If you like to eat meat this might be something for you to consider. Many people shudder at the thought of eating offal (pronounced, ironically, as “awful”). That’s a shame, as these organ or variety meats have many health benefits. During both World Wars, housewives were encouraged to use it as an inexpensive source of protein, and offal was one of the few meats that was not rationed. Today offal is still much less expensive than the usual offerings of steak, chops, roasts or ground meat.
All About Offal
Offal is a term that is literally translated as “off fall,” meaning the parts of an animal that fall from the carcass during butchering, as opposed to muscle meat which is attached. It includes all organs such as the heart, kidneys, liver and lungs, as well as the tongue, brain and glands such as the thymus gland, which is known as sweetbreads. It also includes tails and feet, which is a bit of a misnomer, as both actually contain muscle. In some cultures, the testicles of the male animal are also included under the offal umbrella. In birds, the term giblets is used to mean the same thing.
Liver is high in iron – higher than steak or spinach – as well as copper. The iron is readily bioavailable, which means your body can immediately make use of it. Liver is also one of the best sources of vitamin A on the planet. It helps boost bone strength, immunity and brain development, which is a good reason to include it in children’s diets. Kidneys are also loaded with iron and protein, as well as the trace mineral selenium, an antioxidant that supports thyroid function. Heart is another excellent source of protein, high in B vitamins and zinc. Tripe (the first three chambers of a cow’s stomach) is high in calcium and beneficial for those who can’t drink milk due to lactose intolerance.
In the Kitchen
Cooking offal is just like cooking anything else – choose the right recipe and the resulting dish will be very tasty. Liver sauteed with onions is one exmaple of a classic dish. Steak and kidney pie is another classic dish in the British Isles. Tripe is usually slowly simmered for at least two hours and served in a white sauce, although in Mexico, it is simmers in broth with red chili peppers to make another classic called menudo. Heart is best braised or stewed, as it is a muscle that gets a lot of work and can otherwise be chewy. When it comes to poultry, the elegant (and expensive) dish known as pate foie gras is made from goose liver. Giblet gravy is wonderful on mashed potatoes. If you’re a parent trying to encourage the eating of offal by your offspring, many of these meats can be ground and “hidden” in dishes like meat loaf or spaghetti. The same technique works with reluctant adults.
Offal – high in protein and important nutrients, yet quite inexpensive. It makes a variety of delicious dishes. It might be a little hard to find in some areas, but if you develop a relationship with your butcher, you should be able to obtain most of the meats mentioned above. You can also gain a reputation as an adventurous gourmet cook. So please eat your offal – what’s not to like?