The term offal refers to the organ meats of animals: Heart, liver, tongue, kidney, sweetbreads etc. These organs are nutritious, inexpensive and most of all delicious. Here’s an overview explaining what is offal and I’ve added some offal recipes to help you get the best from offal meats and how to make liver taste good.
Offal is said to mean “off-fall”, or what is left after butchering. Before refrigeration was common, these organs would have been eaten first and were very nutritious.
The best black puddings are made with fresh blood and are filled into the cleaned intestines of sheep or pigs.
It’s a fact that if more people ate offal the price of meat would come down.
These inner organs are high in nutrients, high in iron, contain more nutrients than muscle meat in most cases and are very inexpensive. It’s a fact that if more people ate offal the price of meat would come down. If you are a meat eater and have never eaten offal, forget your prejudices for a moment and try some. You will be very pleasantly surprised. Great flavours, great value, great nutrition. And you will be ecologically sound because you are not wasting valuable animal protein. What more could you ask for?
“Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”
“Thursday; not a good day either for mutton kidney at Buckley’s, fried with butter, a shake of pepper.”
James Joyce, Ulysses 1922
Variety Meats/Offal/Inner Organs
Mr Bloom obviously knew what he liked and enjoyed his food. At the time Ulysses was written, in the early1900’s, offal was very popular as a great value, highly nutritious source of protein.
It is still great value, still nutritious, but alas, not as popular as it was. It has gone out of favour because people’s tastes have changed and there are many who don’t want to be reminded that their food was once alive. It’s a pity the way people say variety meats as if they don’t want to mention the words liver, hearts, kidneys, skirts, cheeks, sweetbreads, tripe, tongue, oxtail and stock bones.
Our forefathers used these meats because they knew their value (nutritional and financial).
Types Of Offal
Traditional Scottish haggis consists of a sheep’s stomach stuffed with a boiled mix of liver, heart, lungs, rolled oats, spices and other ingredients. In the English Midlands and Wales, faggots are made from ground or minced pig offal (mainly liver and cheek), bread, herbs and onion wrapped in pig’s caul fat.
There are many types of offal, but we will look at the more popular types available in your local butcher store.
- Hearts, Liver, Kidney, Cheeks, Tripe, Trotters, Tongues and Sweetbreads. Also called Variety Meats or Organ Meats.
- Beef Heart = Slow Roasted
- Lamb Heart = Stuffed & Roasted
- Beef Kidney or Lamb Kidney = Steak and Kidney Pie
- Lamb or Pork Kidney = Fried
- Beef Cheeks = Braised in wine or stock
- Tripe = Boiled in Milk and Pepper. Said to be very good for digestion.
- Tongues = Salted and Boiled and pressed into shape.
- Sweetbreads = Thymus or Pancreas glands of Lamb or Veal, dredge in seasoned flour and fry gently.
Q. What are the reasons for choosing offal?
A. Offal is generally cheaper than other meats and some types have a very intense flavour. Liver and kidney for example, are a great source of iron.
Q. Is it dangerous to eat offal?
A. If you get offal fresh from your butcher there is no danger, however offal will spoil a lot quicker than muscle meats so it is best to use it on the day of purchase if possible.
Q. What cut would you recommend for offal novices?
A. Liver, for Stuffed Liver & Bacon. Absolutely delicious! Kidneys for Steak & Kidney Pie. This is an amazing dish and if you have only ever eaten Steak and Kidney from a tin or ready-made, you are in for a treat.
Q. What is the most popular type of offal?
A. Up to recently it would have been Liver and Kidney, but there is great interest in Beef and Pork Cheeks and Tongues lately.
Q. What are your three favourite kinds of offal?
A. Stuffed Roasted Lamb Hearts, Steak and Kidney Pie and Liver and Onions in Gravy.
Q. I’ve heard Beef Cheeks are tasty. What would be the best way to cook them?
A. Braising is best. Beef Cheeks need long, slow cooking in liquid to get the best out of them.
Q. Aside from pate, what else could I do with chicken livers?
A8. Chicken livers are delicious when fried. Dredge in seasoned flour and cook with some smoked rashers for a real treat.
A little bit of history
The expression “to eat humble pie” refers to offal, particularly deer offal. When the hunt was over and the deer was cooked, at the feast, the lords and ladies would eat venison. The servants, who sat at the lower end of the table, ate “umbles”, the liver, lungs and heart of the deer baked into a pie.. If the lord of the manor was displeased with a guest, he could be despatched to sit with the servants and eat “umble pie”.
- Is a valuable source of high-quality protein.
- Is Mother Nature’s most concentrated source of vitamin A
- Has all the B vitamins in abundance, particularly vitamin B12
- Is one of our best sources of folic acid
- Contains a highly usable form of iron
- Has trace elements such as copper, zinc and chromium; liver is our best source of copper
- Is a good source of purines, nitrogen-containing compounds that serve as precursors for DNA and RNA.
Hearts are an excellent source of a number of nutrients, including thiamin, folate, selenium, phosphorus, zinc, CoQ10 and several of the B vitamins. In addition, beef heart contains amino acids that are thought to improve metabolism and compounds that promote the production of collagen and elastin. Heart is low in saturated fat and high in muscle-friendly protein.
Kidneys are loaded with vitamin B12, iron, riboflavin, vitamin B6, folate, and niacin.
While not strictly offal, Marrow Bones are a by-product of butcherings and are usually disposed of as waste. Why not ask your butcher for some marrow bones and make your own bone broth or stock?
Grass-fed beef is full of nutrition. It contains more B vitamins, beta-carotene, vitamin E, vitamin K, and numerous trace minerals than grain-fed beef. Organ meat from grass fed animals are full of nutrients.
Here are some delicious and inexpensive recipes using offal.
Marrow Bone Stock
( marrowbones are not strictly speaking, offal, but they are a by-product of butchering and really good so I have included them. You’re welcome.
- 2-2.5kg/4lb 6oz-5lb 8oz of beef bones (rib, leg marrowbones – get your butcher to saw them up for you)
- 3 onions, unpeeled
- 1 whole head garlic
- large bouquet garni of parsley, sage and thyme
- 2 leeks, cut in half
- 2 carrots, cut in half
- 1 stalk celery, including the leaves, roughly chopped
- 2 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp peppercorns
- Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6
- Place the bones in a large roasting tin.
- Cut the onions in half and add them to the tray with the bones. Cut the garlic in half across the middle and add to the pan. Pour half an inch of water into the tin and roast the bones and vegetables in the oven for 40-45 minutes, topping up the water occasionally, if necessary.
- Meanwhile, place a large stockpot on the biggest hob ring. Fill with 4-5 litres/7-9 pints of cold water (about two-thirds full) and bring the water up to simmering point.
- When the water is simmering and the bones are roasted, remove the bones, onions and garlic from the oven and add them to the water, scraping in the browned bits from the tin.
- Add the bouquet garni, leeks, carrots, celery, tomatoes, salt and peppercorns.
- Gently simmer the stock, covered, for 4-6 hours, or even longer if you have time, topping up with water if necessary. Six hours will give you a good strong stock to work with.
- At the end of cooking time, strain the stock of all solid ingredients and discard them.
- To reduce the stock, pour the liquid stock back into the pot and turn the heat up to medium. Cook until the liquid is reduced by half, which will take about one hour, perhaps longer. The further you reduce the stock, the stronger and more intense it will be. The stock can be used as is or can be reduced further or frozen for future use. If you freeze the stock in ice cube bags, you can tear off as many or as few as you need and you will have beautiful homemade beef stock for all your dishes
Steak & Kidney Pie
- 1 tablespoon beef dripping or 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- 700gms chuck steaks, cut into 1-inch dice
- 225 gms ox kidney (or lamb’s, trimmed and diced)
- 375gms puff pastry
- 2 onions chopped
- 3 carrots peeled and cut into rough dice (5/8 inch)
- 4 large flat mushrooms cut into thick slices
- 2tablespoons flour
- 1teaspoon tomato puree
- 1bay leaf
- 500ml veal stock (or water and stock cube or granules) or 500ml beef stock (or water and stock cube or granules)
- Worcestershire sauce
- salt and pepper
- 1 egg, beaten, for glazing
- Heat a large frying pan with a little of the dripping / tallow or oil. Season the diced beef with salt and pepper. Fry in the pan until well coloured and completely sealed. Life out the meat and transfer to a large saucepan. Add a touch more oil, if necessary, to the frying pan. Season the kidneys and also fry quickly to seal and colour in the hot pan. Then transfer to the saucepan.
- Melt a knob of butter in the pan and cook the onions and carrots in the melted butter for 2 – 3 minutes. They will lift any flavours left from the meats. Put into the saucepan with the meat. Fry the mushroom slices in a little more butter, just turning in the pan for a minute or two; keep to one side.
- Place the saucepan on medium heat, stirring in the flour, and allow it to cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomato puree, bay leaf and mushrooms. Pour in the stock and bring to a simmer, skimming off any impurities. The meat should just be covered with the stock; if not, top with a little more stock or water. Simmer gently, partially covered, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. During the cooking time it may need to be skimmed several times.
- After 90 minutes, check the meat for tenderness. If not quite soft enough, cook for the additional 30 minutes. If the meat is cooking gently, it will not need to be topped up with any additional stock or water. The sauce will have reduced, thickening it’s consistency and increasing it’s flavour.
- Taste for seasoning, adding a dash or two of Worcestershire Sauce to the mixture. Transfer to a 2 pint pie dish and allow to cool to lukewarm.
- Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F.
- Roll the pastry 1/4-inch thick. Cut a strip of pastry to sit around the rim of the dish. This will help the top to stay on. Brush the rim of the pie dish with some beaten egg and apply the strip. Brush again with egg. Making sure the pastry top is bigger than the dish, sit it on top. Push down around the sides, trim and crimp for a neat finish. Brush completely with egg wash and place in the preheated oven. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until golden brown.
Stuffed Liver and Bacon
How to make liver taste good
Preparation 15 minutes | cooking 1 hour
- 454 gms / 1 lb lamb’s liver
- 85 gms / 1.5 cups breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1/4 teaspoon mixed herbs
- a small onion, finely chopped
- a knob of butter or margarine
- 110 gms / 1/4 lb streaky bacon
- 285 ml / 1.2 cups stock
- salt and pepper
- Preheat the oven to 325F / 170C / Gas Mark 3.
- Cut the liver into thin slices about 8 mm / 1/3 inch thick.
- Wash it well and dry thoroughly.
- Grease an ovenproof dish and lay the sliced liver across the base.
- Combine the breadcrumbs, herbs, onion, butter or margarine and salt and pepper to make the stuffing.
- Lay the stuffing across the top of the sliced liver.
- Cover with overlapping slices of bacon.
- Pour the stock evenly over the top.
- Cook for about 1 hour until nicely done.
Preparation: 30 mins to 1 hour | Cooking time: over 2 hours
- 3kg/3lb oxtail, cut into chunky pieces (ask your butcher to do this for you)
- 3 tbsp plain flour
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 3–4 tbsp sunflower oil
- 2 medium onions, sliced
- 2garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 medium carrots, diced
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 4–5 sprigs fresh thyme (or ½ tsp dried thyme)
- 2 bay leaves
- 300ml/½pint red wine
- 500ml/18fl oz beef stock
- 2 tbsp tomato purée
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley, to serve (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2.
- Wash the oxtail pieces and pat dry with kitchen paper. Trim off as much excess fat as possible. Put the flour in a freezer bag and season well with salt and pepper. Put half the oxtail pieces into the seasoned flour, toss well to coat then put aside on a plate. Repeat with the remaining oxtail pieces.
- Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Brown the oxtail over a medium heat for about 10 minutes, turning every now and then, until dark brown all over. You may need to add extra oil if the pan looks dry at any point during the browning step. Put the browned oxtail into a flameproof casserole dish. (You may need to do this in batches.)
- Return the frying pan to a low heat and add the onions, garlic, carrots and celery. Add a little extra oil if necessary. Cook gently for 10 minutes, or until softened and lightly browned, stirring occasionally.
- Tip the vegetables on top of the beef and add the thyme and bay leaves. Stir in the wine, beef stock and tomato purée. Season with salt and pepper, put the casserole on the heat and bring to a gentle simmer. Cover the casserole dish with a lid and cook in the centre of the oven for 3 hours. Stir after 1½ hours, turning the oxtail in the sauce.
- After 3 hours, the meat should be falling off the bones and the sauce should be thick. Remove the casserole dish from the oven and transfer the oxtail pieces to a plate, set aside and keep warm.
- Skim any fat that has pooled on the surface of the sauce.
- Divide the oxtail pieces between six warmed plates and spoon over the sauce. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley (if using) and serve with mashed potato and fresh vegetables.
Stuffed Lamb’s Hearts
- 6 lambs’ hearts
- 18 rashers of streaky bacon
- 1.1 litres chicken stock
- For the stuffing
- duck fat or butter
- 4 red onions, peeled and sliced
- 4 bulbs of garlic, peeled and chopped
- 2 large glasses red wine
- 225g yesterday’s white bread, with crusts off, cubed
- sea salt and pepper
- half a bunch of sage, leaves only, chopped
First, make the stuffing. In a pan with duck fat or butter cook your onions and garlic gently so that they do not colour but become soft and giving. Add the wine, let this reduce by half, then add the bread, season, and cook together gently for 15 minutes: if it appears too dry add a splash more wine. Cool then add the sage.
Meanwhile trim the hearts of any excess fat nodules at their openings and any obvious sinews, and the flap at the top. Finally, with your finger, scoop out any blood clots at the base of the ventricles. Rinse in salty water and dry with kitchen paper.
You are ready to stuff.
With your hand, press the stuffing into the heart, and level off the opening at the top. Then drape 3 rashers of bacon over the exposed stuffing in a star fashion forming a lid and secure with string.
Find an oven dish or deep roasting tray in which the hearts will fit snugly; stand them upright. Pour stock over – they do not need to be completely covered. Cover with tinfoil and place in a medium oven for 2? hours. When cooked remove and keep warm. Strain the juice and then reduce by half for a delicious sauce. Untie and serve with mashed swede.