“If you are going to knock an animal on the head, it’s only polite to eat the whole thing”.
Fergus Henderson, author of The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating
Now I know that offal is good for me, it’s good for all of us; but I have no idea what to do with most of it. I would guess that most people in North America would have no idea what to do with most odd bits once confronted with them. There must be tons of reasons why offal has come off the menu. Price and availability of what is considered to be premium cuts could have been the initial driving force, but I suspect it has more to do with a large portion of the younger generations being grossed out. I don’t really understand why though, what on earth is the difference between a heart and a loin? For me it is less of an ‘ick factor’ and more of a ‘well what the hell am I supposed to do with it’. I knew that there were membranes, valves, veins and outer layers that needed to be taken off but I needed to know where, and when in the process. Most, if not all of the recipes that I had found did not make any mention of such things, so I was intimidated and just stayed away – until recently. I had the enormous luck to get sent a link to an event at a local kitchen – an interactive cooking class with Jennifer McLagan, author of OddBits. YIPEEEEEE!
***Caution there are photos of odd bits ahead***
So here is what I see as I arrive, a whole plate full of bits and bots, odds and sods! How exciting. The day started with introductions, and some very informal chat amongst the participants, the host chef and Jennifer. I should add that there were only about ten participants, so it was very intimate! We were given wine (BONUS!) upon arrival which really helped to set the mood. Now pardon my patchiness with directions as we go, I did take notes and I did taste everything, but I was drinking the wine so these notes aren’t as thorough as my set of 3rd year chem. notes.
We were all encouraged to get up, help to cook and most importantly touch everything.
First on the menu was warm and cold poached cows tongue. My notes on tongue say to brine overnight, poach for 2-3 hours with star anise and cinnamon, MAKE SURE TO PEEL THE SKIN OFF. Both the warm and chilled tongue was sliced thin and served with salsa verde. I preferred the chilled tongue (it was chilled in the fridge overnight), the texture was slightly different than the warm tongue; but both were incredibly delicious for such a disgusting looking cut of meat. The salsa verde was a great accompaniment, as the dense nature of the tongue went nicely with the sharp acidity of the salsa verde. I went back for seconds, thirds and fourths of this one. I also ate a couple of pieces without the salsa verde to really see what it tasted like, and I did like it on its own. The salsa verde was prepared in-front of me, but all I jotted down was anchovy, fresh mint, capers, mustard. It didn’t look any more complex than that, but if anyone has a superior recipe for me I would appreciate it!
The next culinary wonder was the pig’s ear – Ya, I know I thought that they were dog chews too! And I was pretty sure this was the one that I wasn’t going to like. To my horror, I really liked them. These little matchsticks are definitely not a meal, not even an appetizer; they would be better suited as a salad topper or fun garnish. To me they tasted like pork rinds, probably because they are pigs skin, fat and cartilageJ. My notes on the pigs ears say to poach for 1.5 hours until the skin comes up slightly from the cartilage. Slice thin, dress lightly with a vinaigrette. Or can be used for broth. Do it – try these little guys, I dare you!
On to the next delicious offering, the one thing that I had the most trepidation about, heart. Heart to me was always a mystery, what was the texture, how would it taste, do you slow cook it, flash fry it, grill it. Jennifer prepared heart two ways for us, and I liked them both very much. First we ate heart panfried, sliced fairly thin (about a quarter of an inch) and fried quickly to a medium rare in hot oil or lard. The heart was then plated and a pan sauce made with onions, sherry and cream. This tasted like the best steak that I have ever had. The flavour was out of this world, and the texture was a dream. I really couldn’t believe that I liked it this much. And then to realize that to feed the family a nice dinner sized portion of heart would cost roughly $2.50 for all three of us was a shock! Needless to say, I had four helpings of this little wonder, and got my wine glass refilled.
Heart the second way – tartare! This is not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach. Chop heart, capres, shallots, cornichons (or pickles for you non-‘fancy chef’ types) add egg yolk, salt, Worchester, and mustard and mix. There’s your recipe. It was delish. I would eat it again and again, the only problem is I don’t think I have enough people around me who would be adventurous enough to eat this, and it’s really a pity because this was yum yum yummy! My other notes on heart say the Jennifer really recommends to cook (stew/braise) it whole and when its finished slice it up and re-heat it in it’s sauce the next day. She said the taste and texture are great when chilled and re-heated.
So my last picture on the list is one that I have been thinking about not adding on this post, but it was so delicious that I’m throwing caution to the wind and posting it with a picture of what I ate, and yes I ate it all – and I had seconds, and thirds and maybe even fourths. Even looking at the picture now – two weeks later- my mouth waters with anticipation. Pigs feet bruschetta. These feet were covered in a salt rub overnight and then poached. All the meat, fat and skin were then taken off and chopped up. The bread was sliced thin and toasted, then spread with grainy mustard. Then the pigs foot mixture spread generously on top, and then they were put under the broiler until all bubbly and toasty. They were heaven. I know it’s white bread, I feel slightly bad, and have been wracking my brain for a suitable substitution, and alas have thought of nothing that would provide the right crunch. Oh well, guess I won’t be making these little treasures at home, but one can hope right??
We had one more dish, but I didn’t take a picture. We had pan-fried beef liver. I didn’t like it. I’ve never been a fan of liver – I have tried it on multiple occasions and prepared a variety of ways, I just don’t like beef liver. And you know what, after seeing what I ate above I think it’s ok that I don’t like beef liver. I think it tastes like what licking a barn would taste like (yuck!).
Another note – spleen was in the first picture. It is recommended to confit spleen rolled up (like pinwheels). There is a funny membrane that is not easily removed when raw. So I did not get to try the spleen; maybe for the best as it is extremely hard to obtain where I live, so better that I don’t develop a taste for it.
I feel as though after this wonderful afternoon that I am a much more polite eater of animals now, and will be introducing my family to some odd bits.