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Offal 101: A Guide To Whole Animal Eating

The Huffington Post     First Posted: 08/18/2011 4:08 pm   Updated: 10/18/2011 5:12 am

Offal is described as the "entrails and internal organs of a butchered animal," which tend to be less common meat cuts and pieces. It seems strange to call eating offal a trend -- yet more and more people are growing interested in less popular animal parts.

There are several arguments for trying offal. It's a good way to eat more sustainably, because it cuts down on food waste. It helps increase your understanding of other cultures, many of which eat more offal than we do in America. And, most viscerally, offal is cheap and tasty.

What offal does offer is a great example of why meat is so much more than a filet of beef or breast of chicken. Offal cuts are versatile in both taste and preparation.

Around the web, there are several great resources to learn more about, and how to cook, offal. Chef Chris Cosentino (one of our Food Informants) has been a champion of offal for years, and serves many varieties in his San Francisco restaurant Incanto. His website, Offal Good, has a host of comprehensive resources and a frequently updated blog.

Serious Eats has a running column called The Nasty Bits, in which Chichi Wang explores cooking with all types of offal. Similarly useful is the blog Nose To Tail At Home in which Ryan Adams attempts every recipe from chef Fergus Henderson's offal bible The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating. Fergus Henderson and his restaurant St. John has been a huge influence for many interested in whole animal cooking and has done much to encourage this cooking genre.

Explore our offal slideshow below.

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  • Blood

    Perhaps the most intimidating part about eating <a href="" target="_hplink">blood sausage</a>, <a href="" target="_hplink">boudin noir</a> (France), <a href="" target="_hplink">morcilla</a> (Spain) or <a href="" target="_hplink">black pudding</a> (UK) is the deep purplish-red color. The taste is quite rich and complex yet fairly inoffensive -- it may be challenging to eat a ton of the stuff, but a little bit does go a long way. It can also offer a "pretty amazing nutritional component," even in <a href="" target="_hplink">blood popsicles!</a> Beyond sausage, blood is used in <a href=",or.r_gc.r_pw.r_cp.&fp=c5e66b2eef0ba0f3&biw=1680&bih=822" target="_hplink">soups</a> and a thickener for sauces as well. <em>Brooklyn's The Vanderbilt offers a <a href="" target="_hplink">step-by-step instruction</a> of its blood sausage.</em>

  • Brains

    Brains have been described as "<a href="" target="_hplink">beautiful, soft scrambled eggs</a>" that contain a "sexy creaminess" by chef Richard Knight of <a href="" target="_hplink">Feast Restaurant</a> in Houston. Although eating brains is coming in many parts of the world, Americans remain somewhat averse to the foodstuff, perhaps explaining why <a href="" target="_hplink">consuming brains was a challenge on <em>Fear Factor</em></a>. <em>Sample <a href="" target="_hplink">lamb brain "francobolli" (it's a pasta course) with lemon and sage at B&B Ristorante</a> in Las Vegas.</em>

  • Caul Fat

    Caul fat is a "<a href="" target="_hplink">membrane that surrounds the intestines of pigs</a>" that happens to be great for wrapping around other pieces of meat to keep them moist while cooking. Its <a href="" target="_hplink">translucency is also useful</a> in wrapping sausages or pate -- you don't even know it is there. <em>The chef of Recette in New York City is so passionate about <a href="" target="_hplink">caul fat that he has a tattoo</a> of it!</em>

  • Ear

    The trick to good pig ears is to braise them for several hours (even when fried, the ears should be braised first and then cooked in hot oil). They can go with a variety of foods but <a href="" target="_hplink">salads</a> tend to be especially popular. To prepare pig ears, the hair should be burned off and then the <a href="" target="_hplink">ears need to be scrubbed thoroughly</a>. <em>Get them fried with crispy kale, pickled cherry pepper and fried egg at <a href="" target="_hplink">The Purple Pig</a> in Chicago.</em>

  • Feet (Trotters)

    Yes. Feet are dirty. It sounds pretty gross to eat them. But, trotters lend themselves to a variety of preparations including <a href="" target="_hplink">braising</a> and <a href=",1626,158171-224199,00.html" target="_hplink">pickling</a>. Feet can be challenging and time-consuming to cook thanks to all the <a href="" target="_hplink">tendons and gristly bits</a>. <em>Daniel Boulud has a ton of offal (tripe, blood sausage, tongue oh my!) at his downtown hotspot DBGB but the <a href="" target="_hplink">crispy pigs' feet salad</a> really catches our eye.</em>

  • Head

    The blog French Laundry at Home has a great <a href="" target="_hplink">step-by-step guide to making pig's head at home</a>. Offal hero chef Fergus Henderson of the UK's St. John restaurant offers a <a href="" target="_hplink">detailed video demo</a> as well. Pig's head is typically not eaten whole but instead broken down, often for a version of headcheese. Once boiled, the <a href="" target="_hplink">head offers a lot of rich collagen</a> that is used to create the charcuterie. <em>Animal restaurant in Los Angeles serves <a href="" target="_hplink">pig's head with a pickled vegetable aioli</a>.</em>

  • Heart

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Duck hearts</a>, <a href="" target="_hplink">chicken hearts</a>, <a href="" target="_hplink">buffalo hearts</a>, you name it. Served <a href="" target="_hplink">raw</a> or cooked, heart tends to be a fairly versatile offal meat, and one not terribly challenging to prepare. Heart is dense and a bit chewy. <em>At ever-popular The Publican in Chicago, <a href="" target="_hplink">duck hearts are served with plums, harissa yogurt and sourdough bread</a>.</em>

  • Lard And Lardo

    Ah, the beloved lard. Pig fat has been commonly used in both sweet and savory dishes, from making that perfect pie crust to curing it and serving it atop bread. The novice is grossed out from the idea of eating so much fat but the expert knows that the rich taste is beyond worth it. Note: lard and lardo might both mean pig fat but they are different beasts in terms of taste and look. Lard is typically a cooking fat whereas lardo is a cured fat that quite literally melts in your mouth if prepared correctly. <em>Holeman & Finch Public House in Atlanta serves <a href="" target="_hplink">two different kinds of lardo</a>.</em>

  • Liver

    It's hard to be an offal fan and not enjoy liver. Spread chicken liver mousse atop some toasted bread and slowly fall in love with its smooth texture. Speak to a chopped liver aficionado and come to understand Jewish-American history. Or sample <a href="" target="_hplink">sautéed calf's liver</a> and experience how onions can truly amplify flavor. <em>Get your <a href="" target="_hplink">chopped liver fix at Katz's</a>, the New York deli institution.</em>

  • Marrow

    When cooked correctly, bone marrow may even put good French butter to shame. There's something so supremely satisfying about scooping the translucent jelly substance from a bone and onto a thick piece of bread. We dare you not to smile. Often best with a dash of sea salt and a fresh green herb, bone marrow is a great gateway offal dish. If this doesn't hook you, we're not sure what will. <em>New York's Blue Ribbon serves a superb dish of <a href="" target="_hplink">bone marrow with oxtail marmalade</a>.</em>

  • Neck

    The BBC has called lamb neck "<a href="" target="_hplink">fabulously underrated</a>." As is the case with many other offal meats, neck requires slow cooking but then offers a pleasant reward. Pork collar which is a cut from the <a href="" target="_hplink">neck to the tip of the loin</a>, is braise-friendly as well. <em>Roasted <a href="" target="_hplink">lamb's neck is served with creamy oats</a> at The Gorbals in Los Angeles.</em>

  • Pluck

    Pluck is the heart, liver and lungs typically of a sheep. It is mostly widely known in the Scottish national delicacy, haggis, which consists of pluck mixed with oatmeal and onions. The color and texture may not look terribly appetizing but on a cold winter day, the dish definitely hits the spot. You know it can't be bad if <a href="" target="_hplink">Andrew Zimmern finds it delicious</a>. <em>Sadly, its not that easy to find "real" haggis in the US because there's an<a href="" target="_hplink"> import ban on sheep lung</a> but some variations are <a href="" target="_hplink">available for purchase</a>.</em>

  • Sweetbreads

    Sweetbreads are a much nicer-sounding word for two thymus glands: "<a href="" target="_hplink">an elongated lobe in the throat and a larger, rounder gland near the heart</a>." Sweetbreads themselves actually have a somewhat mild taste while still retaining their general offaliness. They pair well with many different flavors -- we've tried them with both a General Tso's sauce and in a wine sauce. <em>DC favorite Restaurant Eve serves <a href="" target="_hplink">sweetbreads with smoked kielbasa, pierogies and collard greens</a>.</em>

  • Tail

    Crispy pig guessed it...typically requires braising. The tails can work as a dish in their own right, or can add a porky flavor to various appetizers and entrees. Tails are easier to prepare than pig's feet because less cleaning is involved. As Serious Eats asks, <a href="" target="_hplink">aren't they gorgeous</a>? <em>Boston's Craigie On Main serves fried, crispy <a href="" target="_hplink">pig's tails with pickled peanuts, nuoc cham and cilantro</a>.</em>

  • Testicles

    Most people are in on the joke that Rocky Mountain oysters are actually bull's testicles (there are no oysters in the Rocky Mountains...). They can be <a href="" target="_hplink">deep-fried, cut into thin slices or marinated</a>. They are common in areas around the mountains -- the "oysters" are <a href="" target="_hplink">even served at the Denver airport</a>. Duck testicles look very similar to giant beans, except the texture is a bit more chewier. We've had them in a cassoulet -- could barely tell the difference. With both duck and bull testicles, the hardest thing to get over is the psychological barrier. As is the case with other offal meats, the taste is not particularly off-putting. Mind over matter. <em>Denver's oldest restaurant, the Buckhorn Exchange, serves <a href="" target="_hplink">Rocky Mountain oysters with a horseradish dipping sauce</a>.</em>

  • Tongue

    Sliced thin on a Jewish deli sandwich, served in Mexican tacos, or braised, tongue (often beef or lamb) offers a hint of sweetness to a decidedly meaty taste. While some other offal meats take on a slightly bitter taste, tongue is a bit brighter and a tad chewier. It doesn't need a ton of accoutrements, but the right condiment or pairing can definitely complete the dish. <em>Brooklyn's Mile End Delicatessen serves <a href="" target="_hplink">lamb's tongue with onion raisin marmalade, pumpernickel and horseradish</a>. </em>

  • Tripe

    One of Florence, Italy's most famous dishes is a <a href="" target="_hplink">trippa alla fiorentina</a>, the stomach lining of a ruminant (cow, sheep, goat) cooked in a tomato sauce. Tripe itself somewhat resembles a wavy pasta shape, but with more jagged and curly edges. It can deepen the flavor of a sauce or taste great in a bowl of Vietnamese pho, but we don't really recommend eating it on its own. <em>Slurp some pho at <a href="" target="_hplink">PHO 87</a> in Los Angeles.</em>