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This Food Is Offal!

cuccubear Jul 21, 2009 01:54 PM

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. janethepain RE: cuccubear Jul 21, 2009 02:07 PM

    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
      kattyeyes RE: janethepain Jul 29, 2009 06:27 PM

      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
        paulj RE: kattyeyes Jul 29, 2009 09:26 PM

        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
          linguafood RE: paulj Jul 30, 2009 04:23 AM

          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
            kattyeyes RE: paulj Jul 30, 2009 02:48 PM

            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
            janethepain RE: kattyeyes Jul 30, 2009 09:49 AM

            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
              kattyeyes RE: janethepain Jul 30, 2009 02:48 PM

              You can have my portion. ;)

              1. re: janethepain
                PegS RE: janethepain Jul 31, 2009 02:30 PM

                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
                  c oliver RE: PegS Jul 31, 2009 02:41 PM

                  Go for the chicken feet at dim sum. Mmmmm.

          3. c
            cresyd RE: cuccubear Jul 21, 2009 02:14 PM

            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
              BobB RE: cresyd Jul 22, 2009 05:45 AM

              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.

            2. ScubaSteve RE: cuccubear Jul 21, 2009 02:18 PM

              i'm going with Yummy.

              1. p
                Panini Guy RE: cuccubear Jul 21, 2009 02:19 PM

                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
                  BobB RE: Panini Guy Jul 22, 2009 05:46 AM

                  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
                    SnackHappy RE: BobB Jul 22, 2009 06:36 AM

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

                    1. re: BobB
                      Panini Guy RE: BobB Jul 22, 2009 07:17 AM

                      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
                        Will Owen RE: BobB Jul 29, 2009 04:41 PM

                        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: Will Owen
                          EWSflash RE: Will Owen Aug 5, 2009 09:25 AM

                          LOL, Will Owen!

                          1. re: EWSflash
                            Caralien RE: EWSflash Aug 5, 2009 05:12 PM

                            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. paulj RE: cuccubear Jul 21, 2009 06:43 PM

                      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.

                      1. Gio RE: cuccubear Jul 21, 2009 06:59 PM

                        Why is it eaten? Because there are those among us who want to eat from snout to tail and everything in between. Why? Because it's there. Because it's tasty. Because they can. Because they're used to it.

                        I was 12 when I first ordered sweetbreads in a restaurant. The waiter looked at my parents with skepticism. They just nodded with a smile. The waiter trotted away and soon served our meal. I was in heaven. I had never had them before that night.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Gio
                          c oliver RE: Gio Jul 30, 2009 08:46 PM

                          You go, girl. I came to the sweetbread party late - in my early 40s but never looked back. I've cooked testicles and loved them also.. Offal is wonderful.

                          1. re: Gio
                            cemott3rd RE: Gio Jul 31, 2009 05:29 AM

                            The first time I had sweetbreads was around '71-'72 and I was about 10yo at the Corner Cupboard Inn in Rehoboth Beach DE. My sister and I were dining earlier and separetly from our folks but my Mother said to be sure to try the sweetbreads, which I ordered. Later when she asked what I had thought of them I replied something like the meat was very nice but I had seen no sweet bread (thinking there would be danish or buns) on my plate ;p ....of course my mother used to prepare braised muskrats and tell us it was kangaroo and we thought it tasty too! Also my father always made kidneys on toast for breakfast.

                          2. sukekiyo RE: cuccubear Jul 21, 2009 08:36 PM

                            When favorite childhood snacks include pork liver and blood sausage, you tend to view those foods as simply "food", as opposed to something grotesque. Keeping that in mind, I give unfamiliar offal dishes the benefit of doubt (fortunately to a high success rate :D). In other words: some things I grew up with, others I'm simply curious about.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: sukekiyo
                              Evilbanana11 RE: sukekiyo Jul 21, 2009 09:03 PM

                              Yes most cultures that eat offal do it for the shock value. In Asia for example, when you are poor and food is hard to come by one of the ways to forget/numb your hunger is to eat cow intestines in front of tourists in order to make them gag thus creating a little joy and lightheartedness within your village. In South America, they have no Chris Rocks or Sarah Silvermans, so in their comedy clubs performers will gnaw on honey comb tripe to get a laugh out of the audience.

                              1. re: Evilbanana11
                                cuccubear RE: Evilbanana11 Jul 22, 2009 06:41 AM

                                Your sarcasm is duly noted. The kind of shock value I had in mind was when dining with friends or family, does someone go for the grotesque over the mundane just to prove they’ll eat anything, or do they truly enjoy the food? I think, from the responses above, that people truly do.

                                1. re: Evilbanana11
                                  Sam Fujisaka RE: Evilbanana11 Jul 22, 2009 06:52 AM

                                  Good one, banana, thanks.

                                2. re: sukekiyo
                                  joonjoon RE: sukekiyo Feb 12, 2010 02:38 PM

                                  That totally reminds me of growing up in Korea - there was always an old lady on a street corner selling steamed blood sausage, liver, ear, and other organ meats. I never saw this as grotesque, different, or special. It was just food, and I loved it all with the exception of liver (which I've grown to like).

                                3. Sam Fujisaka RE: cuccubear Jul 22, 2009 06:51 AM

                                  People eat offal because they include the tastiest bits - some that require more skill in cooking than salting and grilling a piece of "normal" meat. Most all of the people on the planet eat all parts of the animal. The gizzard in Kenya is reserved for the oldest person. It is realy only Americans with their general lack of cooking skills and super low "eeeuu" threshold who don't eat the good bits, who don't keep their"leftovers" and who throw out food on any excuse..

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                    cuccubear RE: Sam Fujisaka Jul 22, 2009 07:07 AM

                                    I’ll admit it’s the ewww factor that has kept the offal at bay, but, if, as Panini Guy wrote above, it is prepared in the right hands, I *would* definitely try it and judge for myself.

                                    Honestly, though, they would have to be some pretty tasty organs to make me forgo a pork chop or steak.

                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                      mrbigshotno.1 RE: Sam Fujisaka Jul 22, 2009 07:10 AM

                                      You have no idea how many times I've wanted to strangle supermarket checkers when they pull that "eeeuu" when I buy my tripe, sweetbreads etc. I politely tell them to "keep your damn mouth shut, it's none of your business what I eat and it's not up for your viewpoint or comment."

                                      1. re: mrbigshotno.1
                                        linguafood RE: mrbigshotno.1 Jul 22, 2009 07:20 AM

                                        decidedly not a great sales strategy, either.

                                        1. re: linguafood
                                          kattyeyes RE: linguafood Jul 29, 2009 06:21 PM

                                          LOL, just imagine similar commentary from your waiter as he takes your order.

                                          1. re: kattyeyes
                                            linguafood RE: kattyeyes Jul 30, 2009 04:24 AM

                                            no tip for them, then.

                                      2. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                        c oliver RE: Sam Fujisaka Jul 30, 2009 08:49 PM

                                        We're in Oregon now and the checker at Safeway calls me "gizzard breath" for my predilection. Mmmm.

                                      3. s
                                        smartie RE: cuccubear Jul 22, 2009 08:29 AM

                                        actually I think it's odd that offal is cheaper, there is only one liver per chicken, cow etc or one gizzard, or 2 small kidneys so it would make sense for these to be considered more of a luxury item and therefore more costly.

                                        I think it's about what you are used to eating, we grew up on liver and tongue so no problem for me. And gizzards in the chicken soup are the best, my family used to fight for that specialty.

                                        1. JungMann RE: cuccubear Jul 22, 2009 08:30 AM

                                          I genuinely like the taste of the offal I eat, although sometimes the appeal is more textural. Brains and sweetbreads are deliciously creamy and, when prepared correctly, you can get a wonderful crust hiding a surprisingly buttery center. Blood has something hearty about it that I really love. I find it hard to turn down morcilla when I find it. Braised tongue is probably the most tender and moist piece of meat I can imagine. Tendon, however, has a completely different texture that I love in Chinese food. I have limits: I'm not a fan of kidneys, bile or beef heart, but if they're on a plate, I'm not going to squirm.

                                          There is a part of me that is constitutionally opposed to waste. I suppose you could call me a culinary conservative, the part of me that says if it tastes good, eat it. That part of me has also had to make do with very little; it wasn't long ago that I was Chowhounding away while only making a couple thousand above the federal poverty level, particularly because I wasn't afraid to get my hands dirty in a pile of chicken livers and gizzards all in the name of good eats.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: JungMann
                                            cuccubear RE: JungMann Jul 22, 2009 08:45 AM

                                            I grok the economy of gizzards and liver and such, and have wished that I liked them more to save a little money.

                                          2. cuccubear RE: cuccubear Jul 22, 2009 08:47 AM

                                            Do you guys find these foods in restaurants, or buy from a butcher or grocery and prepare them yourselves?

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: cuccubear
                                              BobB RE: cuccubear Jul 22, 2009 09:09 AM

                                              Livers of various sorts and tongues I've cooked at home, sweetbreads only in restaurants (where I order them just about every chance I get!)

                                              1. re: cuccubear
                                                JungMann RE: cuccubear Jul 22, 2009 09:11 AM

                                                It depends. Tripe I rarely cook as it leaves a lingering smell that the roommates find objectionable, though not as objectionable as the sight of blood or a lamb's brain. If I'm alone, I have been known to speed to the grocer and get a pint of blood or some tripe and liver. Otherwise soul food and Chinese vendors usually have great gizzards, I get my tongue fix from Mexicans or Chinese (mixed with tendons) and sweetbreads I save for Argentinean asado or French restaurants.

                                              2. alanbarnes RE: cuccubear Jul 22, 2009 09:51 AM

                                                +1 on the deliciousness. But there's also a moral aspect. Chow interviewed
                                                Chris Cosentino, the chef of Incanto in San Francisco and a noted offal enthusiast, and he argued that the avoidance of offal has to do with the fact that people view meat as something on a Styrofoam tray covered with plastic wrap rather than the flesh of an animal that was killed so we could eat it. http://www.chow.com/stories/10661

                                                But, in his words, "there has been a resurgence in whole-animal ethic, which is, if you're willing to kill it, you should shut the fuck up and be willing to eat all of it. ... Whether it’s cheap or factory-farmed, people just don’t give a shit any more. … When you actually look at where your animal comes from and you actually participate in a slaughter, it kind of changes your perception of what is meat. Whey you’re holding a 45-pound lamb as she cries and you slaughter that animal, you’re going to use every last bit of it because you would feel like a complete asshole if you didn’t."

                                                Makes sense to me.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: alanbarnes
                                                  c oliver RE: alanbarnes Jul 30, 2009 08:53 PM


                                                  When we first moved to Oregon, I considered raising some lambs. But I figured I was too soft-hearted. I would have named them and petted them and they would have grown old as the toughest old mutton in the world :)

                                                2. h
                                                  huaqiao RE: cuccubear Jul 22, 2009 09:51 AM

                                                  Some people love variety. Even if you took the hardcore offal lovers, I doubt they're eating the SAME piece of offal for days on end. I like intestine, but if I had to get it every other day for a month, I would get really really bored with it. So every once in a while I'll crave it and order it when I see it on a menu. Sometimes I crave some liver. Sometimes tripe sounds good. Maybe a little congealed pig's blood here or there.

                                                  I would get so bored if all I ate were lean cuts of meat all the time.

                                                  1. PegS RE: cuccubear Jul 22, 2009 10:58 AM

                                                    I also find it sad how quickly Americans have abandoned offal and gotten squeamish. When I look at cookbooks from the 19th century offal was in abundance.

                                                    4 Replies
                                                    1. re: PegS
                                                      streetgourmetla RE: PegS Jul 29, 2009 12:20 PM

                                                      Excellent point.Americans used to at all these things, but post WWII and the mass marketing culture have steered the country off course. Americans, if they grew up eating this stuff would, and not buy all these packaged pre-made foods and American fast food s, could be just fine eating offal.

                                                      In the black community, the interesting parts are still used, as well as in ethnic communities in the US.Americans of Mexican ancestry eat the same ridculous American food as everyone else, but will still eat buche, tripas, menudo, and pansita.

                                                      Mainstream Americans deprived of offal education continue to turn away the good stuff at ethnic restaurants though, causing them to fall off the menus. No chicken hearts are served at the churrascarias anymore, some Argentine grills have left off the chinchulin, etc.

                                                      Need to lose the corporate food culture.

                                                      1. re: streetgourmetla
                                                        joonjoon RE: streetgourmetla Feb 12, 2010 02:44 PM

                                                        "No chicken hearts are served at the churrascarias anymore"

                                                        That's almost the whole point of going to churrascaria for me...roll it in the bread crumbs and in to my belly they go!

                                                        1. re: joonjoon
                                                          Sam Fujisaka RE: joonjoon Feb 12, 2010 03:07 PM

                                                          Still served and plentiful in Brasil

                                                      2. re: PegS
                                                        lobsterchurch RE: PegS Jul 31, 2009 08:41 AM

                                                        Yeah, that's true. I think we've lost some of our cultural links. Offal and Blood sausage is popular all over Europe for example. Duck liver pate', one of France's delicacies is just glorified offal. It's usually on the yuck list for the average American fast food consumer.

                                                      3. Will Owen RE: cuccubear Jul 29, 2009 04:51 PM

                                                        Another vote for Yummy. I grew up eating heart, tongue, kidneys and liver. Mom didn't cook tripe, but we loved it in canned pepper pot soup, and I was delighted to discover the various other ways it could be prepared, and how similar some of those were (Tripes Provençal, Trippa alla Fiorentina, Chinese stewed tripe...). My favorite sandwich from about age nine has been liverwurst, HB egg and Swiss cheese, and although I came to sweetbreads much later than Glo (12! Cool!) I'm happy to make up lost time. Brains I'll need to sneak up on, spleen I might try if a tablemate offers me some of his, and chitlins were fun but will never be a favorite, except as andouillettes.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: Will Owen
                                                          c oliver RE: Will Owen Jul 30, 2009 08:56 PM

                                                          I can't imagine anyone not liking tripe. And me too re liverwurst but I like it with lettuce and tomato on whole wheat bread. I've had brains and eggs and I didn't DISLIKE it but it didn't sing to me.

                                                        2. Caralien RE: cuccubear Jul 29, 2009 05:58 PM

                                                          I'm surprised that no one has mentioned Fergus Henderson's "The Whole Beast, Nose to Tail Eating". I finished this book today and will admit that I am not yet ready to singe and shave food in the kitchen, but am drawn to foods I can't/don't prepare at home when dining out, usually with pleasurable results. Some of the recipes appear simple enough, but most take more time and patience than I have in the kitchen (brine X for 12 days...). Point's recipes in Ma Gastronomie appear far more approachable.

                                                          Back to the question--I eat everything. Not for shock value, but because I love food. It's wasteful to not use all parts, and people have been using and enjoying all parts of the animals for as long as people have been eating meat.

                                                          Now I'm craving both sausage and sweetbreads, a tongue taco, and to finally try hot dogs made from the skin of a hog's head.

                                                          1. MVNYC RE: cuccubear Jul 29, 2009 06:19 PM

                                                            i would also say that to me, not eating all parts of the animal is somewhat offensive personally. While I am no vegetarian, I do respect animal life. If something gave its life for mine, I want to respect it by eating all of it.

                                                            1. Sam Fujisaka RE: cuccubear Jul 30, 2009 05:02 AM

                                                              I just made all-from-scratch creamed spinach, mushroom, and chicken heart served over rice! Mmmm!

                                                              7 Replies
                                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                                                c oliver RE: Sam Fujisaka Jul 30, 2009 08:58 PM

                                                                Oh, I forgot chicken hearts. Mmmm. Also anticuchos.

                                                                1. re: c oliver
                                                                  Will Owen RE: c oliver Aug 4, 2009 05:12 PM

                                                                  Just for the hell of it I once made a dish of chicken hearts, cut crosswise, seasoned highly and sautéed in butter with a little green onion, then tossed with some cooked elbow macaroni. My wife said, "Oooh, you know what those little Protein Rings look like..." whereupon I named the dish A**holes and Elbows. Honest. And it was good!

                                                                  1. re: Will Owen
                                                                    kattyeyes RE: Will Owen Aug 4, 2009 05:19 PM

                                                                    Love it--not necessarily the dish, but definitely the name! If not for the fact your last name is a dead giveaway that you are NOT one of my relatives, I would suspect otherwise. ;)

                                                                    1. re: kattyeyes
                                                                      alanbarnes RE: kattyeyes Aug 4, 2009 05:26 PM

                                                                      That's gotta be the best name for a dish EVER.

                                                                      Kattyeyes - don't assume it's his real name. Remember, on the internet no one knows you're a dog.


                                                                      1. re: alanbarnes
                                                                        kattyeyes RE: alanbarnes Aug 4, 2009 05:31 PM

                                                                        Great expression and cartoons--thanks. I'll have to keep that in mind about the Internet. But, in the meantime, I have to think my Uncle Al is trying to send me messages via the man we'll call "Will Owen." ;)

                                                                      2. re: kattyeyes
                                                                        Will Owen RE: kattyeyes Feb 12, 2010 04:33 PM

                                                                        As it happens, it is my real name and that's my real picture (the fat guy with the weedy mustache, not the cat). But of course we know EVERYONE is related at some point...

                                                                      3. re: Will Owen
                                                                        c oliver RE: Will Owen Aug 4, 2009 05:47 PM

                                                                        That is TOO funny and TOO delicious sounding. We used to take gizzards and hearts, brush some Dijon mustard on them and bake/roast in the oven for a bit. And just chomp down. But at our age, we're trying to lay off those kinds of things ---well, most of the time :)

                                                                  2. d
                                                                    danieljdwyer RE: cuccubear Jul 30, 2009 05:40 AM

                                                                    Why eat skeletal muscle?
                                                                    Or, basically, why wouldn't offal be eaten? With some exceptions like brain, it's just another muscle.
                                                                    It's also far from the strangest thing we eat. How about bee vomit? Or yeast shit?

                                                                    15 Replies
                                                                    1. re: danieljdwyer
                                                                      linguafood RE: danieljdwyer Jul 30, 2009 06:04 AM

                                                                      skeletal muscle??

                                                                      oh, and do report on your experiences with bee vomit and yeast shit. that sounds great.

                                                                      1. re: linguafood
                                                                        BobB RE: linguafood Jul 30, 2009 06:27 AM

                                                                        Daniel's referring (tongue in cheek) to honey and alcohol. And to standard supermarket cuts of meat as skeletal (since that's where they're found, wrapped around bones) as opposed to organ meat.

                                                                        You say to-MAY-to, I say crimson excrescence of solanaceae.

                                                                        1. re: BobB
                                                                          linguafood RE: BobB Jul 30, 2009 06:49 AM

                                                                          ha. slow day for my brains today. too much yeast shit last night '-D

                                                                          1. re: BobB
                                                                            danieljdwyer RE: BobB Jul 30, 2009 08:54 AM

                                                                            Bingo. And you say mead; I say the shit of yeast that ate bee vomit.

                                                                          2. re: linguafood
                                                                            danieljdwyer RE: linguafood Jul 30, 2009 08:53 AM

                                                                            Skeletal muscle is "normal" meat. Most organ meats are smooth muscle. The heart is cardiac muscle, which is pretty close to the same thing as skeletal muscle, only not controlled by the conscious mind.
                                                                            Sure, to think, "I'm eating a cow's kidney," is a bit weird, but consider a ham sandwich with Swiss cheese, mayo, and pickles: porcine quadriceps that were stored in white and sometimes pink rocks before being flavored with the byproduct of the combustion of wood, and possibly partly digested and excreted by various bacteria if it's good quality ham; the secretions of specialized bovine sweat glands, treated with bovine stomach enzymes to isolate and partly digest certain proteins, sugars, and fats, which are then partly digested and excreted by specialized bacteria; cucumbers which have been stored in a solution of minerals, water, and the excrement of certain bacteria which have fed on the excrement of some other bacteria which have fed on aqueous plant sugars; fats extracted from various plant materials, then suspended in the beaten nucleuses of hen gametes; all placed between two slices of baked sugars made from the seeds of cultivated grasses, ground and mixed with water and a strain of fungus which partially digests those sugars and excretes carbon dioxide into the sugar chains formed by the kneading process. That's a lot weirder, conceptually, than just another cow muscle.
                                                                            Offal is eaten because it's food. Nearly all food is weird if you think about the details. Why eat certain weird things and not others? I think we all have hangups about certain foods, but it's the not having hangups that makes sense, not the having hangups. The question to examine should be, "Why do some people not eat X?" not, "why do some people eat X?"

                                                                            1. re: danieljdwyer
                                                                              YvesNY RE: danieljdwyer Jul 31, 2009 06:10 AM

                                                                              Totally agree with you. Whenever I think of all this processed food Americans love so much, it makes me sick. It reminds me of Soylent Green... Why is it we don't want to know that what we eat was a living thing, whether plant or animal. Would not that make us more in touch with the world we live in, and with ourselves...
                                                                              No food is weird, just people are...
                                                                              From my early childhood in France I have eaten all kinds of variety meat/offal, because because butchers there sell as much of them as regular (muscle) meat, and people love it. The greatest recipes in French cooking are based on variety meat and offal (e.g. tete de veau, vol-au-vent, andouille - not the Louisiana andouille which is just a sausage). Things I have been fed when young: brains, sweetbread, tripe, tongue, liver, udder, lungs, spleen, kidneys, heart, "white kidneys", from beef, pork, mutton, duck, chicken, rabbit , guinea pig). We very seldom had beef steak because it tasted sort of bland and dry compared to the breadth of flavors and texture you get from the other meats...

                                                                              One of the greatest restaurants in Paris, Apicius, cooks a lot of them.

                                                                              Maybe some day America will wake up and enjoy real good meat, eat fish, raw things, good tasty vegetables, and... eat less....

                                                                              1. re: danieljdwyer
                                                                                phantomdoc RE: danieljdwyer Jul 31, 2009 01:54 PM

                                                                                Reminds me of air boat tour south of Miami where alligators were in the water. Tour guide said "They eat anything made of meat".

                                                                            2. re: danieljdwyer
                                                                              alanbarnes RE: danieljdwyer Jul 30, 2009 08:28 AM

                                                                              The interesting thing about offal is that so much of it **isn't** just another muscle. Liver, kidneys, sweetbreads, lungs, etc. aren't muscular at all, and organs made of smooth muscle (tripe and intestines) are completely different in their cellular structure - and therefore in their flavor and texture - than skeletal muscle.

                                                                              If you want to expand the traditional definition of "offal" to include things like cheeks and feet and tails and tongues, then we're absolutely talking about "just another muscle." But if we limit the word to its traditional meaning of entrails and internal organs, the only one that's "just another muscle" is the heart, which for culinary purposes is just another lean steak, comparable to the diaphragm (aka skirt steak).

                                                                              Offal is a perfectly good word, although its strict definition is a little more limiting than what the whole "head to tail" movement is advocating. Maybe I'm just falling for a euphemism, but I like the term "variety meats." Sums it up nicely, if you ask me.

                                                                              1. re: alanbarnes
                                                                                danieljdwyer RE: alanbarnes Jul 30, 2009 09:33 AM

                                                                                Huh. I though most organs were smooth muscle, but I guess it's only some of them. Regardless, they are just another meat.
                                                                                So what are things like liver and kidneys, structurally? I mean, I see that the structures are things like renal lobes, but what is a renal lobe made out of?

                                                                                1. re: danieljdwyer
                                                                                  alanbarnes RE: danieljdwyer Jul 30, 2009 09:48 AM

                                                                                  The kidneys (and the liver) are essentially filters. You've got a capsule that provides structural integrity, a fair amount of plumbing for blood throughput and excretion of urine, and the renal cortices themselves (one per lobe), which hold the corpuscles that do the filtering.

                                                                                  The distinction between muscle and non-muscle meats is that the former can contract and relax. The heart beats, moving blood through the system - it's a muscle. The kidneys do their job using pressure generated by the heart; they aren't muscular.

                                                                                  1. re: alanbarnes
                                                                                    danieljdwyer RE: alanbarnes Jul 30, 2009 12:26 PM

                                                                                    Mmmm. Now you've got me craving some urine filter tissue pie.

                                                                                  2. re: danieljdwyer
                                                                                    phantomdoc RE: danieljdwyer Jul 31, 2009 01:58 PM

                                                                                    Brings me back to the class Histology when I studied in Dallas. Identify the organ by its cellular structure. The teaching assistant used to give me a hard time because I was vegan at that time. His family business was cattle ranchers. I told him that I don't eat anything that we study in "Histo"

                                                                                  3. re: alanbarnes
                                                                                    c oliver RE: alanbarnes Jul 30, 2009 09:00 PM

                                                                                    Variety meats. I like it. That reminds me that I still have to cook the beef cheeks in the freezer.

                                                                                  4. re: danieljdwyer
                                                                                    cuccubear RE: danieljdwyer Jul 30, 2009 08:38 AM

                                                                                    Good point, and I can honestly say I’d never thought of it like that. Why are we sqeamish about some parts, but not others?

                                                                                    I grew up in a home where offal (ie. variety meats, hehe) was rarely served and my parents didn’t pressure us in to eating it when it was served (I remember liver and hearts especially). My parents grew up eating liver, kidneys, hearts, gizzards, etc. but I believe, as some have stated above, that the advent of “convenience foods” virtually eliminated those foods from our table. The “squishy and slimy” didn’t appeal to us kids singing ditties about “greasy, grimy gopher guts”.

                                                                                    1. re: cuccubear
                                                                                      SnackHappy RE: cuccubear Jul 30, 2009 08:44 AM

                                                                                      "Why are we sqeamish about some parts, but not others?"

                                                                                      Because some people don't like to be reminded that they are eating what used to be a living thing. Of course, this is hypocrisy, but some people just prefer thinking that meat grows on styrofoam.

                                                                                  5. cuccubear RE: cuccubear Jul 30, 2009 08:42 AM

                                                                                    I *can* say that Liverwurst has always been a favorite of mine (especially with spicy mustard and onion on pumpernickel) and stuffing for the turkey always included the diced giblets, so I have had some exposure to it (minimal, I know).

                                                                                    Anyone have any ideas as to Why offal has been marketed “out of fashion”?

                                                                                    cresyd’s first paragraph above makes sense, but I’d think meat processors would be able to make money on organs as easily as “meat”. Could it be because in the post-war years consumers wanted to move away from their depression era habits into a bright, new future?

                                                                                    Personally, I like the idea that a “head to tail” mentality is coming around again.

                                                                                    14 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: cuccubear
                                                                                      kattyeyes RE: cuccubear Jul 30, 2009 02:53 PM

                                                                                      You really ARE my brother...my mom used to pack me Mother Goose liverwurst on slice-a-slice bread...except with French's mustard (hey, it was the 70s). ;) And I loved my liverwurst...and, yeah, our stuffing was the same with giblets. Separated at birth--who knew? ;)

                                                                                      1. re: kattyeyes
                                                                                        Caralien RE: kattyeyes Jul 30, 2009 05:34 PM

                                                                                        there are many parts of offal I do love, but liverwurst and French's mustard remind me of the house with 13 kids in the Austin area of Chicago. I can't eat that to this day.

                                                                                        1. re: Caralien
                                                                                          kattyeyes RE: Caralien Jul 30, 2009 06:14 PM

                                                                                          <<liverwurst and French's mustard remind me of the house with 13 kids in the Austin area of Chicago>>

                                                                                          I have no idea what you're talking about. What house with 13 kids?

                                                                                          1. re: kattyeyes
                                                                                            Caralien RE: kattyeyes Jul 31, 2009 09:42 PM

                                                                                            on Race Street, across from Moonie's house, where Kitty was born.

                                                                                            Austin is the ghetto next to Oak Park with fine houses in which one expects to get broken into at least twice a year.

                                                                                        2. re: kattyeyes
                                                                                          cuccubear RE: kattyeyes Jul 31, 2009 09:01 AM

                                                                                          Mother Goose Foie Gras sounds more appropriate ;-).
                                                                                          Down here in Virginny, it was Kunzler brand, or Oscar Mayer.

                                                                                          1. re: cuccubear
                                                                                            kattyeyes RE: cuccubear Aug 1, 2009 06:33 AM

                                                                                            HA HA, just a regional difference in brands, I'm sure. Trust me when I tell you Mother Goose was no fancier than your buddy Oscar. ;) I believe it's a Northeast thing (like your Duke's mayo, bro). Now I must look for it and find some. Back when, they sold it at Shop Rite (now gone from our town), but I'll see if I can find it downtown at our mom & pop Italian grocery. It really was yummy! I actually googled to see what it was all about. It was enough of a thing that they were selling it on Amazon, but no more...and I found a question, "What happened to Mother Goose liverwurst?" so I wasn't the only fan. ;) Now to find that Slice-a-Slice contraption at my mom's...

                                                                                            1. re: kattyeyes
                                                                                              kattyeyes RE: kattyeyes Aug 3, 2009 04:37 PM

                                                                                              BTW, in honor of this thread, I bought myself some Mother Goose this weekend, spread it on rosemary crackers and dipped it in Gulden's. It's just as delicious as I remembered!

                                                                                              1. re: kattyeyes
                                                                                                cuccubear RE: kattyeyes Aug 4, 2009 06:52 AM

                                                                                                Great! Maybe I'll be able to buy some too as I'll be in Northampton, MA this weekend (helping a friend move).

                                                                                                1. re: cuccubear
                                                                                                  kattyeyes RE: cuccubear Aug 4, 2009 03:44 PM

                                                                                                  AHA, well, I just checked for you to confirm they sell it at the Northampton Super Stop & Shop, so it's yours to enjoy! Have a great trip!

                                                                                                  Super Stop & Shop - #0787
                                                                                                  228 King Street
                                                                                                  Kings Gate Plaza
                                                                                                  Northampton, MA 01060

                                                                                                  P.S. Check out La Fiorentina (same town) for my favorite cannoli ANYWHERE...they make them in chocolate-covered shells. Their espresso/cappucino is fantastic as well. http://www.lafiorentinapastry.com/

                                                                                                  1. re: kattyeyes
                                                                                                    Passadumkeg RE: kattyeyes Aug 4, 2009 04:00 PM

                                                                                                    I do think you liked the beef tongue I prepared at Scargod's! I've looked up here in the icy far north for beef tongue to make more, but our local Hanneford's and Shaw's don't carry it. Frickin' Yankees; no taste buds!

                                                                                                    1. re: Passadumkeg
                                                                                                      kattyeyes RE: Passadumkeg Aug 4, 2009 04:16 PM

                                                                                                      It's true--I did enjoy the tongue, even if taking a look at it boiling on the stove sort of scared me and I thought you were joking till I saw it with my own eyes. ;) Where did you guys pick that up down here--is it C-Town? You'll just have to make another road trip (and then you can get your pierogis, too)!

                                                                                                      1. re: kattyeyes
                                                                                                        Passadumkeg RE: kattyeyes Aug 4, 2009 04:21 PM

                                                                                                        Where can I get jellied pigs feet? Yes C-Town, and next time I'm bringing back tongue. Have you ever eaten Polish Kishka? A blood and rice sausage, yum.
                                                                                                        Yes, I am thinking of excuses to return.

                                                                                                        1. re: Passadumkeg
                                                                                                          kattyeyes RE: Passadumkeg Aug 4, 2009 04:47 PM

                                                                                                          I will have to look around and get back to you on jellied pigs feet. My grandparents used to sell pickled pigs feet (in a jar) as well as tongues in a jar, but their store is no more. :( I haven't eaten Polish Kiska, but can point you to other local Polish (and German) places when you return.

                                                                                                    2. re: kattyeyes
                                                                                                      cuccubear RE: kattyeyes Aug 5, 2009 07:12 AM

                                                                                                      Thanks for the recs! I'm hoping to have Sunday free to poke around the area and find some good food.

                                                                                        3. d
                                                                                          David Borkin RE: cuccubear Jul 31, 2009 12:30 AM

                                                                                          If you ever go to Rome, you must try Checchino dal 1887. Its a restaurant next to the old meat market, and specialises in what the Italians call "the fifth quarter".
                                                                                          Their Pajata (calves intestines) is amazing. They use the small intestine from un-weaned calves, which still hold some of the mothers milk. This milk coagulates when cooked and adds a lovely creamyness to the sauce.
                                                                                          As for why eat offal; I agree with most of the other commentators - its the texture that grabs you. Whetyher its the creamyness of goose liver, the chew of trip (or the slither of long-stewed tripe) - I love it.!

                                                                                          1. Antonia Eats RE: cuccubear Jul 31, 2009 08:44 AM

                                                                                            I'm a complete offal addict, having never tried anything so far that cannot be delicious as long as its prepared well. Recently I tried cow udder, thinly sliced, dusted with flour and panfried, then sprinkled with lemon and salt - delicious! I think favourites would have to be sweetbreads, tongue, liver, tripe, chicken gizzards..mmm golly maybe everything! Not so keen on spleen and kidney but I'm sure its just a matter of the right recipe...

                                                                                            I will try anything new as an adventure once, but my love of offal is about eating it as much as possible and finding different ways of cooking it. It definitely add variety to one's diet, supports a 'waste not, want not' philosophy in the kitchen, and makes me extra excited when the butcher has chickens that come whole - head, giblets and all. Instead of just one meal you have more options - roast chicken, chicken liver pate, or chopped spiced livers on crostini, chicken soup ...yum!

                                                                                            Another book no one has mentioned is Anissa Helou's The Fifth Quarter - it has an international perspective that opened my mind to lots of new ideas for new dishes to try.

                                                                                            Finally, I made cold Tuscan tripe salad last night - bouncy slivers of cool honeycomb tripe with a bright dressing of lemon and vingear, soft tomatoes, crunchy celery and freshly choppped parsley and mint. It was perfect for a warm summer evening!


                                                                                            if anyone might be interested. Cheers!

                                                                                            1. jglass54 RE: cuccubear Jul 31, 2009 04:30 PM

                                                                                              Being raised in a secular Jewish family, as a child I remember my grandmother preparing sauteed liver with onions, as well as making her own heavenly chopped liver. She also would boil up a huge beef tongue and serve it with horseradish. Of course, for a long time I didn't realize that the dish we called tongue was actually the tongue of a cow. I just thought it was funny that this delicious meat had the same name as that thing in my mouth!

                                                                                              Later as a young adult, I lived in Germany and ate liver there often, most frequently prepared with apple and onions. I also discovered what the Germans call "Suelze", or head cheese, which is made up of bits of meat from the animal's head and surrounded by a gelee. It was usually served with a cold "gruner Soss", or herb sauce. While it may not qualify as offal, since it's not made of organ meat, it still had an "ick" factor, although it was delicious. Then while visiting France frequently, I learned to love kidneys served with a piquant mustard sauce. I prepared the dish a few times when I returned to the States, but since then I've stopped making it, mainly out of concern that the kidneys may have processed hormones and antibiotics.

                                                                                              I eat these meats because they are tasty when prepared well, have a different texture that everyday meats and are usually deeply embedded into the cuisine of other cultures I have experienced.

                                                                                              1. s
                                                                                                smgradman RE: cuccubear Aug 3, 2009 04:20 PM

                                                                                                I scanned through all the responses, and unless I missed it, the main concepts that haven't been dealt with here are health related. When prion mediated disease (e.g. mad cow) is still incurable and the source hard to identify until it's too late, I'm not going to eat brain. Sure, there are bits of nerve tissue in skeletal muscle, but the odds of a bad result go up if you are eating pure brain. And as for liver: as a former biochemist I know what the function of the liver is in the mammalian body. Given the state of our environment, and what we feed our livestock, I don't want to eat the organ where the toxins, carcinogens, et al of the world are filtered and often stored.

                                                                                                1. t
                                                                                                  Takat RE: cuccubear Aug 5, 2009 10:18 AM

                                                                                                  I eat it because it's tasty. I grew up trained to think that no food is "gross" so I'd certainly not eat it for any kind of "shock value." Why should hearts and stomachs be discarded while flank meat is kept? No reasons other than human preference...and there is no such preference in some parts of the world.

                                                                                                  Writing away about my latest 3 week adventure through China at http://katacomb.blogspot.com

                                                                                                  1. l
                                                                                                    Lucia RE: cuccubear Aug 8, 2009 07:00 PM

                                                                                                    Because it's delicious!

                                                                                                    1. E Eto RE: cuccubear Feb 13, 2010 05:07 AM

                                                                                                      Offal eating is very much alive and thriving in Japan, offering varieties of organs not seen in the US, with even a large chain of restaurants specializing in it. It seems to be popular because it's delicious. It's origin is probably from southwestern Japan (Kyushu and Honshu), with a big influence from Korea. It's also marketed as one of the beauty secrets for women in Japan as a good source of collagen to keep their skin glowing.

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