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A Basic Bitch's Guide to Offal

A Basic Bitch's GuideLisa Knisely
Image by Molly Mendoza.

Image by Molly Mendoza.

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So far we’ve covered food and wine pairing and specialty coffee here at A Basic Bitch’s Guide to... This month, instead of starting with something ostensibly “fancy” and breaking it down for all you basic bitches, we’re starting basic. Real basic. With offal.

If you’re wondering to yourself what exactly offal is, you’re probably not alone. The definition is a somewhat nebulous one that has changed over time. Chef Chris Cosentino, expert on all things offal, has this definition on his website Offalgood.com,

“OFFALthose 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 carcass 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.”

So, while offal used to mean mostly just the intestines+, now the term has become a catchall for lots of different fleshy parts of an animal that are delicious to eat but aren’t skeletal muscle (like steak or chicken breast).

Now, I know that some of you Basic B’s out there are probably saying “eww!” and asking yourself why anyone would choose to eat the parts of the animal that have largely been disregarded as the leftover extras in contemporary Western culture. Can’t a bitch just stick to chicken strips and hamburgers? Well, sure. But, a lot of offal is actually pretty delicious and nutritious when prepared properly.

And, the whole point of A Basic Bitch’s Guide to is to help you figure out your own tastes and preferences through intrepid food and beverage exploration. Fancy wines and coffees can be intimidating to try because you don’t know what you’re doing when you’re buying or ordering them from fancy-dancy food folks.  But, while offal may be fundamentally super basic, that doesn’t mean it isn’t intimidating for some people to prepare or eat if they’re not familiar with it. I mean, usually a basic bitch wants to know exactly what it is she is putting in her mouth, right? So, here are some starting guidelines for a few different parts of the animal that you might not normally try, but probably should.

 

Photo by Anthony Easton

Liver:

There are a lot of ways to prepare different animal livers, including just to fry it up and serve it. This preparation isn’t for everyone, though, as liver can have some pretty strong smells and flavors. But, you’ve heard of foie gras, right? Well, that’s liver, too. Foie gras is fattened duck or goose liver and it can be prepared in a number of ways. One popular way is as foie gras pâ, where the liver meat is mixed with fat to make it deliciously spreadable on breads and crackers.  Pâ is also often made from other kinds of liver, too, such as chicken or pork livers. 

 

Heart:

Like liver, there are a number of ways to prepare the heart of different animals. For example, you can bread and deep fry chicken hearts for some yummy little pop-in-your-mouth snacks. But, in my opinion, the best way to eat heart is to grill beef heart as part of a light summer meal. Because the heart is a constantly working muscle, beef heart is lean and pure tasting and not at all hard on the palate. If you’re squeamish about trying offal, I suggest you start here. Check out Michael Ruhlman’s recipe for beef heart salad and his video tutorial on how to break down the heart into grill-able pieces. 

 

Sweetbreads:

This term refers generally to glands from meat animals, most commonly the thymus gland or pancreas. These parts of the animal tend to have a slightly “sweet” flavor, which is where they get their name.  While their flavor is generally mild, the thing you might struggle with in eating sweetbreads is the texture. They can be sort of squishy/juicy and this won’t appeal to everybody. When you cook them yourself, the key thing to do is to poach them in liquid until you can remove the outer membrane layer before you finish preparing and flavoring them.

 

Tripe:

Tripe comes from the stomach of an animal. Common uses are for a variety of sausages and in soups in many, many parts of the world.  You’ve probably had tripe in a sausage before and you didn’t even know it. One well-known use of tripe is in Mexican Menudo, a soup that also has hominy in it. Additionally, tripe can be used in Scottish Haggis where the stomach of a sheep is stuffed with oatmeal, sheep pluck, onions and spices and then simmered in stock. In this case, the tripe is used only as a casing for cooking (much like a sausage casing) but it is not eaten.

 

Tongue:

Tongue can be another part of the animal that is psychologically difficult for many eaters. But, if you can get past it, tongues can be super delicious, if sometimes slightly chewy. To cook beef tongues, you’ll need to simmer them in flavored liquid until they turn white and then peel off the outer layer of skin to get to the more edible meat. Slice the beef tongue up and flavor it as you wish, usually with some sort of sauce or salsa. Try tongue tacos or tongue meat over rice with a spicy chili sauce of your choice.

Image by Josh Graciano

 

Beyond liver, heart, sweetbreads, tripe, and tongue, there are many other parts of meat animals worth eating, like the brains, feet, or the skin.  Classic preparation methods for offal are usually tried-and-true recipes passed down in different cultural and food traditions for a long time, so you really can’t go wrong if you follow them. The key thing for a basic bitch to remember about offal is that it is about as basic as you can get, even if cooking and eating these parts of the animal seems complicated or unappealing at first. And, of course, if you try offal and don’t like it, it’s totally cool with me if you just stick to chicken strips and hamburgers.

 

Lisa C. Knisely is the Editor-in-Chief of RENDER.