Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
8 Mar

6 Sneaky Ways to Work Offal Into Your Diet

Take a look at that picture to the right. Appetizing? While I wouldn’t be surprised by numerous affirmatives from the Mark’s Daily Apple community, for most people even the sight of brains, kidneys or tongue is enough to turn their stomachs. Nutritionally, of course, we can all agree that offal is fantastic stuff. Leading the pack is liver, also known as nature’s multivitamin and the best source of pre-formed vitamin A. There’s the heart, full of CoQ10 and taurine, and the kidney, a rich source of selenium, B12, and tons more. Brain (rich in omega 3s) and marrow (rich in awesomeness) got mankind involved in our million year-old torrid love affair with animal flesh, while tongue is rich in fat, protein, and B-vitamins. The nutritional content of tripe, thymus glands, eyeballs, blood, intestines, and other miscellaneous parts are less studied but undoubtedly just as impressive. But truly enjoying offal – diving into a slab of liver, a heart kebab, or a plate of brains with slavering hunger and conspicuous salivation because you crave it – can be a hard sell. You know it’s good for you, intellectually, but the hunger often isn’t there. It’s kinda like forcing yourself to like a highly lauded yet obscure French film or listen to some underground experimental rock band that no one’s really heard of but who influenced just about everyone. You know it’s supposed to be amazing, and everything points to it being objectively good, but you simply can’t get into it. I even see a strong undercurrent of Primal folks who actually feel guilty about not eating organs.

With this in mind, the Bees and I have been devising methods to sneak offal into our families’ diets, because I know it’s a common stumbling block for people, and successfully hurdling it means getting better nutrition. So, whether you want to eat more organs without suffering or you want to trick your kids into eating them, read on for some pointers. And guard this (publicly accessible to billions) article and its contents with your life.

Liverwurst/Pate/Braunschweiger/Other Pureed Organ Blends

Okay, so “liverwurst” isn’t exactly inconspicuous, but it tastes damn good and I’d argue that most people say the name without pausing to realize that “liver” actually means liver. Liverwurst is simply a type of sausage to most people, and a tasty one at that, so you can usually pawn it off without trouble. It’s especially effective when dealing with tiny humans who can’t read, like your toddler. A favorite of mine is the German braunchweiger (traditionally pork liver, sometimes beef or calf; try frying slices of it in butter and onion, served with cinnamon apples), and there’s also a Chinese sausage made of duck liver that’s very good.

Pate, being a spread, often promotes cracker or bread usage, so beware. I find a few tablespoons in scrambled eggs added right before serving is very palatable.

Look for quality sausages with simple ingredients listed (animals, spices primarily). A good online order option is US Wellness, but check out your local meat supplier and ask if they make liver sausages. Or, you could just make your own.

Pet Food Mixes

I know, I know. It sounds bad, but one of the Worker Bees swears by it. Whenever he makes a stop at his local grass-fed farm in the Bay Area he always makes sure to grab a few pounds of pet food. And no, it’s not just for his dog – he eats it himself. The particular blend he picks up consists of 70% beef trimmings (meat and fat from steaks and roasts that were, well, trimmed off), 10% liver, 10% kidney, and 10% heart. Apparently, it looks like ground beef from afar, but if you look real closely you can see darker streaks representing the organs. By his trustworthy account, it’s a tasty source of organ meat that tastes just like ground beef and makes great meatza dough, tomato meat sauce, chili meat, and stir frys. He’s been feeding his organ-averse wife the stuff for months now, usually via meatza loaded up with garlic, onions, cayenne, salt, pepper, and oregano, and she loves it. Any grass-fed beef supplier or butcher will probably also offer “pet food” at a bargain, so check. Slanker’s carries it, for example.

You might also check out the Whole Foods frozen section near the meat counter. They’ll often grind up heart, liver, and ground beef, freeze it, and sell it for $1.50-$3.00/lb, though it’s generally not exclusively grass-fed. And, of course, you could grind your own pet food mixes. Start with low concentrations of offal and work your palate slowly.

Chili/Curry/Any Intensely Flavored Stew

Stews are wonderful, are they not? You toss a bunch of tasty items into a pot, turn up the heat, cover, and forget about it for a few hours. Sure, you could get more complicated with it, but simply doing those four steps will generally produce an acceptable meal. Another thing I like about stews is that they’ll turn anything into gold – even offal. The dozens of flavors meld together to form something unique. You don’t taste the tomatoes or the turmeric or the ground beef; you taste the curry. Slipping half a pound of finely diced heart and liver into that burbling brew will only enhance the flavor profile, not disrupt it. Stray closer to a pound, especially with liver, kidney, or some of the other stronger tasting organs, and people might notice.

Keep your organs frozen solid and grate them into your stews, or run the frozen offal through a food processor to save on time, if you worry that even diced chunks will be too obvious.

Liver Powder or Pills

Old school powerlifters and bodybuilders used to take liver pills and swear by their benefits to strength and stamina; today, you can order Argentine low-heat processed beef liver powder online. I haven’t sampled it myself, since eating actual liver is pleasurable and probably more beneficial than eating powder, but it looks like a good compromise. Plus, most Argentine beef is still pastured. Add a few tablespoons to a shake or a glass of water and choke it down. You may not be fooling yourself or anyone else into thinking it’s not beef liver, but a master chugger should be able to bypass most of the tongue’s taste buds and get it down quickly enough. Heck, make it a beer bong and I bet you’ll down it even easier.

Pills are also still an option (also from Argentine beef).

Make Heart Jerky

Heart, being nearly pure lean muscle, makes excellent jerky. Get a half-frozen heart and carve as thinly as possible (freezing makes accurate slices easier). For three pounds of heart, marinate slices in a 1/2 cup red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon cumin, 1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne, 1 tablespoon salt, 2 teaspoons black pepper for at least twelve hours. Let them dry on paper towels completely before drying. Obviously, a food dehydrator works best but an oven set to its lowest heat with the door ajar works, too. They’re ready when completely dry. Everyone will enjoy it, and best of all, you won’t be lying by calling it beef jerky.

I suppose you could use a similar method to make your own dried liver treats, though I haven’t tried it. I bet the flavor would be tough to hide.

Make Organ Slurry

Assemble several pounds of various organs. You could go all liver or mix it up with a variety; your choice. Cram your food processor full of offal, add a few tablespoons of water, and hit the switch. After twenty or thirty seconds, your organs will have become a smooth reddish brown slurry. If chunks remain, process it until they disappear. At this point, you have a few options:

Pour out shots of slurry (I never said it would taste good).

Add a couple ounces of slurry to a shake (again, not tasty).

Immediately use a cup of slurry in a soup, stew, chili, or curry.

Freeze your slurry, using tupperware, ice cube trays, or even just plastic baggies, for later use in soups, stews, chilis, or curries.

Use an approximation of Richard’s method for making red wine reduction sauce. I reduce wine to syrup, add equal parts beef stock and organ slurry, reduce again to a beefy red wine syrup, add a bit of cream, let it reduce some more, then turn off the heat and add cold butter to thicken. Bam: delicious organ gravy/sauce.

Be careful with this one, and exercise caution when dosing. Organ slurry can be powerful stuff. And your slurry will be raw, so if you’re going to eat it raw make sure you trust the source.

This isn’t about learning to enjoy the taste of offal. While a valiant quest to undertake, that can also be impossible for some, because it often means overriding a lifetime of cultural and culinary programming. This is about eating offal without knowing it, either by deception or taste-bud detours, in order to reap the nutritional benefits.

Any other novel ideas, readers? Let me know in the comment board!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Does anyone else remember “Little Lisa’s Slurry” from The Simpsons?

    Bob Crason wrote on March 8th, 2011
  2. Wait a minute, Where do you buy this stuff??

    Joe wrote on March 8th, 2011
  3. Just last night I made a chicken liver curry from one of my all-time favorite Indian cookbooks, Maya Kaimal’s Savoring the Spice Coast of India. Easy and delicious, even without rice!

    Chopped liver is something I grew up with and I absolutely love it. The secret to making really excellent chopped liver is using lots of chicken fat (duck or goose fat would work just as well) and deeply caramelized onions. Last week I had the famous chopped liver at Sammy’s Roumanian in NYC – it was probably the best I’ve ever had, even better than mine! – and while I did break down and have some on half a slice of bread, it was just as delicious right off the spoon.

    Amy P wrote on March 8th, 2011
    • Head cheese is made from a pig’s head so there is some brain matter in it.

      You can find beef brain in some Canadian meat stores, but I’m reticent given Mad Cow disease.

      Acteon wrote on March 8th, 2011
  4. Good idea. When I was a kid on Granny’s ranch, the cowboys would fry up the calf testicles at spring roundup, and make SOB stew at the fall roundup. Only in front of us kids they called them calf fries and sonofagun stew, and they wouldn’t tell us what was in the stew. It worked–I liked the stew, even though it had all kinds of scary parts in it, and almost anything that’s deep fried is pretty edible no matter how disgusting it is.

    julietx wrote on March 8th, 2011
  5. On the pet food mixes – I’ve sampled several brands, lightly cooked, back when that was what I was feeding one of my dogs. They all had some type of crushed or ground bone in them (or crushed egg shells) for calcium, and that always made them “gritty” and rather unappetizing to me.

    Nancy wrote on March 8th, 2011
  6. My dad spent some time in Germany in the military and developed a taste for some of the foods there, braunschweiger in particular, so we had a lot of that growing up.

    I’ve eaten heart and liver before, usually just grilled or fried, and never really got into them. I am going to take your stew recommendation and mixing them into ground beef, though, as this sounds much more palatable.

    Drew Baye wrote on March 8th, 2011
  7. I like to have liver frequently only from grass-fed cattle. I usually have it slightly tanned on the outside with it being soft and juicy on the inside. I also have a few slices of grass-fed Suet along with the liver and the taste combination can give you a food-gasm.

    Edward wrote on March 8th, 2011
  8. Despite the low incidence of prion-related diseases in the US, I am still going to categorically refuse to ever eat brains or spinal tissue. I know what these diseases do, there is no treatment for them and out of all the many things out there that can kill us, I think it’s the one thing that scares the living daylights out of me. I’ll eat any other part of the animal at least once and more if I like it, but not brains. Look up Kuru or “laughing sickness” if you want a real treat.

    Ian Wendt wrote on March 8th, 2011
    • I have read an alternative hypothesis for where the prion diseases come from that may interest you.

      The official declaration is that they come from eating nerve tissue, but that doesn’t explain why sheep get scrapie, since last I heard they are always pastured and are not fed ground-up bits of other animals. It also doesn’t explain chronic wasting disease in deer, who also are never fed ground-up bits of other animals.

      What *might* explain the prion disease in pastured herbivores and, by extension, prion disease in just about everyone else, is that it may be linked to pesticide exposure coupled with copper deficiency. I’ve provided a relevant link; click on my name in this comment to read it. If you google prions and copper together, all sorts of stuff comes up.

      You’d think herbivores would never be lacking in copper since they eat stuff that’s relatively high in it (chlorophyll gets its green color from copper, just like hemoglobin gets its color from iron), but in winter of course there’s not going to be as much. I have no idea if anyone’s checked whether initial onset of the spongiform diseases occur more frequently in winter, though–and given the long incubation time, it would probably be impossible to tell.

      Anyway. So I’m not convinced eating brain is going to cause any problems. And it’s not like human beings don’t get exposed to a lot of different pesticides and suffer mineral deficiencies. Possibly exposure to prions *on top* of these other conditions is what causes CJD in some people. But I wonder if those other conditions don’t have to be in place first. Kind of like cattle are more susceptible to TB if they graze on grass growing in iron-rich soil.

      Dana wrote on March 8th, 2011
  9. FYI, you can still eat crackers, especially if your version of Primal allows dairy. Do a Google search for low-carb cracker recipes. Some of them are crap and contain ingredients like vital wheat gluten, but some are cheese- and seed-based, usually sunflower seeds but sometimes nuts. I bet there’s at least one recipe out there that would go with pâté if you like the latter by itself.

    Dana wrote on March 8th, 2011
  10. Irony! I just thawed out some of my veal kidneys tonight…they are awesome with green pepper sauce.

    Sandra wrote on March 8th, 2011
  11. The problem with the pesticide idea is that these diseases have been around for longer than the pesticides have, considering that the first descriptions of scrapie show up in the early 18th century. And it’s not that it necessarily comes from neuronal tissues exclusively, it is just where the prion particles are the most concentrated. Also, kuru would be difficult to tie to pesticide exposure, given the location. Somewhat the same thing with CWD as the exposure to pesticides would likely be significantly less than for domesticated animals.

    Ian Wendt wrote on March 8th, 2011
  12. I’ve always liked chicken liver and heart but I never liked beef liver. Unfortunately by parents loved the stuff with fried onions Yuck.

    bbuddha wrote on March 8th, 2011
  13. I love liver!! As a recovering vegetarian (12 years, on off again vegan then raw vegan-gasp), I just started eating meat a few months ago. I went and visited all my local friendly farms to “meet my meat”. The lady I buy my monthly 25# packs from, I see the cows happily grazing everyday I go skiing which is almost weekly. Anyway, I thought since I have meatlessly abused my body for the past 12 years organ meat is a must. I started with liver and onions and brocolli and now I make it every week. Next up, she threw in some heart and kidneys (she does this for free so she can get me hooked). The heart jerky sounds great but, I also was advised to grind it up and add it to my hamburger (maybe someone mentioned this already). The kidneys I’m going for the kidney and wine sauce recipe on here. She said next, she’s throwing in some tongue…haven’t figured out that one yet, maybe stew. Then tripe…so, I’m going down the list I’m trying everything at least once.

    krystal wrote on March 8th, 2011
  14. I love eating pate with carrot and celery sticks. No crackers required!

    To the person who asked “Where do you get this stuff” – I’ve been able to find liver and kidneys at a local halal market. Good luck!

    Diane the Purple wrote on March 8th, 2011
  15. “Organ Slurry.” Dear sweet Moses, Mark… sounds like a great band name… but as food?

    Maybe I’ll make some for my wife’s next Ladies Get-together…


    Vidad wrote on March 8th, 2011
  16. Liver is the only food I can not choke down, and since it was my first offal experience I haven’t been too keen on trying other forms of organ meats until now. I like the idea of making a mix though, maybe I could fool myself and my family into thinking its only ground beef. Some chili sounds pretty nice actually. Thanks for the excellent post Mark!

    Anika wrote on March 8th, 2011
  17. Back home in the states I grill beef liver w bacon & onions, yummy! Also in CA we have lots Mexican food, “lengua” taco is “tongue” taco, “mensa” taco is brain taco. Here in Thailand chicken livers on a stick are common on street vendor carts. (If you are from US do NOT eat the beef in SE Asia! I got some bad FP 2 days ago in Malaysia.)

    Bill Berry wrote on March 8th, 2011
  18. I made Tom Naughton’s wife’s chili recipe this past weekend where she adds in liver along with the ground beef. Not too bad. Just finished a bowl of it with raw shredded cheddar cheese on top!!

    Steve wrote on March 8th, 2011
  19. I did a survival course once and we had to kill and butcher a farmed rabbit to learn how to break down small game. The instructor’s suggestion that the liver was the most nutritious part elicited some ‘ewws’ from the course but I boiled it (best available method at hand) and spread it on some bread (I knew not of Primal Blueprint ten years ago) and it was quite delicious!

    Willis wrote on March 8th, 2011
  20. My concern is that, in the case of the liver and kidneys, these organs are filters. I accept all the good things that are in them, but what about all the toxins they collected over the animal’s life? Has any research been done into that?

    Dave wrote on March 8th, 2011
  21. I am strongly considering buying the powder on Amazon… has anyone tried it?!

    Primal Toad wrote on March 8th, 2011
  22. Dad (a pom) used to make me Devilled Kidneys – FOR BREAKFAST!! Quite tasty I recall. Found this online:

    Allow one lamb’s kidney per person and cut them into quarters or rough dice
    fry in hot oil for a minute until lightly browned
    add some sherry, a dash of cider vinegar, and a teaspoon of redcurrant jelly (Cumberland sauce is also very nice) and stir to blend
    season with Worcestershire sauce, English mustard, salt and cayenne pepper to taste, then add a splash of cream to make a lovely rich sauce
    bubble for a minute or two, sprinkle over some chopped parsely and serve with toast and a green salad.

    Dale wrote on March 8th, 2011
  23. finally, I’ve been stir frying beef heart and to be honest it’s getting boring.

    I like the idea of jerky.

    Any good sweetbread recipes?

    Dave wrote on March 8th, 2011
    • I used to coat them in seasoned flour and saute them in butter.

      I found them a major bother to prepare. It’s a real pain to remove all the membrane. They aren’t available around here anymore, and if they were I doubt I’d be buying them much.

      Angela Quattrano wrote on March 10th, 2011
  24. I think my all time favourite organ is lambs brains. They are actually a really nice addition to a soup/stew.
    I know that liver is good for you but dayum..I have trouble eating it!
    I went through a phase of craving it though, and it gave me a lot of energy. Probably because I was deficient in iron.

    Natalia wrote on March 8th, 2011
  25. Be careful buying the pet food mixes. In many cases this is not considered fit for human consumption – it may have bits that fell on the floor, become contaminated and just rinsed off or it may be older(sat out too long) than allowed for humans, or sometimes from sick or diseased animals.
    With some pet mixes it is just meat that is very hard to sell like the offal but I would want to be sure I checked local rules around this and ensure I knew my butcher well.

    john wrote on March 8th, 2011
  26. I had a big fear factor with liver, so I bought some chicken livers, froze them individually on a cookie sheet and put them in a bag in the freezer. One little chicken liver is far less intimidating than a whole platter full. So once a week, I take one out, thaw it, and figure out how to incorporate it into my diet. Usually, I dice it up fine and hide it in a hamburger…I hardly know it’s there. I’ve cut it up small and hidden it in stir fries as well.

    I figure given the proportionate size of liver to the rest of an animal, one chicken liver a week is about right. And hey, check out the nutritional profile on the stuff…it makes most multivitamins look pathetic by comparison.

    Liz Toll wrote on March 8th, 2011
  27. When I grew up we regularly ate liver, kidneys etc and I rekindled that interest a few years ago.

    The main problem with liver/kidneys is that people cook them waaaaaay too long and they go tough or bitter. Less is more.

    Here’s a non-threatening way to start:
    Tub of chicken livers, cut the bigger ones in half.
    Bacon choppped into pieces.
    Chopped onion.
    Thickener of your choice (butter is good.)
    Fry the bacon ’til almost crisp and put aside.
    Fry onions in the bacon fat ’til soft.
    Toss the bacon and liver back into the pan and fry until the liver is slightly pink in the middle.
    Add thickener to the juices if needed.

    Yum! With eggs!

    I think I might write a full blog post on this myself, I have other recipes too.

    Craig wrote on March 8th, 2011
  28. I made my first beef liver pate this week. It is sooo good. I am still kicking myself for not doing this for years… we have always given the offal to the dogs when we kill steers and heifers.

    It is so delicious, we have just been eating it in chunks.

    kem wrote on March 8th, 2011
  29. I do not know that hiding the taste will work for me.

    Lee wrote on March 9th, 2011
  30. Headcheese is not made from offal.

    My kids favorite is calf hearts in a rich creamsauce – I pretty much just cut the hearts into bits, saute them in butter, ad cream and simmer until tender. Then put in a bit of corn starch to adjust the consistency of the sauce. It is traditionally served with rice, but we just use something else, like salad greens (yes, salad greens with a cream sauce works wonderfully)

    Ulla Lauridsen wrote on March 9th, 2011
  31. Steak and kidney pie – very popular in England. I’ll have to try to work out a primal version.

    PeterB wrote on March 9th, 2011
  32. The pet food mixes definitely caused my eyes to pop out a little! But when I read a little more it really does make sense. We have a local farm down the road that we sometimes use for meat and other such items – The idea of incorporating it into a bread dish is excellent.

    Thanks again Mark..

    Healthy Hideout wrote on March 9th, 2011
  33. Sweetbreads are usually the thymus or the pancreas. There are also other glands that are called sweetbreads, these are parotid gland (“cheek” or “ear” sweetbread), sublingual glands, and the testicles. I’ve had thymus, it was pretty good.

    Lynn wrote on March 9th, 2011
  34. Just one comment for those thinking of dehydrating liver – a friend of mine did this for making dog treats – you need to like liver to do it, it definitely does not smell as good as dehydrating muscle meats. But the dogs love it…never thought about trying it for myself.

    Kerstin wrote on March 9th, 2011
  35. i already do the heart jerky thing..though instead of slicing it, i grind it up and spread it on trays, then into the dehydrator :)
    I would definetly advise against liver jerky…once i tried to make pemmican with beef and lamb liver, dried, but it was horrendous. seriousely, thinking about it now makes me queasy. and i’m a liver lover!
    I’ve never had pate though, definetly something i want to make. And liverwurst

    reamz wrote on March 9th, 2011
  36. I think beef tongue is gateway offal, because the flavor is similar to other cuts of beef. I had some that I cooked in the crockpot yesterday and shredded. This morning, I popped it on the griddle with butter and let it crisp up. It tasted like the most wonderful corned beef hash (minus potatoes).

    PaleoOnTheRun wrote on March 9th, 2011
  37. Good timing. I just made some of my favorite liver pate and can share the recipe with you guys. It’s super easy and super delicious.

    2 large onion
    2 large carrots
    1/2 any mushrooms (I usually use buttons)
    1 lb of liver
    generous amount of butter

    I roughly chop and saute all vegetables in butter until soft and transport it into a plate. I then saute liver pieces in that same pen until they are cooked but still a bit pink inside. Everything get’s dumped in a food processor and grinded together. Salt and pepper to taste.
    I ends up being quite thick, so you don’t need any bread or crackers to eat it, and it looks really cool because you can still see pieces of carrots in it. I eat it as my lunch at work because it’s so easy and delicious, but just don’t tell anyone what it is:)

    chocolatechip69 wrote on March 9th, 2011
  38. I think sweetbreads are the thymus gland…

    Also, the Pottenger liver cocktail: tomato juice, grated frozen liver, Tabasco, whey. Credit to Nourishing Traditions cookbook for that one. It’s delicious at breakfast time.

    Turbochaser wrote on March 9th, 2011
  39. I like the jerky idea. I make my own pâté when I need to use up stuff. My four year old son and I are the only ones to actually it eat. I have fond memories of when I was a little girl of my mother standing in front of an open fridge eating Braunschweiger out of a tube and squirting mustard on top. I slice mine up now, and can even find it at my local butcher, but my favorite way to eat it is still with mustard.

    Lauren wrote on March 9th, 2011

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