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This Food Is Offal!

There is a lot of talk on these boards of various offal delicacies. Offal does not appeal to me, but I know there are many who enjoy it in a variety of ways. I’ve done a cursory search for the nutritional value of offal and came up with very little other than it is rich in vitamins.

My question is why is it eaten? I understand some cultures wish not to waste anything from a slaughtered animal. But is it really Healthy? Delicious? Cheap? Or do you eat it for the novelty or “shock value”?

No judgments, just curiosity.

(BTW - some of my favorite lyrics from The Misfits: "Brains for breakfast, brains for lunch, brains for dinner, brains for brunch. We eat brains at every meal, why can't we have some guts?)

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  1. I've wondered the same thing, and I'm an offal-lover. I think it might be the fact that these items are (or seem to me, at least) prepared in more interesting and creative ways than 'normal' cuts of meat. The thing is, I grew up eating "strange" stuff like short rib and oxtails, and snacks like roasted cuttlefish and other chewy things that Western tastes seem to find very disagreeable, so I may be more inclined to enjoy the tastes and textures of offal.

    But personally, I like the texture. Chewy, springy, cartilage-y, that's my thing. There must be some element of novelty to it too, as I've tried sweetbreads and brain later in life (ok, I'm 24) and still am drawn to those items any time they're on a menu. I think there's more chance of or potential to make a knockout, "whoaa" dish with these kind of items than something normal and well, commonplace.

    8 Replies
    1. re: janethepain

      You like cartilage-y? Try a pig's ear. It looked interesting enough from afar, and I did try to eat it, but it is sinewy as all-get-out and it was all I could do not to lose my lunch while eating my lunch, so that ended THAT little adventure.

      1. re: kattyeyes

        Leave the hard dried ones for the dogs. Properly cooked ones (about the same time as pigs feet) have tender gelatinous skin, surrounding a relatively thin crunchy cartilage. As with an skin item, they will be harder when cold.

        The first time I made them I followed a French recipe, which called for spreading the cooked ears with prepared mustard, dredging in breadcrumbs, drizzling with butter, and broiling.

        Usually, though, I cut them in strips, and add them sparingly to stews to add body to the stock.

        1. re: paulj

          If they were more flavorful in general, I'd eat them. But the texture combined with kind of a 'meh' taste.... not worth it.

          1. re: paulj

            HA HA, no, it wasn't a dried pig's ear/dog treat. It was a Chinese menu item. It wasn't hard, but sinewy. The word NASTY comes to mind by way of descriptor. YUCK! Ham it ain't!

          2. re: kattyeyes

            Yeah, I've had pig's ear salads and loved the texture. I also gnaw all the cartilage from the joints of bones, is that weird?

              1. re: janethepain

                Me too! I love anything with that sort of texture (jellyfish included) and I find it very annoying to go to a restaurant and have to be polite enough not to eat the cartilage off the bones.

                1. re: PegS

                  Go for the chicken feet at dim sum. Mmmmm.

          3. Traditionally offal was eaten because it was the cheapest. Cultures/traditions that have a long tradition of incorporating offal are traditionally poorer. In the US offal has gone so far out of use due to how cheap 'better' cuts of meat.

            My interest in it has more to do with food similar to what my grandma used to make (Jewish/Russian fare), and tastes that I find familiar. In other contexts, I've also just found some cuts to be tasty.

            1 Reply
            1. re: cresyd

              But if you go back further in time, "traditionally" the most prized items from a hunt - the items often reserved for the hunter himself - were the liver, heart, and testes. Symbolic and ritualistic perhaps, but tasty too.

              1. In the right hands, many organ meats are delicious. About the only two I've crossed off my list are kidneys and spleen. Kidneys have to do with having been around them while cleaning and cooking them - just can't get past that. Tried a spleen in a vastedda and I couldn't get through it. But brains, tongue, sweetbreads bring 'em on in just about any preparation. Ambivalent on testicles - not much taste there to me, but nice texture off a grill. Liver is siutational. I can't cook it but there's a short list of chefs I'd order it from. Not a fan of pigs feet prepared the Eastern European way, but I've used trotters in soups/stews and enjoyed it.

                Each cut is different and lots of recipes to try, so impossible to give a hard and fast answer other than generally speaking, the organs I like are higher in cholesterol, so I don't eat them often at my advanced age.

                6 Replies
                1. re: Panini Guy

                  Does tongue really qualify as offal? It's a muscle, after all. Perhaps one that offends the squeamish, but it's not really an internal organ like sweetbreads, liver, heart etc. that are usually considered offal.

                  1. re: BobB

                    Well, if you're going to look at it that way, heart is also a muscle.

                    1. re: BobB

                      Technically you're right. But things like tongue and trotters seem to elicit the same "ewww" factor as the messier bits. Poetic license.

                      1. re: BobB

                        One of my favorite punch lines: "Tongue? EEEeeww, I couldn't eat anything that's been in some animal's MOUTH! Just gimme a dozen eggs..."

                          1. re: EWSflash

                            I will admit that I'm not ready to cook tongue at home, but they make for some of the best tacos I've ever had.

                    2. A classic book on offal, Unmentionable Cuisine (C W Schwabe) often compares these sometimes-disliked cuts to steak. Many have as much or more protein, and much less fat. In other words, in terms of nutrition, most offal are as good, if not better, than the common muscle cuts.

                      Carnivors, the big cats, various cainines etc, often eat the offal in the abdominal cavity, before tackling the meatier parts of the kill. They probably don't think of those parts as being more nutritious, but it is probably quicker and easier to eat their fill that way, which is important if there are scavingers waiting to steal from you. Admittedly the image of a lion with her head covered in guts is probably not going to improve your opinion of offal.