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Oct 21, 2010 04:23 PM

Offal - or at least Awful - in a can

Some recent threads round about the chowhound e-world got me to pondering some of the things I've seen in cans that I would never never never NEVER never NEVER NEVER even considering opening, let alone actually ingesting.

These include:

Pork Brains in Milk Gravy
Potted Meat Food Product (Food product? Kind of like Cheese product when applied to yellow blocks of plastic?)
Underwood Deviled Ham - is no one suspicious of a potted meat product that comes from a company named PET?

BTW, some of these include something called "mechanically separated poultry".

While the immediate picture that springs to my mind is that of robots callously separating a loving hen from her chicks and rooster, apparently what this actually means (according to the USDA):

is a paste-like and batter-like poultry product produced by forcing bones with attached edible tissue through a sieve or similar device under high pressure to separate bone from the edible tissue. Mechanically separated poultry has been used in poultry products since 1969. In 1995, a final rule on mechanically separated poultry said it would be used without restrictions. However, it must be labeled as "mechanically separated chicken or turkey" in the ingredients statement. The final rule became effective November 4, 1996.


I quiver in terror!

You will be relieved to know that "mechanically separated beef" is now deemed unfit for human consumption (due to the mad cow disease scare).

However "mechanically separated" chicken, turkey, pork, and who knows what else are still "fit" for human consumption, apparently. So 'ware the Mad Pig disease outbreaks in our immediate future!

Here is one man's journey of discovery with regard to "Potted Meat Food Product"

Be sure to play the advertising jingle at the end - quite catchy!

Then there's lutefisk.

Yes, lutefisk. The Dreaded Lutefisk. Lutefisk does not, apparently, actually come in cans, or at least if it does, I've not been able to find it (much to my lack of disappointment). In fact I am unsure how you would properly package something one of the main ingredients of which is "lye". Perhaps in glass lined casks. I don't know. The gelatinous, pale, quiveringness of this item - I hesitate to call it "food" - would be enough to put one off one's feed, were it not for the absolutely appalling smell. However, according to one lutefisk manufacturer:

"Lutefisk has always had a bad rap because of the perceived nasty smell, but when it is processed correctly, "it doesn't stink," Kimmel vows.

"It doesn't have a strong flavor either," he said, smiling. So why do people eat something that has a sometimes-questionable texture, described by some as "glutinous" or like Jell-O and with very little flavor?

"It's the butter."

Yes. It's the butter. People eat fish dissolved in lye solely for the chance to nosh down on some butter.

Well pass me the butter dish and a spoon. Hold the lutefisk.

Here is the PROPER way to eat lutefisk:

Then there is Simmenthal Jellied Cured Beef. In attempting to research this item, I came across this blurb on the Kraft Foods website:

"Italians have long enjoyed our Simmenthal brand of canned meat in jelly. Simmenthal is a convenient ready-to-eat meal or can be used in many tasty recipes. It’s perfect with salad, vegetables, cold rice or pasta. Simmenthal’s latest products include beef in jelly with chili and chicken in jelly with curry. "

"Beef in Jelly with Chili" and "Chicken in Jelly with Curry". Just when you thought we had plumbed the depths of culinary depravity!

Oh my stars and little hoppy toads! WAIT! I take that back! Lest someone should think to come up with canned Hoppy Toads In Jelly With Milk Gravy!

Oddly enough, there are more depths yet to be plumbed. Let us consider Cuitlacoche.

What, you may very well ask, in your innocence (or more likely by this point, foolishness), is Cuitlacoche?

Well, it is also known as Mexican Truffles. Truffles! Yum! (not so much from my point of view, but whatever . . . ) Who would want a faux truffle?

Well truffles are AWFULLY expensive. A 750g white truffle recently sold at auction for 100k euros. For those Americans among us, that's almost $5300 per oz. Granted that was at the high end, but still. Truffles COST.

Cuitlacoche, however, is MUCH cheaper. You can get a 7 oz can of Cuitlacoche for about $8, or 2 lbs frozen for in the neighborhood of $40. Fresh Cuitlacoche? I'm not so sure anybody should actually want fresh Cuitlacoche (or frozen, or canned, for that matter). But you can get it that way, at least in Mexico.

Alright, alright, alRIGHT already! So I have made fun of Cuitlacoche (apparently also spelled huitlacoche) without telling you a THING about what it tastes like. So off I go in search of someone who has actually tasted the stuff, and what do I find, but a blog named "STEVE! Don't eat it!"

Apparently Steve DID eat it. And this is what he has to say about it:

"So, how does Huitlacoche taste? Does it matter?? LOOK AT IT!

I guess it would be fair to say it doesn't taste as truly horrible as it looks. The flavor is elusive and difficult to describe, but I'll try: "Kinda yucky." Hey, that wasn't so hard after all. (Sometimes I forget I'm a goddamn wordsmith.


For any connoisseurs, I'm not sure if this stuff would go better with red wine or white. How about with a bottle of Bactine? I've always found that goes great with infections."

For the curious among you (who have hung with me thus far) I'll tell you what c/huitlacoche is.

It's corn smut. Yes, that awful, horrible, spore that if it infects your corn crop can only be BURNED out. Well, except for some farmers here in the states who have sued for and gotten permission to purposely infect their corn crops with smut so they can get a piece of that $20 a pound action.

Here is Steve's blog address so you can read the whole smutty story:

As a final salute to culinary depravity, I refer you to the following blog entry. Nothing I could say or do could possibly top this story, aptly, so APTLY entitled "The Six Most Terrifying Foods in the World".

I laughed so hard it hurt. My son asked me what the heck I was doing.

"Reading about horrible food" sez I.

Looking at me with sad puppy dog eyes, he pouted, "Is that REALLY a smart thing to be doing just before you cook me dinner?"

So on that note, I must be off. Returning to the world of the merely plebian Marinated Tofu Stir Fry is such a let down!

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  1. Read Upton Sinclair's, The Jungle and pop a top of Deviled Ham.

    2 Replies
      1. re: Passadumkeg

        I was a vegetarian for about 6 months in high school because of that book. It made cooking such hell for my meat-loving family that my dad jokingly threatened to sue the history teacher who assigned it.

      2. I'm with you on the tofu stir fry, a frequent meal in my home. But I have fond memories of Potted Meat Food Product and have a can of Palm-brand luncheon meat in the cupboard since Spam was too expensive. As for huitlacoche, I'd pair it with a white. Reds will bring out some terribly earthy flavors.

        6 Replies
        1. re: JungMann

          I think "terribly earthy flavors" is what huitlacoche is all about, LOL!

          1. re: JungMann

            I've never tried huitlacoche, but have a recipe that calls for it in one of my Mexican cookbooks. I thought about asking my CSA if their corn had any fungus they'd like to sell me, and but was concerned they'd think I was crazy. I want to try it, but not from a can.

            My view on canned stuff is eat the fresh version first, and if you love it, it's okay to use canned in a pinch, but don't make that your first exposure.

            1. re: Isolda

              As I mentioned elsewhere in this thread, fresh huitlacoche (cuitlacoche is an alternate spelling, though less common) is VERY difficult to come by. In the US, the FDA spent $millions to eradicate it through development of resistant seed. There are only a few farms in the US that grow it , one is in PA, and Roy Burns in Groveland, FL. is the largest grower and supplier, mostly to top end restaurants and food wholesalers. It is in an edible stage only a few days per year, after which it dries out and airborne spores develop. This is the reason why it is not grown in areas adjacent to other corn farms that want only corn, although the yield per acre for huitlacoche-infected corn is multiples. (Roy is smart). It is a bit surprising that is is grown here at all, and could lead to real Hatfield-McCoy neighboring wars. I say "grown" loosely; individual corn plants must be "infected" by hand at a stage of growth.
              It occurs naturally but infrequently in Mexico where different hybrid seed is used. Little ladies will scour miles of corn rows to pluck a few dozen infected ears, and sell them roadside for a pittance. When I lived in Mexico City, my ladyfriend there who was a great cook who previously owned a restaurant in Guayaquil Ecuador, introduced me to the delicacy and we would drive hundreds of pleasant miles to little towns to buy all we could find in it's brief season. Her casserole with fresh huitlacoche was by my account extraordinary, and something that very few have experienced. It freezes well, although like anything else freezing is a 2-point deduct on a 10 scale. Roy sells frozen. He has experimented with canning and jarring, but he said he has to add too much water to can it, so freezing is the best option.

              1. re: Veggo

                god damn if I DON'T learn something every darn day.


                1. re: Veggo

                  Thanks, veggo, I have a coworker who is one of the pickiest eaters on earth, but considers himself an arbiter of What's Good. I say huitlacoche and he gets the shivers- his usual restaurant for lunch is from Chipotle. For years. I would like to taste it myself, not sure if i'd liked to see it prepared, but I'd like to taste it.

                  1. re: EWSflash

                    It's on the menu at Oyamel in DC if you are ever here for a visit.

            2. Several years ago there was thread about canned whole chicken

              1 Reply
              1. re: paulj

                whole canned chicken is some weird stuff, but awfully tender. good on a camping trip.

              2. I like SPAM. I haven't had it in over a year, but I like to keep a can or two of it, just for whenever I'm in the mood. As far as canned meats go, it's good and has its place.

                I don't have an issue with separated meats, simply because it's better to use them than just throw them away.

                One thing I can't stand are those canned vienna sausages. I tried them a couple of times a decade+ ago. They tasted as bad as they smelled and the texture was far worse than I had imagined. Slimy SPAM meat is like rib-eye when compared to those sausages.

                As far as food goes, unless you have an ethical (or religious) objection to it, I say give it a shot. After all, we should be a bit adventurous with foods, to both the high and low.

                1. Any meat, or meat-like "food product"," in a can is a definite NO. Never had it, never will. Meat is meant to be purchased fresh, at your local market or butcher.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: gaffk

                    This reply is for all the anti-Vienna sausage guys.

                    I feel blessed that way back in my youth
                    my jobs were blue collar, and somewhat uncouth.
                    The wisdom that flowed
                    from those Everyday Joes
                    oft eclipsed bloated snippets from PhD's booths.

                    They would cradle that four ounce round can
                    in their callused coarse workingman's hand
                    They called 'em "Vy-eenies"
                    and pulled zip-top so sweetly
                    then consumed those meat stogies with glee, to a man.

                    Sure, there's doubts 'bout "mechanical separation"
                    and concomitant emulsification.
                    But Vy-eenies will rule
                    as a favored lunch gruel
                    that gives grunts, grins, upon its ingestion.

                    Though it's been many years
                    since Vy-eenie I've speared
                    I defer to each person's own palate.

                    1. re: FoodFuser

                      He's a poet
                      I know it
                      Hope he don't blow it.