The "Offal" Truth
I know that many people are repulsed at the merest thought of eating offal, however, many of these people unwittingly eat offal quite often, as offal is often used in sausages, salami and many other reformed meat products sold worldwide. The concept of "nose to tail eating" is in fact a very honourable one, the idea that a beast has been killed for our table surely means the least we can do is enjoy every part of it, its simply a matter of respect to the animal.
Offal has been a firm favourite throughout Italy, and much of the world, for many centuries. In periods of extreme poverty, families would raise pigs at home, or on farms,then butcher the animal in order to feed their family. But offal can come from many different animals, and even fish - chicken livers, calves liver, monkfish livers, pigs trotters, calves feet, lambs heart, veal heart, bulls testicles and calves tongues are often found on the Italian dinner table. This led the ingenious Italians to create hundreds of dishes using offal, as in true Italian nothing ever went to waste.
Many people, despite never actually trying offal will say they don't like it. To many people it is either a ingrained disgust towards what offal is - internal organs, to others it is the texture or flavour, but to most it is the memories or badly cooked offal dishes they had when young.
Offal is a wonderful ingredient and if more people just understood how to buy good offal, prepare it, cook it and get the best out of it, they would be pleasantly surprised how great it tastes . . and a bonus is most offal is cheap and even better most of it is very healthy to eat.
What Is Offal ?
The term offal covers all edible internal parts of animals, such as the heart, kidneys and liver, as well as brains, cheeks, ears, stomachs, sweetbreads, tripe and tongue. (You can no longer buy bovine brains in Britain because of the outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, but in other countries they are available and regularly eaten).
How do I know if offal is fresh?
When buying offal look for moist, shiny offal. Avoid buying any that has a greenish colour, slimy surface or an unpleasantly strong smell. Freshness is crucial with offal, as it spoils quickly and should be ideally eaten within two or three days of slaughter.
Which kinds of offal should be blanched before cooking and why?
Some offal, such as brains, sweetbreads and tripe, have to be immersed in boiling water before cooking to remove all traces of blood and to give them a better texture. The best way to do this is to first soak the offal in cold water for 1-2 hours. Then put it in a pan of fresh cold water and bring to a gentle boil, skimming off any froth. Simmer for a few minutes, drain and rinse well.
What is the best way to cook each type of offal?
More tender pieces of offal such as sweetbreads, kidneys and liver are best sliced and sauteed in butter, griddled or pan fried. Grilling can be used for kidneys but tends to dry out other types of offal so be careful . . . well cooked offal can taste amazing, badly cooked offal can put you off for life. Brains, tripe's and parts of the stomach can poached in a well-flavoured court bouillon (water, sometimes with added white wine, and herbs), with vinegar or lemon juice to tenderise the meat. The poaching liquid can be strained and reduced to make a sauce. Braising in the oven, using a low, steady, even temperature, is better for tougher, heartier types of offal, such as heart and tongue.