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Posts Tagged ‘Offal’

An Offal Weekend

As I’ve written before, I’m a fan of eating odd bits. If you’re going to eat meat, and you want to be ethical about it, I think you should make the effort to try and eat all the parts of an animal (or use them in some manner).

 

I realize this concept is not for everyone. I am one of those people who used to cringe at the thought of eating non-traditional (at least in the current western world) pieces of meat.  The disconnect between animals and the plate has become so great that for some, the concept that meat comes from animals is so distant that they won’t eat meat with bones in it. People- meat comes from animals, animals have bones. But I digress…

 

My family raises cows, so I’m well aware of the importance of “hanging weight”- the weight of an animal’s carcass after it has been killed and eviscerated. If you buy an animal by the whole, half, or any other fraction, it’s likely that the cost is calculated based off of this number. This weight, however, does not include lots of other tasty (and incredibly nutritious) bits that an animal has to offer.

 

When I buy an animal from a farmer for butchering (or when I send my own animals to slaughter) I make sure I put in a request for lots of odd bits: I want the animal to be fully utilized, I want to get all the tasty bits, I want to get all the nutritious parts, and heck- I want to get my moneys worth!  As a result, I sometimes end with a substantial stash of offal in my freezer (especially beef offal, as not everyone who buys beef from us wants the odd bits, though that is changing as we sell more meat to paleo and foodie eaters).

 

When I came home to my parents this weekend, I thought I’d have a go at eating some of odd bits…  My photography is definitely not up to par with many food blogs, but hopefully I do these tasty bits justice (though it takes a better artist/photographer than me to make a raw beef tongue look anything other than kinda weird).

 

It all started on Friday night, when I decided it was time to experiment with some of the pork skin that I requested from the Berkshire pig I purchased this fall from a local farmer.  I found this page and gave their method a try. The result was tasty, though perhaps a danger to my teeth!

 

Cracklings

Cracklings!

 

This set in motion a bit of a personal challenge to see how much offal I could put to good use this weekend. Next on the block was a beautiful smoked jowl from the same Berkshire pig as above. Jowl is a really fatty piece of the animal that makes BEAUTIFUL (albeit very fatty) bacon. It can also be cured in other styles such as the Italian Guanciale (which reminds me, I have a piece of jowl from another pig in my freezer that a friend cured into Guanciale at home (<– Worth checking out, if only for the pic of a curing pork jowl hanging from the ceiling).  If you don’t request that the butcher save the jowl, I expect it ends up being ground into sausage- a shame for such a delicacy to end in anonymity.

 

Jowl1

A whole smoked pork jowl

 

I initially tried to slice this by hand, but quickly realized this was a job for my little deli-slicer.

 

Jowl_Cut

Jowl bacon, fresh cut

 

As its winter, I’ve been using quite a bit of stock out of my freezer for soups and stews. It seemed like this weekend was a good time replenish my stores by making some collagen rich pork stock from pork trotters and neck bones.

 

Trotters

Trotters and neck bone, to be made into stock.

 

I shared this pic on my personal facebook page and the general consensus there was “gross”.  Although trotters don’t have the same panache as a standing rib roast, they do have a certain je ne sais quoi (and I wouldn’t call them gross).

 

A number of years ago my parents were visiting Paris. At a restaurant, they were offered a menu in French and English. My father’s grammar school French led him to believe that an item on the menu was “foot of pork”, but the English menu said “leg of pork”. When he inquired, the waiter assured him that it was leg of pork (I think you see where this if going…). When a trotter was brought to the table, my father was less than amused.  It is worth noting that my parents are from England, bringing up theories of potential remnants of French-anglo animosity!

 

As I write this, the trotters have been simmering for almost 24hrs and have made three lovely batches of stock. I have some omnivorous scrap-disposal units that are looking forward to the remnants!

 

I used some of the stock to make a hearty soup for lunch today, which I paired with a luxurious beef marrowbone.

 

Marrowbone- I describe it to skeptics as being similar to a savory crème brulee.

Marrowbone- I describe it to skeptics as being similar to a savory crème brulee.

 

I’m one of the few med students on my current rotation who consistently brings lunch. In preparation for this week, and in keeping with the offal theme, I decided to cook up a cow tongue.  After it has simmered for a number of hours I’ll shred it and sauté it with an onion and some spices, eventually portioning it out with some mashed sweet potato.

 

Tongue

Yes- it’s a tongue.

The final offal of the day is a meaty shinbone that I will stew up with a beef kidney, making the old British standby Steak and Kidney (minus the pudding). Kidneys were one of the last odd bits to make their way into my diet. As a child I would hear of this traditional British meal and cringe- funny how things can change (and how long it can take to get over childhood aversions!).

 

For those of us used to human anatomy, beef kidneys sure look WEIRD! (It’s important to trim a kidney well, you don’t want to be eating the calyx!)

For those of us used to human anatomy, beef kidneys sure look WEIRD! (It’s important to trim a kidney well, you don’t want to be eating the calyx!)

 

I realize offal isn’t for everyone, but I hope this might inspire someone to give offal a chance. There are other great things to do with odd bits (imagine a post on offal that doesn’t talk about liver!), and with the help of the internet you can get all kinds of tips and recipes (or you can buy a book).  Even if offal isn’t for you, I hope you can recognize that nose-to-tail eating is a responsible decision when thinking about the ethics of eating meat (even if you do find it a little gross).

 

(Here’s guessing that a number of my friends won’t be looking for dinner invites anytime soon!)

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Odd Bits

Earlier this week I received a newsletter from PaleolithicDiet.com that included the challenge to write a blog post about what you would cook if you were selected to receive a copy of Jennifer McLagan’s book Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal. In all fairness, I don’t need a copy of McLagan’s book (I already own one), but I like having a topic that I’m enthusiastic about and that doesn’t require I pull any scholarly papers and reference my sources! I like to write, but I haven’t had time to really research some of the more academic topics I’m interested in recently. I accept Patrik’s challenge, and if he wants to send me another copy, I’ll make sure to share it with someone that will love, appreciate, and use it!

Perhaps more important that what I would (or do) cook from Odd Bits, is why I cook offal. To me there are three main reasons (in no specific order).

1: It’s the right thing to do, in respect for the animal you are eating.

As I mentioned in my post on the ethics of eating meat, I have raised (and slaughtered) my own chickens for a number of years.  When I learned to “process” chickens, I was taught to save the heart and liver, both organs that I knew I should eat, but ones I’d never eaten before. My parents are British, and while it may have deeply pained them, I’d never been one for steak and kidney pie, nor had I been one to eat other ‘odd’ bits of animal. I, like so many, fell victim to the ‘eww’ factor of eating odd bits and stuck to the traditional muscle meats. This changed when I started killing my own chickens. First- I knew how much time and effort went into raising and butchering these animals, and throwing away edible bits just seemed wrong. Second- and more importantly, I was taking an animals life, and while I had done my best to make their life (and death) as pleasant as possible, it only seemed right that when I killed them, I used all the bits I could. Third- at that point I was well on the slippery slope to “evolutionary wellness”, and had been reading up on the nutritional benefits of eating organs.

I’ll admit that the first time I cooked chicken livers and hearts I needed a bit of Dutch courage. After imbibing a couple glasses of a delicious Marlborough region Sauvignon Blanc (my weakness when it comes to white wine), I briefly sautéed fresh livers (cut into bite sized pieces) and hearts (halved) in a generous portion of butter and then topped them with salt and fresh pepper. With my Dutch (or perhaps I should say Kiwi?) courage, I took my first bites and was hooked. While I rarely eat chicken these days, if I spot hearts and livers from pastured chickens for sale at the farmers market I usually nab a couple pounds. Not only are they delicious, but it seems only right that if we kill an animal, we should make the most of that sacrifice.

The same concept applies to the cattle that my family raises. I think the old guy that runs the slaughter house we go to gets a kick out of me and my enthusiasm for odd bits (or at least he’s good natured about humoring me- I can imagine him telling his friends about some ‘young woman with a hankering for weird cow parts’), and it seems like each year my list of ‘bits to save’ gets longer. Along with the cut sheets for our animals I include a cover sheet that includes all the extra bits I want to make sure he saves for us. Usually this butcher will return the heart, liver, tail, and tongue, but I’ve added sweet breads, kidneys, marrow bones, and fat to the list. This generally adds a couple extra boxes to my pickup run, and he had a funny smile last time he handed over a 40+ lb box of suet, but he complies (and I think I might need to start making soap- I probably already have a lifetime supply of tallow!). Much like with the chickens, I feel it is important to get the most out of the animals that my family has cared for that have died to feed us.

2: Offal is darn nutritious!

Not only do I think it is morally appropriate to eat ‘nose to tail’, it’s also an excellent nutritional choice. Organ meats are rich in compounds that are lacking (or low) in other parts of the animal. Liver, for example, is very rich in vitamin A (although you should never eat Polar Bear liver- it is so rich in Vitamin A it is toxic!), many of the B vitamins, and iron (to only list a few). Heart, kidney, marrow, and sweet breads all offer different nutritional profiles. I’m generally not joking (nor am I alone) when I refer to liver as “Nature’s multivitamin”.

3- Odd bits are tasty!

Once you get over the ‘weird’ factor of eating different bits of animals, you’ll start to realize they’re really not so odd and that they can be VERY tasty. Tongue tacos, grilled heart, sautéed liver (+/- bacon), steak and kidney… these are all very cookable dishes that can be very delicious. Just like anything else in the kitchen, you can mess them up, but cooked right, these dishes are a delicacy! There’s a reason that some of the fanciest restaurants serve offal, and it’s not just the ‘wow’ factor of serving something unique- offal is delicious!

In conclusion…

It’s only in our modern society that ‘nose to tail’ eating is not the norm. I’d wager that for most of our evolutionary past, humans have taken advantage of all the edible bits an animal had to offer. While many still find ‘odd bits’ off-putting, the interest in them is growing. That’s not only obvious by the publication of books such as Odd Bits, but also by observing changes in the people around me.  When my family sold our first beef cattle, few (if any) customers wanted ‘odd bits’.  As I find customers that are interested in evolutionary eating, my stash of unclaimed offal diminishes (I think I miss the extra tongues the most!). I’m happy, however, if others start to embrace offal, in it’s many forms. Eating offal is delicious, nutritious, and shows respect to the animal you’re eating.  If you’re intimidated by the idea of cooking offal at home, order out (Korean BBQ is a great way to have tongue (and if you’re brave, intestines-yum!)) or you can go the route I travelled and obtain a bit of liquid courage*!

*attempt at your own risk!

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