Where to start? Where to buy? Unless you are a habitué of restaurants trying to climb the ladder of Michelin stardom, you are unlikely to find offal served up in many parts of the UK. My local supermarket is nearly void of any offal, or ‘organ meat’ as my transatlantic friends refer to it. They are not keen on it either, but then I would find the word ‘organ’ more difficult to digest. What happened?
The British have a history of eating offal. ‘Up north’ there used to be tripe shops everywhere, selling honeycomb, blanket, and thick seam – all cuts from different parts of the stomach. There was definitely a tripe shop in Truro in the sixties. My mother shopped there and bought slabs of blanket which she slow cooked with onions in red wine for grown up’s suppers. Any leftovers were hoovered up by us children, delighted to eat something we saw as exotic instead of our plainer fare. Offal was a regular on our menu: devilled kidneys for my father’s Sunday breakfasts, liver and onions for a holiday lunch, and faggots for school night teas. Even the dog was a fan. He was never fed ready-prepared dog food, but cooked ‘lights’ or spleen, which used to simmer, floating on the top in big pans on the Aga. Odorous stuff it was and very spongy to touch. But neither the taste nor the texture seemed to bother ‘Whisky’ our collie cross, he wolfed it down before charging off to the farmer’s field full of energy to worry more sheep, which was how – with the farmer at the end of his tether – he met his sad demise.
As a child I used to find it quite difficult to like liver, my enjoyment being tainted by the school cooks’ version, slabs of grey cardboard, submerged under gravy coated with a thick skin which lapped at a pile of dry mash. It wasn’t until I was well into my early thirties that I discovered calves liver, seasoned well and seared just pink in a froth of sage butter. If you can find a good source – I buy mine from Turner & George – not only is it cheaper than steak but it can be flash fried in a matter of minutes, proving that fast food doesn’t have to be unhealthy. It is sad that offal just seems to be for foodies these days when it is a great way of providing cheap, nutritious meals for a family.
Elsewhere in Europe, offal seems readily available, especially in France and Spain. You would think the French invented the stuff – foie gras from liver, kidneys with a cream sauce and tripes a la mode de Caen.
“Or ‘tripous Naucelloise’ which is the speciality we eat down here in the South West.” Fiona
Why doesn’t that love affair with offal no longer appeal to ordinary folk in the UK? No demand has meant that many supermarkets are reluctant to stock it. Unfamiliarity has bred distaste as people no longer know what offal tastes like or even how to prepare it. In London, kidneys and livers are a regular part of our diet as they are added to a wide variety of stews, pasta, stir-fries as well as salads. They offer more taste than the ubiquitous mince.
At this time of year when I am still slowly adjusting to the slide into winter, I look for dishes that bridge the seasons. I was first introduced to warm winter salads whilst driving across northern France to the ski slopes of Switzerland. We stopped for lunch in a small village not far from Strasbourg. We were served with an earthenware bowl full of dark bitter salad leaves, tossed with thick slices of andouillette– a coarse sausage made with pork and intestines (transatlantic chitterlings), glossed over with a warm vinaigrette. A carafe of chilled red and a basket of warm baguette was served on the side. After a fortnight of heavy Swiss cooking, we were disappointed to find the little restaurant was closed on the drive back.
A warm filling winter salad made with crispy lamb kidneys is a good way to ease you and the family into the delights of offal.
Warm Winter Salad
Preparation Time 15 minutes. This will serve two people.
1 tbsp olive oil
2 inches of chorizo – sliced and halved
2 lamb’s kidneys
1 level tbsp of plain flour
½ tsp of dried mustard
freshly ground salt and pepper
1 tsp Worcester Sauce
6 small, new or salad potatoes – waxy.
A handful of green beans – cut into 1 inch pieces
Sliced broccoli stalk with tough outer skin removed – only if you have some left over.
3 spring onions
Crispy salad leaves – ½ a romaine or cos broken into mouth sized pieces, 1 small endive sliced thinly lengthwise and a handful of spicy salad leaves – rocket or watercress.
1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar
Scrub and halve the new potatoes, place into a pan of boiling, salted water and simmer until firm but soft, about 8 minutes. Two minutes before the finish add the beans. You can prepare these ahead of time or use up leftover vegetables as long as they are firm and not soggy.
Mix flour, mustard powder, salt and pepper into a small bowl. Prepare the kidneys by removing the surrounding white membrane and any attached fat. Cut into quarters and remove any core. I find this much easier to do with a pair of kitchen scissors. I like my kidney well cooked and in small pieces, so I will chop the quarters into smaller pieces. Drop into the flour mixture and coat well. This should easily adhere to the kidney and will provide a bit of crunch when fried.
Heat olive oil in a deep frying pan, add the chorizo slices and let them fry on a medium heat until the sausage releases its unguent oils. Then add the kidney bits and broccoli stalk if you have it. Keep stirring with a wooden spoon, making sure the kidney is cooked thoroughly on all sides and not sticking to the pan.
Add Worcester sauce before lowering the heat and adding the cooked potatoes and beans. Fry for approximately 2-3 mins – the aim here is to heat the vegetables as well as cover them with the flavoured oils.
Remove the vegetables, kidneys, and sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon, then add balsamic vinegar to residue scraping all the bits up. Add extra oil if needed and then toss it over the salad. Serve immediately. Chances are not many people will notice that they are eating kidney!
This is stage one of my personal campaign to reintroduce offal into my family’s diet. It will be interesting to see from where in London I can source sweetbreads, tripe, and heart. Will I draw the line at brains, I don’t know, but it will be interesting finding out.
“As a complete addict of offal, I only draw the line at eyes. I think have eaten just about every other available cut of offal, including brains, which are delicious – so do try them. The best dish I ever ate them in was in a restaurant in Spain and the dish included lambs’ testicles – essentially ‘balls and brains’ – delicious!” Fiona