, cows, horses, and camels! 

The process is pretty straight forward. First you scrub and clean the head (top picture to the right is just before washing). Although it has been previously torched to get rid of the hide, you still want to give it a good scrubbing with cold water. You should check the mouth to make sure that only it's tongue is inside. Our purchased head was yet a bit frozen, so it took a knife to pry open the jaw. Once scrubbed, you put the head in a pressure cooker along with some water, salt, and any other spices you want to add (we added just a bay leaf). Then you seal it up and let it cook for about an hour. 

About 20 minutes into that hour you could hear the pressure cooker and a strong smell began to fill the apartment. To me it smelled a bit fishy--but then I have not much to compare it to. 

The bottom picture shows what the head looks like just after opening up the pressure cooker. I know.....a bit scary looking, right? We pulled the head out and put it on a large cutting board. My friend broke the two parts of the jaw apart and determined that it needed to cook a bit longer (having been frozen before we began). We put all the parts back in the pressure cooker and let it go another 20 minutes or so. Then it came out and all the various parts were pulled off the bone and cut up into smaller pieces. Oftentimes a soup is made from the juices in the pot. We didn't make the time to do that step. 

In addition to the sheep head, my friend had baked some chicken (in case I didn't like the head--she's thoughtful like that!) and made a nice cabbage, cucumber, and tomato salad. We moved to the living room and settled in for our feast.

My plate, complete with jawbone, chicken, and salad. 
The result? I liked the cheek meat best of all. I pulled some of it off the jawbone you see here. It reminded me of the steamed beef that Zorig cooks at home. I also liked the tongue (you can see a piece of it in the lower left hand corner of the plate). I tried the palate (roof of the sheep's mouth) as it is referenced in that Bizarre Foods episode as being especially for females to eat. I gave it my best shot....but found it to be far too chewy for my liking. Most foods I don't like are about texture, and very less about flavor or taste. Doogii was kind and said it was okay for me to spit it out....if I didn't like it. I really tried, but did end up spitting it back out. Yep--just too chewy. A good bit of the rest was skin and other parts  (ear, nostril, etc) which I wasn't brave enough to try. At least not for this first go at it.

All in all, it was a pleasurable experience--time with a good friend, the chance to see the process and then taste the results. Zorig very much likes sheep head--describes it as "very tasty." I can agree with that statement in regards to the cheek and tongue. Perhaps the rest is an acquired taste? I guess time and experience will tell. 


  1. Brava, my friend. I love your willingness to explore and to question.

  2. Thanks! But for the did take me 9 months to work up to try this. All things in their own time, right?

  3. Hi Heather. I've been reading your blog, and must say it's very interesting to learn about Mongolia. By the way, have you tried the Mongolian drug stores (aka Аптек) to look for cotton balls. In of your posts it was mentioned as one of the hard-to-find items in UB. Back home (I'm from Uzbekistan) we'd go to Аптек to buy cotton, so it might be the case in UB, too.

    1. Thanks, Dilafruz, for reading and for the advice. I'll check it out. My mom sent me I'm good for a spell. :)