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Offal for a newbie

I am looking for recommendations for offal of the liver/kidney/sweetbreads/brain variety (organ meats) in the Boston area. I will confess, ever since I was a kid, the smell of liver frying, or chicken gizzards boiling away on the stove was downright nauseating to me.

I'm pretty adventurous in most other ways, I'll eat anything raw, have eaten all kinds of game, have had tripe, chicken feet, and foie gras (that doesn't count in my book - there's no trace of that "livery flavor").

Any recs for "gateway" organ meats that are perhaps challenging looking, but are on the mild side, organ-flavor-wise?

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  1. Sweetbreads are a good place to start. They're not at all livery or strong-tasting - quite mild, in fact. When properly cooked they're slightly crisp on the outside and meltingly tender inside. They benefit from recipes that include a savory ingredient like bacon or chorizo.

    Eastern Standard does them well - they have an "offal of the day" appetizer that is some variation on sweetbreads 90% of the time.

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    Eastern Standard
    528 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215

    1. Since you've had foie gras, I'll assume chicken liver pate is already too unadventurous.

      I'd probably go with fried veal sweetbreads. Sweetbreads aren't in any way gamey or unctuous, but are mild and incredibly tender. Frying them ought to make them even more accessible. Like adult chicken nuggets.

      I like the sweetbreads at La Voile. Right now I think the preparation is fried, with mushrooms, in a cream and port sauce. Whatever it is, it is delicious. My favorite dish there. You could get the pate du jour (usually chicken liver or similar) as an appetizer, too.

      Good luck! Offal is delicious!

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      La Voile
      261 Newbury Street, Boston, MA 02116

      1 Reply
      1. re: rlove

        Another sweetbread option:

        At least as of last weekend, Craigie on Main was offering "veal two-ways" with veal cheeks and sweetbreads. Both were absolutely delicious.

        As the menu changes near-daily, I'd call before heading over if that was your sole reason for visiting, but Tony generally has offal on the menu, and it is always wonderful.

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        Craigie on Main
        853 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

      2. I concur that sweetbreads are a good place to start but would also recommend calves brains. Texture is almost custard-like and they have a mild flavor. I had them most recently this past summer as a offal special at Green St.

        2 Replies
        1. re: mats77

          Just had calf's brain at Petit Robert last week and loved them!
          I've also enjoyed the sweetbreads there and at Eastern Standard and Olives.

          How do you feel about hearts? They're heartier and more organy-y tasting than sweetbreads and brains but aren't as pronounced as liver. I like the grilled beef hearts (anticuchos) at Rincon Limeno and most Brazillian bbq places do chicken hearts.

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          Rincon Limeno
          409 Chelsea St, Boston, MA 02128

          Eastern Standard
          528 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215

          1. re: ilovedessert

            +1 on the calf's brains at Petit Bistro Robert. Truly rich and amazing. When they have them the sweetbreads are indeed good, and I was disappointed that they didn't make the fall menu there.

        2. Corneal fried chicken livers are back on the menu at the Franklin Cafe (South End). A stunning dish.

          Toro might be the single best Western-tradition wrangler of animal parts in town, a huge variety of organ meats in myriad configurations. Their pig-ear terrine might be the prettiest dish I've been served in many weeks, and it's a flavor and textural delight, too. But there are so many things to try on that menu. Many of them are processed in such a way as to disguise their offal-y origins, like a delicious blood salami.

          Estragon around the corner also does Spanish-style offal dishes, like a whole pig's head (not recommended for beginners) and serves delicious versions of tongue, fatback, cod cheeks, and chicken livers, among other options.

          Here's a slightly-edited offal rundown I first posted here two years ago:

          KO Prime. Sweetbread done like chicken nuggets.

          Tripe in a Florentine stew at Trattoria Toscana (not always on the menu), many other North End Italians.

          Beef tongue in sauce at El Oriental de Cuba; beef tongue tacos at many taquerias, notably Tacos Lupita.

          Pupusas with chicharrones at Pupusa La Guanaca.

          Pork skin (bi) banh mi at Pho Viet in the Allston Super 88 food court. Pate and head cheese banh mi at many places.

          Beef cheek tacos especialies at Taqueria El Amigo in Waltham, my favorite dish there.

          Various animal bits on the charcuterie and salumi plates at The Butcher Shop, Toro, Taberna de Haro, Bin 26.

          Mondongo (Puerto Rican tripe soup) and stewed oxtail at Izzy's near Kendall Square, Cambridge.

          Pan-sauteed chicken livers at the Franklin Cafe.

          Chopped chicken liver at Rubin's Kosher Deli in Brookline.

          Tripe and sweetbreads and occasionally brains at many of the traditional French places: Petit Robert, Pierrot, Troquet, Gaslight, etc.

          Paya (cow or calves' foot) on the weekend Pakistani specials menu at Grain and Salt in Allston. Haven't tried that one myself yet.

          Chicken hearts done rodizio style at the Midwest Grill in East Cambridge (Brazilian charrascaria).

          Menudo, a common weekend special at many Mexican places (favored as a hangover remedy)

          Intestine dishes in many Taiwanese and Korean restaurants.

          The amazing frankfurters at Speed's Famous Hot Dog Wagon in Newmarket Square.

          Chinatown -- too many to mention; I imagine more literate Hounds can comment here.

          http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

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          Trattoria Toscana
          130 Jersey St, Boston, MA 02215

          Toro
          1704 Washington St, Boston, MA 02118

          Taqueria El Amigo
          196 Willow St, Waltham, MA 02453

          Grain and Salt
          431 Cambridge St, Allston, MA 02134

          KO Prime
          90 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02108

          Troquet
          140 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02116

          Rubin's Kosher Deli
          500 Harvard St, Brookline, MA 02446

          Midwest Grill
          1124 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

          Pho Viet
          1095 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215

          Izzy's Restaurant
          72 Spring St, New Bedford, MA 02740

          2 Replies
          1. re: MC Slim JB

            Ha! We tend to forget what actually goes into hot dogs. Most everybody eats offal, even without realizing it.

            1. re: BobB

              Exactly. As I put it recently in the Stuff Magazine 2009 Dining Award I gave to Craigie on Main (a place that clearly belongs on my list) for "Oddest Crazy-Delicious Ingredient":

              "Whole-hog enthusiast Tony Maws (who we think was robbed of a 2009 Beard Award) serves astonishing variety meats in his roomier new Central Square digs. If you’ve ever gobbled a Fenway Frank, there’s no reason to be a weenie about eating the crispy-fried pigs’ tails at Craigie on Main.

              Maws wittily contrasts their richness with pickled peanuts, cilantro, and nuoc cham, the Vietnamese chili/lime/fish-sauce condiment. Americans tend to think of offal as poor people’s food, but these crunchy yet tender tails and Maws’s other plates of strange piggy parts will make you feel like aristocracy."

              http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

          2. If we can expand beyond organ meats and simply go snout to tail on this one, I'd add:

            - pringas at Estragon
            - bone marrow
            - cheeks of all kinds in all ways
            - pig tails at Craigie
            - lengua tacos

            1. Whew, I love organ meats myself though they can be rich. I might need an alka seltzer just reading this thread.

              I do think that sweetbreads are the ultimate starter offal. Not at all challenging when done correctly. I love the La Voile rendition.

              Pssst, hey, want some sweetbreads.

              The ox heart (anticucho) at Rincon Limeno barely even qualifies as an organ meat. It just tastes good and beefy.

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              Rincon Limeno
              409 Chelsea St, Boston, MA 02128

              La Voile
              261 Newbury Street, Boston, MA 02116

              1. I've had both the beef heart and marrow dishes at Toro, and loved both.

                T. W. Food has a variety of house-made charcuterie that are outstanding, many of which include offal.

                Not sure if it is regularly on the menu, but I had sweetbreads during a Chef's Whim tasting at Craigie on Main that were divine.

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                Toro
                1704 Washington St, Boston, MA 02118

                Craigie on Main
                853 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

                1. Thanks, all, for the great suggestions. I'm thinking sweetbreads are going to be the first step on the path toward appreciating innards.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: nsenada

                    "Appreciating Innards" sounds like a "Chow Tip." ;-)

                  2. I think any of the more "difficult" (not for me, but based on reactions I've seen in others)offal taste great fried; sweetbreads, brains, kidneys, it's an easy way to approach them.

                    A bowl of beef pho will intro you to some of them, including tripe and tendon.

                    Tripe at dim sum is easy and a cheap way to get a small sample. Can also get some "black tofu" or blood cooked in sauce there. Have not had a particularly good one in Boston though.

                    Eastern Standard, Craigie, Toro, Estragon, will all give you ample opportunities to try variations, all in really delicious ways (headcheese, ears, etc.).

                    Chinese places like Taiwan Cafe, JoJo Taipei, and others have tendon and pig-ear snacks that are certainly worth trying. When you're ready they also have more offal things like kidneys and intestines.

                    I considered sweetbreads to be my intro to offal until I thought about all of the German lunchmeats I had been eating for years already....just had tongue sausage last week, which is pork tongue in a blood sausage with plenty of pork fat. Brought me back, and I must say it's delicious. Can get that at any of the Russian delis and Karl's sausage kitchen.

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                    Eastern Standard
                    528 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215

                    Toro
                    1704 Washington St, Boston, MA 02118

                    1. I'm an offal newbie too. I found myself liking the tongue which was an accompaniment to Cragie's hanger steak. I wasn't crazy about the head cheese amuse we were served at a Chef's whimsy dinner last winter.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Parsnipity

                        You just reminded me of the beef tongue canape at Hungry Mother's which is awesome! I only wish it came with more than two. I can enjoy 2 or 3 plates of those in a sitting.

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                        Hungry Mother
                        Cambridge, MA, Cambridge, MA

                        1. re: kobuta

                          i love the beef tongue canape at hungry mother. i wish they served it as an entree

                          1. Offal is something pretty near and dear to me. I eat it because I grew up on it and it's a family tradition of sorts. I find the recent popularity of it humorous and well deserved though. I certainly hate seeing prices go up because of it though as that was always one of the driving factors in why we ate so much of it growing up. Where to get it (cooked) I cannot tell you because organ meats are something I am VERY particular about and need special attention to preparation. Attention that I am often more comfortable in knowing that I have done myself. The art of cooking organ meat properly however is something I take great pride in knowing and feel that everyone should try their hand at it if they enjoy cooking. Many people have suggested sweetbreads to you and oddly enough although I have eaten incredible amounts of seemingly random organs I have never had them so I cannot comment on them. I do however think that tongue is a great start. The suggestion of lengua at El Oriental de Cuba is probably a very save bet for you. if you find that (like the rest of the world seems to be) you catch the fever for more and want to enjoy some different types and you feel adventurous in the kitchen I will be happy to share some fantastic techniques, tips, and recipes with you just send me an email.

                            Eat Well!