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

It’s Not So Offal

MDA’s Quick Guide to Purchasing, Preparing and Eating Organ Meats

Everything but the Squeal, Thrift Cuts, Hunting Ethics… it would seem that in recent months we’ve spent a good deal of time talking about the benefits of feasting on the entire animal, but we’ve kind of side-stepped the fact that eating the whole animal also means eating the organs.

To some, organ meats are ho-hum foods of childhood, but to others, offal is an undiscovered – and somewhat stomach turning – culinary territory. Now, we’re not suggesting that everyone needs to eat organ meat in order to be perfectly Primal. Instead we’re endorsing offal as Primal food that has both fiscal and health benefits. Take a gander and let everyone know what you think in the comment boards!

Liver

Possibly the most common organ meat consumed in the U.S., liver was once regarded as a meal for the affluent and was even named one of the Eight Delicacies in The Li-Chi, a handbook of rituals published during China’s Han era. So why should you be eating it? According to those in the know, liver is an excellent source of high quality protein; contains an abundance of vitamin A and several B vitamins; is an excellent source of folic acid and iron; is the number one food source of copper; and contains CoQ10, which is important for cardiovascular function.

There really aren’t too many animals where liver is off limits – bar the polar bear, but there aren’t too many arctic explorers among us. In the U.S., the most frequently consumed types are beef, veal, goat, lamb, bison, buffalo, chicken, geese, or duck liver. When selecting liver for consumption, it is preferable to select one from a young animal as it is the mildest and most tender. How to know that you’re making a good choice? Many swear that the younger the animal, the paler the liver. Also, look for livers that have no slimy or dry patches and are relatively odor free.

To prepare a whole liver you’ll need to first rinse it and pat dry with a damp cloth. Next, with a sharp knife, remove any exposed veins, ducts or connective tissue then use your fingers to peel away the thin outer membrane and presto, the liver is now ready to eat! Sound too gruesome? A reputable butcher can usually take care of this for you! When preparing, it should be noted that liver should be cooked until it is light pink – cooking too much can cause it to toughen.

Kidney

Kidney beans might be a no-no on the Primal eating plan, but kidneys? They’re a-ok. Kidneys are most frequently available in beef, lamb and pork form and are generally sold trimmed, with the central strip of hard white fat and the outer membrane removed. We recommend that you ease into eating kidneys by first purchasing beef kidneys, which have a milder flavor and are also the easiest – and least expensive – variety.

When shopping for kidneys, look for those that are deep red in color – except for veal, which can take on a tan-cast – are plump and glossy with no bruised or discolored areas and no strong odor. To prepare, rinse the organs in cold water and, for a milder taste, soak in chilled water with a teaspoon of salt to each quart of water for one to two hours. From there, the kidney can be broiled, sautéed or braised.

Heart

Talk about eating your heart out – depending on the size of the animal the heart is yielded from, the heart could weigh as much as 3 lbs. Because it is a muscle meat, heart is very similar to steak, roasts and ground beef, but is typically less expensive (we blame the “ick” factor for that!) and actually has a higher protein content. In addition, heart is 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 (thin and wrinkle free? Sign us up!)

When selecting a heart, look for one that is a deep reddish brown color and has a layer of fat near its top. Culinary experts universally recommend that you purchase only high quality organs. Some experts suggest that hearts from grass-fed animals can keep longer, are better in color, smell better and taste better than organs procured from other animals. As with most organ meats, hearts are pretty delicate during the cooking process, so you’ll want to be sure to cook it slowly and serve it medium rare.

Sweetbreads

Sweet and bread? Sounds like a recipe for a carb overload, but in actuality, “sweetbreads” refers to the thymus and – depending on who you talk to – the pancreas glands of a calf or young cow, lamb or pig. In general, sweetbreads are pinkish-white in color, with those from the heart or belly taking on a round, plump appearance and those from the throat appearing more elongated and cylindrical.

In terms of taste, sweetbreads are…uhhh, sweet tasting (as opposed to the savory flavor of most meats), but they are by no means doughy! The “bread” part of the name comes from an old English word meaning flesh. The following is a delicious recipe from Cooks.com for sweetbreads and bacon that includes some solid tips for preparing the sweetbread for consumption: Sweetbreads and Bacon.

Tongue

If you’ve made it this far in the article, then chances are you aren’t going to be grossed out by the concept of eating tongue. In general, beef and veal tongues are the most commonly consumed, with both sharing a grainy, firm texture and a pinkish-grey color.

Tongue can be stewed, boiled or poached and is often pickled, or served roasted like roast beef. Before final prepping and serving the skin of the tongue is usually removed.

Brain

Type “eating brain” into a Google search engine and you find far more entries about zombies and brain, and the benefits of eating fish to boost brain power than you do for recipes that include actual brain. If you do dig deep (in a totally non-zombie sense), however, you’ll learn that brain has a delicate, crumbly texture and is popular in dishes from many different parts of the world, including French and Indian cuisine.

It should be noted, however, that brain can in some cases contain prions, a unique type of protein that has been linked to the development of mad cow disease. If you’re not perturbed by these warnings, check out this simple recipe for scrambled eggs and calf brains.

Tripe

Saving the best for last? You betcha! Tripe is generally defined as the stomach lining of sheep, goats, pig and deer. In the case of beef, tripe generally only refers to the first three portions of the cows stomach. Sound disgusting? Perhaps. But long ago, the dish was so revered that it was said to have spurred a tiff between between William the Conqueror and Phillip I, the King of France.

Since there is an obvious “ick” factor associated with eating another being’s stomach, you’ll want to take steps to ensure that the tripe that you eat is thoroughly cleaned. In most cases, a butcher will also remove any extra fat and bleach it for you so that it looks more appetizing, but it will be up to you to boil it so that the lining – the edible part – is fully cooked. Since the lining has somewhat of a rubbery texture, you’ll want to cook it for at least 2-3 hours to make it tender. From there, you can use it in salad, as an ingredient in soups, casseroles or stews, or as a main dish all by itself.

What do you think, readers? Did you grow up on this stuff? Old hat? Or does even the word “tripe” make you queasy? (Or maybe both?) Voice your opinion in the comment board!

t0fugurl, ulterior epicure, stu spivack, Toasty Ken, Nick Bair, perago89, gogogadgetscott, La Blageur a Paris, KitLKat, avlxyz Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

A Visual Guide to Antioxidants

Cheap Meat Round II: “Thrift Cuts”

A Visual Guide to Peppers

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. Bill, boil that tongue with an onion and a few ribs of celery for a couple hours. Here’s a tongue recipe I’ve used with success several times.

    It’ll be the most tender roast you’ve ever eaten. You just have to get past the fact that it’s covered in taste buds (which you should cut off!). Slice it like a roast, peel off the outer layer, and prepare to eat an amazingly juicy piece of meat.

    Unfortunately, heart and tongue pale in comparison to the health attributes of liver.

    Cheers
    Scott Kustes
    Life Spotlight

    Scott Kustes - Life Spotlight wrote on March 20th, 2009
  2. Even though a couple of these are “ho-hum” foods from my childhood (tongue and liver), that’s exactly how they’ll remain: foods from childhood. I’ll eat steak and kidney pie, but the rest, as one poster said, goes to the dog.

    JD wrote on March 21st, 2009
  3. As an Argie, I’ve eaten all sorts of ofal. Sweetbreads just of the grill covered in chimichurri is godsent. I think some people bad experience with organ meat comes from childhood horrors of overcooked liver . When properly cooked most organ meat is wonderful. You may not like them all. I myself am not that fond of brains..to mushy but most people will find something to like

    alex wrote on March 23rd, 2009
    • AGREED. My mom ruined liver for me by boiling it, in plain water, untild the neighbors complained about the smell…and then served it for dinner. My brothers and I learned the value of holding our breath while eating, thanks to mom’s liver! Except for that one cut, though, she was an excellent cook…

      Rebecca wrote on May 4th, 2011
  4. The prion thing, I’m not sure about. It might be true that prions are contagious, but that doesn’t explain, for instance, how grass-eating sheep get scrapie from one another… I mean, that’s just *weird.* Or deer either, who also are not fed ground animal brains. I heard something about how certain classes of pesticide might be implicated in some cases of prion brain disease. And in other cases it may be caused by certain mineral deficiencies in people who live on volcanic soils.

    There are people who get CJD allegedly from eating squirrel brains… but gee… Americans with mineral deficiencies? THAT never happens. 😛

    So I’d say that if you’re all fired up about trying brain, stick with grass-fed and go for it. Organic, even better.

    But I’m with Grok. The Inuit ate the heart and the kidneys but left most offal to their dogs. If they ever ate more than heart and kidneys it was because they were about to move on to eating their dogs next. There’s something to be said for leaving something for the scavengers–it isn’t really waste! Especially now with us killing so many of them off.

    Dana wrote on March 26th, 2009
  5. When I was a baby, my mum used feed me lambs brains and vegetables, I grew up on tripe, liver, steak & kidney stew with dumplings …mmmmm

    When I met my wife who is from Fiji I got use to eating fish heads (brain is delicious) pigs heads (brain also delicious) and a lot of other cuts you haven’t mentioned but I know you’ve probably tried. (to have the head of an animal given to you to eat is the height of respect in Fiji)

    My favourite cut is definitely ox tongue.. oh boy that is choice eating right there

    dave de la ware wrote on March 27th, 2009
  6. I looove tongue. Cow’s tongue is a delicatessen in Russia. I love chicken liver and hearts! But I wasn’t able to purchase any cow’s tongue or chicken hearts in London :( My local butcher looked at me like I was crazy.

    Alla wrote on April 13th, 2009
    • Huh? Strange. A few brit friends I have know ox tongue well. Marine in brine water over night, slow cook to perfection and slice as cold cut for sandwich.

      bonchef wrote on July 16th, 2010
  7. Great article!
    When I was little my mom used to prepare thin slices of cow’s udder, fried in real butter with slices of apple. It was delicious. Beef’s tongue she prepared in tomato sauce with button mushrooms and madeira wine and a dollop of mashed potato on the side. I was never a fan of liver or kidneys, but have learned to appreciate the taste and now eat it with gusto (and onions). Sweetmeats are considered a delicacy here. Duck gizzard are lovely fried in duck fat with a bit of rosemary and tossed in a green salad. Tripe I find a bit more difficult, mostly because of the texture. To those people who think it is all gross, remember this: you can be certain that you have already eaten it anyway, ground up in sausages… If you are going to have an animal killed to eat it, it’s only polite to the poor beast to eat all of it. :)

    Gaby (Belgium) wrote on April 19th, 2009
  8. Was raised on this stuff, and love it! Try chicken livers with green peppers, and don’t forget giblet stew! Fry beef-heart lightly in butter, tastes like sirloin! Shank meat, rarely seen in the supermarket, makes the best stew, and ox-tail was a bargain-meat at one time! Need some nutrition, try pig’s feet, in a baking pan! Get some bones – beef bones, and hope the butcher left a little meat on them, and boil them for soups! Now, go snare a rabbit, and cook him up too! Next, catch some suckers, (a freshwater fish found in Canada) and get Mom to can them – tastes just like salmon, only better! I love smelts too, spring smelt runs meant fresh fish to fry after a long cold winter, and we would feast on them until we burst at the seams! Pike, Pickerel are the mainstays of our diet, but we like “poor man’s lobster” the Ling, easy to catch through the ice, and the secret to good eating is a good woman, who knows how to cook it just right! Deer and Moose, and even some Bear meat will get you through a long cold Canadian winter, so will a couple of squirrels if you are really hungry, they make a nice meat pie! Porcupines are good, and can be eaten raw if you are really desperate. We ate blueberries in season, and fresh dug potatoes, and pork hawks, sow-belly, and home made beans, French-fried potatoes in lard, and pancakes! Some of you city folks are , well, so citified! Try a BBQ’ed Prairie Dog lately?

    Uncle B wrote on April 25th, 2009
  9. Uncle B, that sounds impressively delicious. I’m hungry after your comment!

    Scott Kustes - Life Spotlight wrote on April 25th, 2009
  10. I’m a recovering vegetarian who is also salivating at the thought of tender tongues and hearts, and the unknown taste of kidneys and livers properly prepared. I’m surprised so many of you tough meat eaters are such big wusses when it comes to a nice slice of tongue or a chunk of heart! I’m not paleo – I’m a mixed type, but I desperately need more protein which is why I’m no longer vegetarian – even with a focus on eggs, yogurt and fish, it just don’t add up enough, I needed more. Like – kidney for breakfast! Tongue for dinner!

    Found this page when I was searching for a little info on organ meats. I hear tongue, once cooked, is nice out of the fridge sliced like a coldcut. My little girl and I will definitely be eating organ meats! Where else can you find such low cost and high nutrition?! After all, one of the benefits of being vegetarian/fisheater was the cheap factor, so to add meat and poultry back in, I have to be cost conscious. Glad I’m good with a slow cooker, I can get those tougher cuts and make them really tender.

    I just made beef bone broth for 16 hours in the slow cooker – so healthful – I haven’t eaten beef in ages but here we go! Bone broth heals the stomach (good for the celiacs!) and is a great source of calcium if you are sure to prepare it with a splash of vinegar. Beef bones are freely available in the grocery store, but I hear broth made with a lamb’s neck is quite nice – and similar to oxtail. Hmmm… off to find a lamb’s neck!

    I just think the practice of eating organ meats was tossed out with the practice of eating cod liver oil, and butter, and raw milk and so much else so many of us find appalling today. Citified? Good word for it.

    Carina wrote on June 6th, 2009
  11. I just read “nose to tail eating” by fergus henderson, owner of St. John’s restaurant in London. amazing book.

    I recently acquired a freshly killed 50 lb pig which sparked my interest in learning how to prepare the “nasty bits.” I ate some liver, kidney, the heart and used two feet in soup. tried a slice of what I thought was pancreas but might have been spleen… afraid the rest of the offal went to waste. never again, I am prepared!

    jon w wrote on July 10th, 2009
  12. Offal provides wonderful nutrition, at a budget price. I encourage everyone to eat it.

    Ox liver is my current favorite. I’ve yet to try sweetbreads, but have tried everything else mentioned in this article.

    Kind regards,

    Steve H

    Primate1 wrote on August 29th, 2009
  13. Hi, I found your website is very interesting. I’m looking for PIG INTERNAL ORGAN from all the farms in US and buy them export to other countries.
    Could you do mw a favor and let’s form a partnership?
    Please email me.
    Thanks
    Kevin

    kevin wrote on September 1st, 2009
  14. Wot about pig’s uterus ?
    Readily available frozen in most Chinese supermarket. Just ask !

    Doug wrote on September 27th, 2009
  15. Hi Mark,

    Everything that you show here looks delicious. I love organ meats especially the brain and tounge. My only problem is that I do not know where to buy them.

    Have a nice one!

    Dori wrote on October 16th, 2009
  16. I grew up eating Jewish deli foods including tongue and chopped chicken liver. I now eat chopped liver with cucumber slices instead of bread.

    Maxine Humpherys wrote on January 6th, 2010
  17. I’ve eaten organ meats for as long as I’ve lived – 67 years! Mother used to feed me raw scraped beef liver. I usually stuff a beef heart as I would a chicken or turkey, roast slowly and yummy! Tripe is the only organ I can’t touch!

    Margaret Guild Lambert wrote on January 22nd, 2010
  18. Chicken livers fried in butter and smothered with peri peri sauce. Yum

    Ricky wrote on March 21st, 2010
    • If you have a problem with tripe……You must have Flaki…a Polish soup that is simply amazing…..

      Oceanlogic wrote on March 22nd, 2010
  19. i’m just trying to muster up the courage to eat the liver & heart from an organic whole chicken i just roasted…..

    tiffany wrote on March 22nd, 2010
    • Oh you are missing out on something good if you dont eat the liver and heart. I would eat them right away before anyone else could get to them. They do not taste bad, very good.

      Sue wrote on July 2nd, 2010
  20. Having Sicilian heritage, tripe, liver and veal spleen were foods of our childhood. When these cuts are prepared the way my family or finer restaurants prepare them, they may become favorites with you also. Unfortunately, having moved to the opposite side of the country, I am finding it difficult to find quality organ meats, especially veal spleen which I cannot find at all. Perhaps you can point me in the direction for obtaining them.

    Rose Marie wrote on March 24th, 2010
  21. Wow, great post and LOVE reading the comments. I am trying so hard to use the offal that comes with the grassfed meat we buy from farmers just outside our metro area. Just made milzsuppe (Bavarian soup from spleen) last night and it was quite … normal!!

    Liver is nasty cooked the way most restaurants do. It MUST be fresh (not freezer burnt), sliced thinly, and delicately cooked.

    I would love a great book or website that contains many of the recipes y’all have mentioned. It’s so time-consuming to try to google everything. I found a lot in The Joy of Cooking, but I think I just don’t know enough to make it work. E.g., tried to steam heart in the oven, but couldn’t keep the water steaming the whole time and it was way dry.

    Gout, btw, is a consequence of excess grains/sugar, NOT meat.

    Grok – I thought the Inuits ate organs, for instance, the Weston Price story about the adrenal glands being how they naturally avoid the “white man’s disease” of scurvy. Where can I learn more about this?

    Would love to know how to use pig’s feet. I made stew with them, but there was only maybe 2oz of meat out of two pigs’ worth of feet! Are they just for making broth?

    My understanding was that CJD/mad-cow does not happen in grassfed cows. True?

    Desperate for more recipes …

    Mama_Grok wrote on April 10th, 2010
  22. I simply don’t understand why my fellow Americans are so squeamish. If you take a VERY fresh chicken, as are readily available in China, where I live, the liver, heart and gizzard are DELICIOUS (btw. Mark I’d be interested on your thoughts on freshness if you ever get the chance- in China live fish, chickens, frogs, eels, shrimp are available at every little produce market, whereas this is almost unheard of nowadays in the States)

    Nico wrote on May 24th, 2010
  23. Love Offal! I have never tried brain or sweetbreads, but I have eaten the other parts. Have to fight my daughter off with a stick when I do fowl liver, she eats it as fast as I cut it up after it is cooked. yummy stuff. Heart stew is really good, and I will try it ‘burgandy beef’ style for sure.

    Grok–Plains Indians did indeed eat offal. Liver was given to the hunters and pregnant women. Intestines were used to pack pemmican in and they used the bladders for carrying water, as well as using the stomach/skin to cook in. Sorry, Indians could not afford to leave anything behind. They used bone, skin, tissues, tendons, everything. Did you know that every animal has enough brain matter to tan it’s own hide?

    Spinner wrote on May 24th, 2010
  24. In my country we eat every kind of offal (except kidneys which for some reason hasn’t caught on) From pan-friend brain, to sour tripe stew I grew up with this stuff. I recommend it to anyone who hasn’t tried it.

    Tamas wrote on June 6th, 2010

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