The Offal Truth About Eating Innards

August 14, 2013

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Made from internal organs and other scary animal parts, offal cuisine is trotting off exotic, ethnic plates onto fine-dining menus. Is it coincidence that offal is pronounced the same as awful?

Most think not, although in fact the name refers to the “off fall,” or discards, from the butcher’s block. Common offal recipes feature the brain, heart, liver, tongue, spleen, kidney, giblets, trotters (feet), or tripe (guts).

Before you go screaming from the kitchen, consider that your favorite sausage or hot dog probably is probably packed with and wrapped in offal parts. If you’ve enjoyed foie gras, Andouille sausage or chopped liver, you’ve sat at the gutsy table.

Ethical Offal

A stewpot of conditions is behind this renaissance of nose-to-tail creative culinary ingredients. Sustainability is cited as a major reason for the resurgence. The meat industry has a large carbon footprint; using every scrap is a more environmentally friendly and ethical approach.

Gutsy Chefs

Good intentions may provide some of the motivation, but the major impetus for chefs going gaga for guts is money. Offal is cheap. The recession hit restaurants like a ton of lard. Creating cuisine with inexpensive cuts of meat is just good business.

It became a trend under the skilled knives of talented chefs. Notable head-to-tail chefs around the United States include the guts guru Chris Cosentino of Incanto in San Francisco; Michael Dotson of Evvia Estiatorio in Palo Alto, California; Tony Maws of Craigie on Main in Massachusetts; and Jamie Bissonnette of Toro in South Boston.

The trend is international as well, with London’s Hereford Road and Australia’s Daniel O’Connell Hotel boasting not-for-the-fainthearted selections. Pig-face tacos are featured at Chicago’s iNG restaurant. Executive Chef Tim Havidic says he chose pork head for this dish because the jowls and cheeks are very tender when properly cooked, and the rest of the head makes a flavorful stock.

Nutrition Nubs

Some fear that offal is fatty and hard to digest, but this is not generally the case. Most dishes have similar calorie, fat, and protein levels to recipes made with lean cuts of meat. Some offal is higher in cholesterol, but how much marrow or brains can you consume?

Cuts such as liver and spleen have significant amounts of vitamins A and C, and they are rich in iron and phosphorous.

A little queasy at the idea of eating bull testicles or braised lamb guts? Try charcuterie, which will include some unmentionable parts disguised in a simple platter of meats and sausages. Or, start with oxtail soup – it’s a gradual way to dip your toe into the offal stew. Happy dining!


3 Comments

  1. Janice Westlake

    August 19, 2013 at 11:25 pm

    I love the title of this article, and had not heard the term “offal” before although I have cooked venison heart and it was wonderfully flavorful and tender when done right. It never occurred to me the sustainability side but it makes perfect sense and I have seen a lot of info about the nutrition benefits of organs and bone broth. Good article and glad to see well known chefs picking this up and running with it, I live near both San Fran and Palo Alto so may go check them out.

  2. Debora Mitchell

    August 19, 2013 at 11:59 pm

    If I weren’t such a hot dog connoisseur, this would turn my stomach. Good thing this “offal” tastes so great. Here’s to the foodies.

  3. Patty Shannon

    August 20, 2013 at 1:03 am

    Some of the chef’s make these ingredients look and sound a little bit inviting, however there are just parts of animals I’m happy to leave on the butcher’s block. Scary!

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