First Offal Foray?
So I've never eaten any sort of internal organs out of an animal before. To me at least, that seems a bit depressing considering how very often I'll have some food show on and the host is saying how delicious it is. I'd rather not spend big bucks on a restaurant meal(assuming I could find one in this town that offers offal), so I was wondering, where should I start if I were going to try my hand at preparing offal? So far I've found tripe, gizzards of chicken, sweetbreads, and a few different livers, although as of late I haven't been looking rigorously. Is there a good starting off point or organ I should try first to see if I even like it before I venture further?
I disagree with the other posters who suggested things like cheek, tail, or tongue. Those three cuts and heart, essentially taste quite close to the meat from the same animal and won't really take you anywhere you haven't been, flavor wise.
If you want to start simple/small go with chicken livers. Or rather start by eating every piece of meat in the "goody bag" of the chicken carcass. My favorite prep is to make a quick curry with the bag. Just going through this bag will teach you a lot about offal - how the heart, liver, gizzards, etc taste.
If you're feeling a little more adventurous, I would prep a steaming pot of menudo. Tripe and foot are standard, but I also like to add some oxtail to mine also for some more meatiness.
Welcome to the world of funky meats...they're delicious!
"I disagree with the other posters who suggested things like cheek, tail, or tongue. Those three cuts and heart, essentially taste quite close to the meat from the same animal and won't really take you anywhere you haven't been, flavor wise."
True, but for that very reason they're a great babystep into more taboo parts, even if not technically offal.
Thanks to you all so far for your helpful replies. I'm thinking I might start with the tongue and possibly oxtail since those seem to be the most basic as far as taste, plus I can surprise my wife when I tell her it's a tongue taco.
Thanks for the tip about the filtration organs kaleokahu, I get my chickens from a co-op an hour away from where I live so maybe I'll see if he can save me a big bag of livers and hearts and the like. anyways, thanks again everyone. If the results don't suck I'll let you. know.
Hi, jlestos: My dad had a slaughterhouse and cut/wrap operation when I was growing up, so we got a lot of free offal meats--my classmates were always icking out over what I had in my lunchbox. I still raise 3 steers a year for the freezer.
I agree with much of what has been said above about tastes varying, etc. But let me also add this: With offal that has a filtering function (e.g., kidneys, liver, sweetbreads), it pays to be a little selective about what the animal has been fed and shot up with, and how old it was. Other organs--heart, tongue, tripe, brains and testicles--not so much.
Personally, my favorite offal meats are sweetbreads and liver. My least favorite is kidney, but more for the squeaky texture than the flavor.
Have you also considered tissues that, while not technically offal, are not normally offered at most markets? I speak of things like pork cutlets (the jaw muscles), oxtails, trotters, marrowbones, These can be a good way to ease yourself or family into accepting that there is really no trash involved.
And one of my faves - beef cheeks. As you say, starting with things that aren't offal might be good.
I also think that the best way to try some 'exotic' for the first time is in a restaurant that will do a great job. And rather than order it yourself, go with someone who likes, say, sweetbreads (also one of my faves but I still haven't cooked them to my liking) and have some tastes of theirs. I've only cooked sweetbreads two or three times and they haven't been as good as restaurants so if that had been my first foray, I'd likely say that I didn't like them particularly. But oxtails? Oh yeah. ANYONE can fix those with success.
re: c oliver
I second starting with beef cheeks or pork cheeks (mostly 'cuz they're so darned good, but they're classed as offal/abats, even though they're just a big chunk of muscle just like prime rib!)
Oxtail soup is another good one -- it's bony and tough, but makes amazing soups and stews.
Here's a thread where I posted my mother's recipe for liver -- it's *amazing* and is a very gentle entry into the organ meats. Start with calves' liver, as it's very mild...then beef, and pork if you like. You can do chicken livers the same way....and then you're off to the races.
i think chopped (chicken) liver is the natural choice. so easy, incredibly yummy. a good gateway offal as it were.
this recipe on epicurious seems pretty classic; i would garnish with plenty of parsley. and if you have chicken fat, use that as your frying medium.
some recipes call for way more eggs proportionally, and/or for brandy or wine. i can't vouch for those; for your first foray, you might want the cleaner flavors of a recipe like this.
there's lots of ways to use chopped liver other than the classic jewish appetizer. it can replace pate on a banh mi, makes an unbelievable ravioli or other dumpling filling (leave out the egg if using as a filling), etc. any place you want some unctuous umami deliciousness. and you can freeze it.
Porker's right about the "abats" being somewhat personal in nature. I can eat just about anything though I don't particularly care for lungs (texture) and won't do brains and nervous tissue (it's an EAE thing). Anything else is fine.
Cooking offal will test your technique and show you new ones, and each culture has special ways to prepare these choice cuts. Which ones you care to use will depend on what you have on hand and what your culinary background is.
Tripe: menudo's nice, but depending on what it is, it could be steamed with ginger (beef tripe), braised in soy sauce, sliced thin and sautéed, or used as pho topping. For pork, you'd probably want to scrub with a little baking soda to take out the remaining gastric juice.
Gizzards: grill them on skewers. Or learn how to confit them (if you have been collecting chicken fat, you can confit chicken livers in the fat for an extra hit of chicken).
Sweetbreads: they need to be peeled (sometimes pressed) after a light blanching but don't overcook them. I like French applications best.
Liver: liver and onions. liver leeks (a common set meal in Japan), grilled liver steaks (common in our delis), paté. Don't overcook it, and you can always soak in milk if the smell is too strong for you.
Heart: cook it rare/medium or braise for a long time; anything in between is chewy. It's got a strong meaty taste. Anticuchos (Peruvian grill technique) is a nice way to start.
Kidneys: the Chinese technique for pork kidney is to butterfly them open, cut out the renal medulla (the brighter red core) and soak them in water overnight before cooking. Little different for beef/veal kidney, and I don't bother with lamb or rabbit (they just go into the pan).
I'm probably missing an organ, but you get the idea.
The cooking show host may say something is delicious, but tastes are highly personal. Me? I like liver (chicken, beef, or pork), but except for my mom and a few co-workers, most everyone else I know HATES liver.
Kidneys? they might be good, but the odor while cooking! oh boy, might turn off any beginner!
I agree, tongue might be a good place to start as it is very neutral in flavor - a beef tongue will taste like beef and a pork tongue will taste like pork. Just follow a recipe which explains cooking (can be tough) and technique (peeling the tongue).
You might also consider heart. Beef heart looks and tastes like beef steak. You can cube it and grill.
Liver: can be cheap so you can try a few preps without spending a whole lot of money. Sliced pork or calf liver is popular dredged in flour and pan fried with caramalized onions. Some people like it rare, others well done. I've seen some people pour some water in the pan with the liver and onions for a "gravy".
Chicken livers can be dredged and deep fried.
Another prep is chopped liver or a pate de compagne (or other type of liver pate). Search for a recipe that interests you and go from there - its easier than you think (use a dollar-store container to start, no need for an expensive terrine, etc etc).
After that, go on to tripe (maybe try menudo), spleen, chiterlings, lung, etc.
Or not....its highly personal and you don't have to like it ;-)
I think that sweetbreads are a good way to start. They have a lighter flavor than most of the offal meats. If cooked properly livers are a good option, but they are rarely cooked very well. Tripe is no where to start. You really need to find someone that knows what they are doing or a good restaurant to prepare something for you. Offal can be tricky if you don't know what you are doing and cookbooks rarely describe the process well. Good luck!
I grew up on chicken livers& gizzard...before I became a "chowhound", those were the only offal I would eat. Fried please! My mom also cooked beef liver but it was something I would eat maybe once a year. She seasoned & floured it then sauteed in a skillet with onions & gravy. My new offal love is beef tongue; a few years ago, I couldn't believe people ate beef tongue, it just didn't look appetizing to me but after I heard Andrew Zimmern say that it tasted like roast beef, I decided to give it a try. He was so right. I put the tongue in the slow cooker with onions, garlic & seasonings, without liquid as the meat is fatty. Slow cook it for 6-8 hours then peel the skin off and shred the meat. I love to make tacos with the meat but served like a roast beef with gravy & mashed potatoes is also perfect.. So delicous! IMO, you should start here in your offal journey. Don't be intimidated by the look of it. Also, if you like fried chicken, you'll probably like fried chicken livers & gizzards. Tripe is one thing I haven't been able to bring myself to try yet.