I have come across many people who hate offal. First, let me raise my hand. I also use to say that I hated offal.
Over time however, I have come to appreciate that offal is a diverse category of food and that I do not hate all of it. Offal from various animals has a unique taste. Beef liver, calf’s liver, pork liver, chicken liver, duck liver all have different tastes. In the past, I would happily say “I don’t like liver” (whilst happily munching on some chopped chicken liver that I had purchased from a Jewish deli). What I didn’t like was beef liver. And even then, that wasn’t true. What I did not like was beef liver of a poor quality, cooked poorly or prepared in a certain way. So, yes, I will probably refuse a plate of beef liver and onions but offer me a bowl of Leberknödel (a Bavarian dish of dumplings flavoured with beef liver in a beef broth) and I am in heaven.
I can’t tell you how many times I have said, I don’t like offal and yet had a steady diet which included offal! I grew up on chitterlings, sheep tongue souse, used the liver and gizzards of turkey or chicken to make stuffing, feasted with friends on dirty rice (rice flavoured with chicken liver). I use to organise food and cultural tours in New Orleans and every time I went, I could not wait to feast on sweetbreads and Cajun Boudin (blood sausage). As a student in France, I loved my neighbourhood bistro as they did a divine dish of lamb’s brains with lemon and capers. When I am at my local farmer’s market, I buy chicken or duck livers as I love a chicken or duck liver parfait. And what is my go to starter? A good country pate with pork liver! As a child, I loved having liverwurst sandwiches for lunch and I sure do enjoy a good steak and kidney pie.
Offal comprises a variety of organs each with a different taste and texture. A lamb’s heart does not taste like a lamb’s liver. The sweetbreads (pancreases) of a lamb are sweet and delicate whereas the kidneys are sweet yet earthy. There is also a myriad of ways to cook each variety of offal. Whereas you may not like pig’s liver sautéed with onions, you might enjoy faggots or a pate.
So why then was I guilty of saying that I didn’t like offal? I simply didn’t like beef liver and onion. So, it does make me wonder when people say to me “I don’t like offal”. Is it really all offal from all animals? Have they tried a variety of dishes? Did they have a couple of bad experiences and that has now turned them off all offal? Is it just the idea of offal? Does the idea of eating heart or intestines or blood simply make you squirm?
What I love about offal is that it is extremely versatile and can be prepared in so many ways. As well as being delicious and versatile, offal is also healthy for you and healthy for your budget. Liver is an excellent source of high-quality protein, is one of the most concentrated sources of vitamin A, has all the B vitamins in abundance, particularly vitamin B12, has a highly usable form of iron and is rich in trace minerals. Beef heart is a muscle meat and tastes like steak but is much less expensive. It is a very lean protein and is an excellent source of several nutrients, including thiamin, folate, selenium, phosphorus, zinc, CoQ10 and several of the B vitamins.
For the best tasting offal, you must buy it and use it fresh. I recommend buying it from a Farmers’ Market or butcher because you can then ask about the freshness. Offal that you buy at a market or from the butcher will still be very inexpensive.
If you say that you don’t like offal, why not give it a go again. If you are keen to learn more about offal and learn how to prepare it, why not check out our class on the 19th of March with the BBC Food and Farming Best Producer for the UK 2016/2017, Charcutier Ltd. Click here for details.