Offal–the other tasty bits

When I look at the meat counter in the supermarket I always wonder why we use so few of the parts of the animals that we raise and slaughter for food.  It seems wasteful and disrespectful of life, and  we’re missing a lot of good eating that way. Obviously, I favor of using all of the beast if you’re going to slaughter it to have a steak or a roast (the skeletal muscle, in other words).

Maybe part of the reluctance to use organ meats is that many cooks don’t know how to prepare these other bits–they can be a bit more complicated to cook than a steak. Certainly many popular cookbooks don’t include recipes for them.  It might also be because we are told that these are not good for us–that they are high in fats, and in cholesterol–which is supposed to be so terribly, horribly unhealthy for us. Maybe it’s also related to controversy about whether or not fat, and animal fat in particular, is actually bad for you–government and medical recommendations on what we should–or should not–eat.

There does seem to be increasing  interest in “variety meats” as something other than pet food. (Yes, I will  share the giblets with the cat when we’re cooking chicken or turkey but I will not give them all away.)  There are some excellent cookbooks available now.  I’ve added some of my favorites to the bibliography. Whatever the reasons, I’m glad to see it (and you can expect more of my opinions on the high-carb, low-fat controversy about how to get rid of the excess weight we tote around with us).

But to get to the thing that got me started on this particular topic. One of my favorite bits of offal is tongue and I found this delightful post on Fae’s Twist & Tango with a recipe for cooking tongue that is a good addition to my collection recipes for that particular bit of the beast.

(It’s really unfortunate that “offal” is pronounced like “awful” so that enunciating that word leaves a lot of people thinking that you’ve said “awful”–which is what many think of organ or “variety” meats. I’m sure there are people who love foie gras and caviar, and maybe even shad roe, who would not consider other organ meat from a cow, or a pig, or a chicken.  But offal is not awful–it’s good stuff.)

Offal: beef tongue

Offal:  1 : material that is left as waste or by-product of a process of preparation or manufacture: as a : the stalks and dust from tobacco leaves b : less valuable portions (as the belly, head, and shoulders) of a hide c : the by-products of milling (as of wheat or barley) used especially for stock feed d : the parts of a butchered animal that are removed in dressing, that consist largely of the viscera (as brain, heart, sweetbreads, liver) and the trimmings (as tail, hooves, blood, skin, head meat), and that are used as edible products or as raw material in the manufacture of by-products e : small or inferior or unmarketable fish

(Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com (20 Jun. 2011).

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I am fortunate to have a wonderful supplierof organ meats, such as tongues, hearts, beef cheeks, and other offal at my local farmers’ market.  While it’s not a regular part of my diet it’s certainly a treat to cook some once in a while.  It can be hard to find recipes for organ meats.

Since I now have a ready supply of offal, I’ve recently discovered two delightful cookbooks dealing with offal.  The Whole Beast:  Nose to Tail Eating and Beyond Nose to Tail:  More Omnivorous Recipes for the Adventurous Cook by Fergus Henderson.  The onset of cool weather makes me want to do more serious cooking so I’ve searched for recipes for beef heart and beef cheeks, which reside in my freezer awaiting cooking.   My own cookbook library provided me with some, but wanting to be a bit more adventurous, I decided to see what other recipes I could find.  It would seem that offal is gaining favor, at least with adventurous cooks, judging from the results of my search for blogs and recipes.

Since I grew up on a farm where we butchered our own meat, I’ve never been squeamish about organ meats, either preparing or eating.  Beef tongue is really pretty tame when it comes to offal.  Some of my old stand-by recipes are found in Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Volume 2) by Julia Child, and in Glorious French Food by James Peterson.  Since I’ve been cooking beef tongue for so long, I don’t always do a fancy preparation–love it cold, sliced for sandwiches in the summer time; for that I break out the slow-cooker and just poach it.  I’m fortunate that the tongues I get from my supplier (Meadow Lane Farms) are extremely clean, I don’t have to do a lot of the cleaning and soaking that many recipes call for.  I sometimes salt, but sometimes I don’t and the results either way are excellent.

I usually poach the tongue with bay leaves, juniper berries, brown mustard seeds, or maybe herbs de Provence:  just pop it into the slow cooker and cover with water for really carefree cooking.  If you don’ t have the slow cooker, it can be simmered on the stove-top, but it does need monitoring so that it does not boil. You could also cook this in a slow oven so that you don’t have to do so much monitoring–bring to a simmer on the stove top and then move to the oven.

The tongue is simmered in the slow cooker for two or three hours, and then I check to see if the outer covering peels easily.  If so, I’ll pull it out of the slow cooker and peel it.  If you’re doing this on the stove-top, or even in the oven, it may be ready to peel in about an hour.  Since I want to use some of it for sandwiches or in a salad, I’ll return the peeled tongue to the slow-cooker for another hour or so, until it’s tender; then let it cool in the cooking liquid and chill it, since it’s easier to slice when cold. The cooked tongue is very tender and beefy in flavor.

A great hot meal can be made if you take thicker slices of the tongue and quickly brown them in butter, and then serve with the brown butter over as a sauce.  Great with asparagus, or haricots verts, and some potatoes.  In the summertime, when the tomatoes are really lush, the cold sliced tongue with a good sweet-tart tomato slice, on bread brushed with a bit of olive oil is wonderful.   As with other beef, horseradish complements it nicely, too.

Health-wise, it’s not something I’d have every week, but I doubt seriously that it is any worse for me than some of the things I might find in the local delicatessen, and I know exactly what is in it.  While it may not sound like something to prepare when you’re cooking for one, it’s so versatile that leftovers are never a problem!