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Offal is Good

The offal refers to….

….those parts of a meat animal which are used as food but which are not skeletal muscle. The term literally means “off fall”, or the pieces which fall from a carcase when it is butchered. Originally the word applied principally to the entrails. It now covers insides including the HEART, LIVER, and LUNGS (collectively known as the pluck), all abdominal organs and extremities: TAILS, FEET, and HEAD including BRAINS and TONGUE. In the USA the expressions “organ meats” or “variety meats” are used instead.

Offal from birds is usually referred to as GIBLETS.

Another, archaic, English word for insides, especially those of deer, was “umbles”, a term which survives in the expression “to eat humble pie”, meaning to be apologetic or submissive.

Growing up in Yugoslavia, I was a very picky eater. But I absolutely loved offal. I loved liver and, although just a kid, I had developed 2-3 different recipes for preparing livers from various animals: pork, calf, veal, beef, lamb, duck, turkey and goose (I did not like chicken liver). My Mom fixes fantastic bread-battered brains which were treated as a special delicacy in our house. Yum! I loved to suck the marrow out of beef bones. I always picked hearts and gizzards from my chicken soup. When we had chicken, I would often eat necks and feet. Oxtail is fantastic. Beef tongue in tomato sauce is one of the best things to eat ever, in my mind.

Also, whenever we castrated a stallion, that was an excuse to get together for dinner – the fried horse testicles. All the best restaurants in Serbia serve ‘white kidneys’, i.e., pig testicles. I never really liked the blood sausage, but beef knees or pig tongues and ears served cold in aspic were a staple in our household.

So, when I came to the United States, I was quite surprised to see that people here generally do not eat any of that stuff. Not even liver! I was quite excited when I went to San Francisco and got to try the duck fries at Incanto.

A few months ago, when Chris put up braised Kobe-beef oxtail as a dinner special at Town Hall Grill, I had it every day that week – it was that good! – yet Chris said that it did not sell very well. And oxtail is not even offal – it is skeletal muscle, and the tenderest of all as it does not need to move a big, heavy animal around, or chew tons of bulky food – just swat an occasional fly. So, not even here in the Triangle, where there is a powerful food culture, and the locavore food scene is amazing, do people easily overcome their cultural barriers to eating meat that is not steak. And yes, this is a cultural barrier:

The type of offal used in any given culture depends on the favoured meat animal, which may in turn depend on religious dietary laws. Muslim countries use much lamb offal. The Chinese have numerous ways of dealing with organs from pigs.

Offal is a good source of protein, and some organs, notably the liver and kidneys, are very valuable nutritionally. In most parts of the world, especially the less developed countries, it is valued accordingly. In the English-speaking world, however, the pattern is different. In North America, there has been and still exists a squeamish attitude which prompted the title Unmentionable Cuisine for the book by Schwabe (1979). In Britain, where there used to be no, or anyway few, qualms about eating offal, overt consumption has declined in the last half of the 20th century, although the offal is in fact still eaten in processed foods where it is not “visible”.

Squeamish attitudes may be explained on various grounds. Heads and feet remind consumers too directly that the food is of animal origin. Ambivalence about eating certain bits of an animal”s anatomy, such as TESTICLES, is expressed through the used of euphemistic names. Some internal offal has surreal shapes and strong flavours, which are not to everyone’s taste. The meat of feet and ears is characterized by textures which are gelatinous and crunchy at the same time, a combination which is generally disliked in the western world, although appreciated in the Orient.

Another dimension in the USA is historical – for a very long time, whenever an animal at a farm was slaughtered, the owners got the steaks, and the slaves got the offal. Thus, there is a racial differentiation here as well – the whites do not have a tradition of cooking offal and tend not to have family recipes and cookbooks about it, while the blacks do have such a tradition and the recipes come down through generations, from mothers to daughters. I have noticed especially here down South, that the country-club-whites especially look down their noses with disdain at offal dishes and their almost visceral disgust with them has more than a little of a classist and racist tinge to it.

Which is unfortunate. There are many places on this planet in which there is not much money going around, and the environment is not too conducive for raising sufficient amounts of grains, fruits and vegetables to feed everyone. Thus, many (probably most) cultures in the world have to be predominantly meat-eating. And growing animals for food is also not very easy or cheap either. So, it makes sense – economic sense if nothing else – to use every last edible bit of an animal. That way, each animal provides more meals to more people than if just steaks were to be eaten. This, in turn, means that fewer animals need to be grown and slaughtered.

In such places – and I have seen that in rural Serbia myself growing up – there is an almost spiritual connection to the farm animals – the slaughter is not something done lightly. It usually involves the entire large family (and friends and neighbors), the slaughter is performed with utmost care, almost ritually. And the greatest care is made not to let any piece go to waste.

At the time when the food business is straining the economy in the USA, ruining the farmers, endangering the people eating meat, done in a way very nasty to the animals, and using far too much energy (aka Oil), a little efficiency may help, including a change in culture in ways that allow us to better utilize each individual food animal (see this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this and this for background and additional information about the economics and politics of food).

It is not a surprise to me that the first cookbook ever to focus on just one type of offal – the testicles – was written by a Serbian chef – The Testicles Cookbook – Cooking with Balls by Ljubomir Erovic:

The Testicles Cookbook – Cooking with Balls is a multimedia cookbook complete with how-to videos on cooking testicle dishes. Including Testicle Pizza, Testicle Goulash and White Wine Testicles, this is a short teaser taken from the full cookbook, written by Serbian testicles chef, Ljubomir Erovic. The full book is available to buy on YUDU in English and Serbian.

Guardian: Cooking with balls: the world’s first testicle cookbook

Everyone’s very excited about a new e-cookbook launched today, by online publishers YUDU. It’s been compiled by a Serbian fellow called Ljubomir Erovic who has apparently been a testicular cook for some 20 years.

“The tastiest testicles in my opinion probably come from bulls, stallions or ostriches, although other people have their own favourites,” says Mr Erovic. He also uses those from pigs and turkeys in his cooking and points out that “all testicles can be eaten – except human, of course”. Glad to hear it Ljubomir.

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While the ingredient is fairly challenging, most of the dishes in the book are less adventurous, from testicle pizza, goulash, battered testicles to barbecued testicles and giblets. To be fair though, it doesn’t hurt to keep it simple, and there are a couple of more demanding recipes in there, for instance, calf testicles in wine (white or red but not sweet) and testicles with bourguignon sauce.

Daily Mail: On the ball: Introducing the world’s first testicle cookbook :

Erovic also organises the World Testicle Cooking Championship, held annually in Serbia since 2004. It draws in chefs from Australia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Norway and Serbia. One metric tonne of testicles are prepared.

“When not cooking or eating testicles, or helping others to do so, (Erovic) now runs a company involved in the maintenance of medical and dental equipment,” the book says.

We need to eat and we need to systematically change the way the food industry is organized, but this also means we need to ‘try some new foods’ and be more efficient and less wasteful about it. You can start by frying a testicle or two one of these days. It’s not bad at all, I can guarantee you.

Comments

  1. #1 Russell
    October 4, 2008

    Beef tongue is delicious, as are pig’s feet. I never cared that much for kidney. I also like barbacoa, which down here refers to brain even though that’s not its literal meaning. ‘Course these days, there’s the concern with prions.

  2. #2 Jim Thomerson
    October 4, 2008

    In Texas barbacoa is shredded cheek meat from a cow’s head. Must be very greasy to be authentic. I particularly like sweetbread (thymus). I was visiting a fish collection and the curator took me to a French resturant. I ordered a sweetbread dish. He remarked that he did not eat “inwards”, only “outwards”. The Spanish word I know for guts is “tripas”, and if you call a garden hose a “tripa”, you will be understood. Lived near St. Louis for a while, but did not have a brain sandwitch (next time!) Did have a couple of snoot sandwitches and not much impressed.

  3. #3 HP
    October 4, 2008

    Once, a group of friends and I wound up at a little redneck bar in a small town around lunch time. I guess the bartender pegged us as “city fellers,” because she came out of the kitchen with a paper plate full of fried pig’s testicles and said, “I made you boys a special treat, on the house.”

    We each had two or three, and complemented her on how tasty they were. “You boys know what you’re eating?,” she asked.

    “Well,” I said, “I just assumed we were eating pig testicles. Why do you ask? Is it something weird?”

    That said, although I really enjoy liver, there’s a lot of organ meats I’ve never tried (kidney, sweetbreads) because you just can’t buy them in them Midwest, and even if I could find them in the stores, I don’t know to prepare them myself. (Well, I’ve no excuse for not eating chitlins, other than that they’re too much trouble to make myself, and no one’s ever offered me any.)

  4. #4 G. Williams
    October 4, 2008

    I remember reading in the book Consuming Culture (which is all about what people eat, where, and why) that the U.S. is highly unusual in our aversion to organ meats. And pretty much the only times I’ve had them is when eating in Asian restaurants or having soul food. (I have to confess that I don’t particularly care for chitlins, though.)

    I’ve never had oxtail and would like to try it. Beef marrow is delicious.

  5. #5 Miriam
    October 4, 2008

    Now I want to visit Serbia! I love pretty much all of the offal I’ve tried. I grew up eating chopped liver and beef tongue, but since I fell off the kosher wagon I’ve expanded to tendon (in pho), tripe, chitlins, etc. Yummy!

  6. #6 Martin Langeland
    October 4, 2008

    IIRC: Buffalo testicles were known as “Prairie Oysters”.
    This was transubstantiated (transmogrified?) into the hangover cure: “Rocky Mountain Dew Oyster” — a concoction of Worchestershire sauce, Louisiana hot sauce and one or more raw eggs.
    The main cause of the disappearance of “variety meats” is the supermarket.
    I grew up, in the fifties, in a town that had a good German butcher shop. Chicken and beef liver were regular items for breakfast and dinner. Try creamed chicken livers over waffles, any time you can get it! Pork kidney was for the kitty-cats. (barfed it was extremely off putting) Beef tongue is excellent and braised oxtail, or as soup, is wonderful. Lamb shanks can be barbecued like ribs: A 20 minute scald in boiling water, then baste well as it browns on the grill.
    But all this disappeared (to where?) when butcher shops where subsumed into supermarkets.
    The hard economic rule is that the more efficiently we make, the less variety we offer.
    Then there are sweatbreads.
    –ml

  7. #7 Coturnix
    October 4, 2008

    “…(Erovic) now runs a company involved in the maintenance of medical and dental equipment…” I hope he does not sell his equipment to another notorious, testicle-loving Serb!

  8. #8 KAS
    October 4, 2008

    I am so sorry, but this comment is resound ‘ewww’ I simply do not eat entrails, knowingly; nor do I eat anything carnivorous~ except fish and not including creatures like shark. I understand, reasonably, how this is close minded and wasteful and am very thankful that others are willing and happy to eat what I am not. Hopefully that evensí us out. Lastly, I would never eat a mind.. of any sort or limitation. I understand the cultural influence though, and am simply stating my opinion as is my paradox and feelings about the entity that is organs and the brain compared to the meat of the organismís body.

    ~KAS

  9. #9 Interrobang
    October 4, 2008

    Yeah, chalk me up as another “ew” vote here. I guess I’m another one of these evil classist North Americans (despite the fact that I’m pretty poor), because when I got talking about things like blood sausage and other things with my English boyfriend, I remarked, “I don’t eat that stuff because I don’t have to.” To me a lot of those foodstuffs (offal, eels, balut, haggis, blood sausage etc.) are things that people started eating because they had to scrounge for protein. Otherwise, given your druthers in earlier times, you’d either leave them alone (ie. not fish for eels, let the egg hatch) or else combine them with your vegetable peelings and use them to slop the hogs.

    Other than that, I hear eating brains can be risky and I wouldn’t want to do it. I agree with you about chicken livers — chicken livers smell like Satan’s unwashed asshole when they’re frying, as I found out the hard way when a friend of mine decided to borrow my stove while I was at school one day. She couldn’t quite figure out why I was so mad at her, but between the liver and the butter, I was ready to heave my last five meals or so.

    Also, I wouldn’t eat any part of a horse, because I like horses in general far more than I like people, and I don’t eat my friends. :)

    I’d do more local eating, but I live at 43N and in the interior of the continent, which is more than far enough north and west to make that proposition equal turnips, potatoes, carrots, winter squash, and scungy apples all winter, which doesn’t thrill me. My mother was born here in 1945 and never had fresh pineapple until she was an adult. The culture needs to use that technology stuff to make shipping more energy-efficient, instead of telling us to either move south or spend the winter getting fat and courting scurvy. I note the really righteous locavores all live either in major port cities or far enough south that they can grow two crops a year and citrus besides…

  10. #10 Art
    October 5, 2008

    Never much liked liver. Of course most of it has been overcooked and poorly prepared so it came out with a granular structure sort of like wet paste and it tasted either mostly tasteless with an aftertaste like a burnt brake lining smells.

    I got to sample liver done well and it was another experience entirely. Still not as nice as a porterhouse or nice chop but I could eat it regularly without complaint If it was cooked that well.

    Chittlins, chitterlings, were another experience. The boiling and initial processing stunk up the place and put me off them.

    Pigs feet, and chicken necks were okay in a stew for flavor. Sort of like a ham hock in beans and collards.

    Other experiences with such parts hasn’t gone well.

    Tongue and tripe just never made it with me. The thought is revolting. Funny how ideas have visceral values. I think of such things and my stomach feels queasy. Others hear the words and their mouths waters.

    On the other hand I have always liked scrapple. Even as a child. An omelet with a side of scrapple is always welcome on my plate. Even though scrapple is essentially what was left on the cutting room floor mixed with spices and compressed.

  11. #11 df
    October 5, 2008

    Most offal in the USA doesn’t go to waste. A lot of it is just put into less healthy, highly-processed foods such as hot dogs, bologna, Vienna sausages or potted meat. Much of what doesn’t get fed to humans that way goes into animal food.

  12. #12 themadlolscientist, FCD
    October 5, 2008

    Liver NOM NOM NOM! Especially chicken livers – I fried up a mess of ‘em last night for dinner. Chicken gizzards and hearts are good too. Oxtail and beef tongue are fine. My sibs and I used to fight over the marrow bone, but I don’t much care for it any more.

    I love natural-casing sausage and hot dogs. They tend to be juicier than the regular ones you get these days, and they “pop” when you bite into them and the juice squirts out – YUM! Unfortunately they’re hard to get unless you go to a proper butcher, and there’s not one of those for miles from where I live.

    Most of the rest, well……… no thanks, I’d have to be really, really hungry. My mom loves pickled pigs’ feet – just watching her eat them grossed me out. I tried a lot of “guts” (and other strange stuff) in college when I was dating a Chinese guy who was a fabulous cook, but only once. Most of it was truly awful, leading me to say offal was very aptly named!

  13. #13 ebohlman
    October 5, 2008

    Anybody got a good recipe for “hog fries”? I see them, pretty cheap, in a supermarket with a mostly African American base. I come from a primarily Mexican/Chinese neighborhood slightly to the north of the supermarket, which isn’t very helpful.

  14. #14 DNLee
    October 6, 2008

    I’m from down south so I grew up eating some offal but not nearly as much/many as my grandparents. I love liver – beef and chicken – with gravy, delicious heartstopping gravy. In fact almost anything is palatable if you bread & season it, deep fry it, and smother it in gravy.

    I don’t eat them, but at least 50% of the southern and southern-derived US population eats Pork Chitterlings. It’s a holiday dinner staple in many household.

    And I loved bologna & hotdogs as a kid. I learned latter that it’s made of offal, too. It’s processed so who cares how it started out.

  15. #15 Deer News
    January 25, 2009

    Ever tried deer placenta? Mmmmm…

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