Offal: The innards and extremities of animals, also called variety meats, offer an enticing range of flavors, textures, and preparations that exceed in number and satisfaction those that can be achieved with standard muscle cuts. What was once common in an agrarian society as a matter of practicality is considerably less so today, except, ironically, at high end restaurants. But as farmers’ and specialty markets proliferate and more restaurants cook with them, innards and extremities are increasingly available. Offal can be divided into four overlapping categories: tender or tough (kidney, for example, requiring quick cooking, and tongue or tail, requiring low and slow cooking to tenderize them), and red or white (liver or heart, for instance, and sweetbreads or brains). Other categories of offal include, ears, feet, intestine, cheeks, head, spleen, stomach, coxcomb, and testicles. They tend to be especially high in cholesterol, iron and vitamins. (The most comprehensive and best book devoted to cooking offal comes from the Time-Life The Good Cook/Recipes and Techniques series, Variety Meats, 1982, by Richard Olney.)
Photo by Michael Harlan Turkell
This entry from my opinionated glossary of cooks’ terms is in honor of Cosentino and the dinner he’s doing Tuesday night. As I’ve said before, the ability to cook innards well is a true mark of an excellent chef. I think it was Bocuse who said, "A true chef knows how to clean a frog, make a cheese and cure a ham." I would add, "And do a dessert course using spleen," but that’s pushing it. I wish more home cooks would learn how to work with offal—that, again, would be good for us, the animals and agriculture. Also it reminds us not to waste the animal lives we take for our sustenance. Hear what Chris has to say on the subject in this mediabistro video and this one on Chow ("what color Styrofoam does this one come in, dear?"). I wish the Olney book were available—I got one off ebay and gave it as a gift, and I don’t think this one will include the variety meats (though The French Menu Cookbook is an excellent introduction to Olney—worth it for his elegant words on veal stock!). It’s time we had a contemporary book on offal cookery.