Offal, or Awful?

February 12th, 2009

Creative Commons License photo credit: PinkMoose

It’s wintertime, and the Philly area is seeing its fair share of sick time, hence the reason I had the opportunity to watch a lot of daytime TV this week.

I spent my Tuesday with re-runs on the Travel Channel, specifically with Anthony Bourdain (No Reservations) and Andrew Zimmern (Bizarre Foods).

Both spent their episodes visiting the UK, with stops in London, Edinburgh, The Cotswolds, and various other places in between. Among the haggis and blood pudding, there was a common message from both hosts – nose-to-tail eating.

The ever-grumpy Bourdain’s presentation was a bit more glass half empty. Visiting a meat market in London, he spoke with a butcher who dealt in offal, or the animal innards (kidneys, hearts, intestines and other lovely unmentionables). They spoke of the lack of appreciation of offal in a modern society where convenience and premium cuts are more valued. The butcher could not predict the future of his business.

However, Bourdain did focus in on one chef, Fergus Henderson, who specializes in offal, and shares it with his up-scale, top-dollar paying clientele. The funny thing about offal, is that in years past, it was the food of the poor – the cheapest pieces in the butcher case. Offal is high in protein and iron, and makes for a smart value.

The ever amusing Zimmern was a little less about saving offal, and more for promoting the fact that it has made a huge comeback on the British menu over the past 10 years or so, a sentiment resonated by the butchers he spoke with.

Offal has had a surge in the U.S. too. A recent Chicago Sun-Times article highlighted some Windy City chefs that are offering dishes like goat brain ravioli. The question is, though, beyond the foodie audience, can offal make a return to mainstream cooking? Certainly, it was a staple long, long ago.

Now, as a girl I hated when my mom made liver and onions. The idea repulsed me, and the smell drove me from the house. I still have yet to try it to this day, as I’m sure few other Gen-Xers have. But, I must admit I am now intrigued. Not only is offal an affordable choice, but chefs argue that these unpopular bits are the most delicious of any animal. And, as the Sun-Times article points out, “farmers can’t raise just a rack of lamb.” Eating all of the animal certainly makes for less waste.

So, now I’m curious what you have to say…have you sampled offal, do you eat it regularly, are you still thinking “no way!”? Leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts!

2 Responses to “Offal, or Awful?”

  1. Chef Mike Says:

    There may be some dishes where your blog readers may find offal and not realize they are already consuming it. Offal is present in many dishes but not always pointed out by name. Philadelphia Pepper Pot Soup is only now sometimes called Philadelphia Tripe Soup as offal becomes trendy. Same soup, different name.
    Chicharrones are being consumed more regularly these days as the they make a great snack for high protein low carb dieters.
    The Asian influence here in the states has introduced many offal items in their cooking. Pho’ restaurants are becoming more prevelant in big cities and a good pho’ cannot be made without the influence of beef tendons and tripe just to name a couple.

  2. Erin Says:

    Thanks Mike – that’s a great point!

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