Cooking With and Appreciating Offal

Offal is a rather loose term that can be applied to various internal organs and off-cuts of animals and birds. The English word 'offal' itself derives from the late 14th century terms of (off) and fal (fall)  literally meaning those parts of an animal that fall off the butcher's block. These were the worst cuts of meat, which even the poor could afford, especially as meat tended to be used as a flavouring for other ingredients rather than a main component of the meal in and of itself.

Indeed, some common recipes now made with fruit, such as mice pies started off using a mix of offal and fruit as a pie filling, especially around Christmas where venison was intended for the top table and everyone else had to make the most of the offal. This also explains the origins of many classic dishes such as black (blood) pudding, haggis, steak and kidney pies, brawn and sausages. All dishes bulked-out with offal.

This idea of offal as a poor man's protein source has definitely given offal rather a bad press. As soon as people became rich enough they wanted 'proper' meat. And the modern move away from the sources of food production has exacerbated the problem and offal has a 'yuck' factor that's hard to get over. Especially as reports tell us that certain products such as liver and brain contain lots of cholesterol. But it has to be remembered that liver is also a good source of dietary iron and vitamin A.

But, certain pieces of offal such as heart and kidneys are low in fat and high in good quality meat. Also, it shouldn't be forgotten that certain offal products have a definite 'cachet' about them. Pâté (made from liver) is a good example of this, as are sweetbreads (thymus) which you will find on the menus of high-class restaurants.

Today, with the current economic straits, offal can provide a a nutritious high-protein meal. Using offal is also a way of keeping traditional and heirloom recipes alive. It is also a way of showing respect to the animals we slaughter for food, by maximizing our use of them.

Below are two classic recipes using offal products:

Chicken Liver Pâté

225g Chicken Livers
175g Butter
2 tbsp Brandy
2 tbsp of Mustard Powder
1 tsp Mixed Herbs (parsley, coriander, chives, thyme)
Two Cloves of Garlic (crushed)
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper to taste

Method:
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed frying pan. Coarsely chop the chicken livers and add to the pan. Fry on medium heat for five minutes, turning constantly (to ensure the livers cook but do not burn).

Remove from the heat, allow to cool a little then pour into an electric blender. Melt the remaining butter and tip this into the blender too. Pour in the brandy, add the herbs mustard and garlic before seasoning with salt and freshly-ground black pepper.

Blend to a smooth paste before spooning into six small Ramekins (or egg cups will do too) then refrigerate for about 20 minutes to set and serve with buttered hot toast.

Steak and Kidney Pie

Ingredients:
450g beef steak, cubed
100g kidneys, cubed
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
50g flour seasoned with salt, black pepper and thyme
150ml beef stock
150g shortcrust pastry

Method:
Place the seasoned flour in a bowl and roll the beef and kidneys in this until completely coated. Transfer to an oven-proof dish and mix with the onion and garlic. Add the stock and roll the pastry out on a lightly-floured work surface until large enough to cover the top of the dish. Crimp to seal then cover the top of the dish with a sheet of foil then transfer to an oven pre-heated to 120°C.

Cook slowly for three and a half hours then increase the temperature to 180°C and bake for a further 30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden. Serve with chips and roasted carrots and parsnips.

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About The Author,
Dyfed Lloyd Evans is the creator of the Celtnet Recipes free recipe website where you can find a growing number of offal recipes as well as hundreds of recipes for pies of all kinds.