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. Grew up eating Pork brains and scrambled eggs. There was always a cow tongue sitting on a shelf in the ref. and we ate liver weekly.

    Now, 45 years later, chicken livers and hearts are about all I can stomach. I raise rabbits for meat and save the offal (awful) for the dogs- I can it when I can the rabbit and mix it with their hard food.

    paladin wrote on May 18th, 2011
  2. So, I just tried to fry up some beef heart, nothing but heart, olive oil, and a little onion. It didn’t work too well – the musky flavor of the organ is really overwhelming. It looked like a tasty fajita with ok texture but I could only eat it covered in guacamole. Does anyone have a good recipe for a very strong marinade? How much does it cut the “blech”y flavor?

    Mary E. wrote on August 10th, 2011
  3. Sorry but I would never eat any organs of exretement. Innards have to come in a shell. Just regular cuts of meat for me.

    Jean Pare wrote on August 12th, 2011
  4. Was brought up on kidneys, liver, tongue and heart, brain very occasionally, and some sweetbreads. I love kidneys (eat them most mornings for breakfast), and little beats liver with caramelised onions and bacon. Heart I’ll eat if I have to, ditto tongue, but I really can’t stand brain or sweetbreads – I’ve not tried tripe – my grandmother used to boil it for the dog, and the smell put me off for life!

    oliviascotland wrote on August 30th, 2011
  5. I just made a rabbit meat, rabbit organs, pork liver, bacon and extra lard ‘casserole’.

    Had too many things thawing out at once so I made one big mashed pile of everything out of it…lol.

    And omg, it’s GOOD ! :-)

    Issabeau wrote on September 5th, 2011
  6. c

    chris wrote on September 8th, 2011
  7. We ate lots of chicken gizzards livers as well as pork and beef livers growing up. Our Granny raised chickens for a long time; living close to Mexico we ate tripe as in tripas de leche. As an adult I sampled beef tongue and one of my favorites, pork chitterlings. Got to the site after eating liver and wondering how healthy were organ meat(s).

    Senorita Bonita Arizona wrote on September 30th, 2011
  8. I just had scrambled eggs and liver and this just made me hungry again! I love organ meats. Being peruvian I grew up on anticuchos (heart kebabs) and tripe soup =) Peruvians eat a lot of toungue too but I haven’t had the chance to try it, yet. The only ones I haven’t seen in the market is kidney, brains, and sweetbreads. Out of the three I want to try that sweetbread the most :P great post Mark, way to open us up to organs because they really are delicious

    steffo wrote on October 18th, 2011
  9. have found tongue to be very good fixed two different ways. One was with a red sauce sorta like a pasta sauce. Good, and also a sweet and sour raisin sauce. Good too. Phyllis Skalak

    phyllis shakal wrote on November 7th, 2011
  10. i once ate a cow penis, it tasted delicious!

    Joe wrote on November 14th, 2011
  11. As a young houswife nearly sixty years ago, I cooked heart, brains, tongue, and recently I’ve gone back to those, plus sweetbreads. I did try testicles, and found them good when deep fried. I cooked and ate them by myself, and have told noone except you, Phyllis Skalak Las Vega I did write about it in my personal diary.s

    phyllis shakal wrote on November 15th, 2011
  12. Being adventurous and analytical, I’ve never had a problem braving the bizarre, so I’ve eaten pretty much everything on this list and made a few of them myself. I know many people, even if they dare to try, are often hesitant to experiment more due to the ‘gamey’ flavors, but once you get used to it, you often appreciate and crave the richer, more interesting flavors and textures.

    I wonder how Mark feels about head cheese?

    Matt Goldseth wrote on November 16th, 2011
  13. Great article! I came across this in trying to figure out whether organ meats may be used to replace fleshy meat. I grew up in a culture that eats all of these organ meats that you’ve listed. I love quite a few of them and even prefer them to “meat” which I often find boring. In your opinion, is it safe or even advantageous to eat more organ meats than “meat”? I am talking making organ meats my main source of animal protein e.g. 80%. Thanks!

    Xssence wrote on November 29th, 2011
  14. Hi guys,

    I just received my sweetbreads and I am eating one raw and unprepared!
    It is delicious. I think cooking would ruin this sweet and tender flavor.

    This would probably be best mixed in with steak tartar. Excellent flavor.
    I wonder why this isn’t being used to sell in conventional stores, too.
    This is considered garbage?

    Unbelievable!!!

    Arty wrote on December 3rd, 2011
  15. I tried Liver last year, it stayed in the freezer for months though before I could face it. But actually I quite enjoyed it, although I think it was overcooked. I will be getting some more. It was a hell of a lot cheaper than steak.

    As a child I remember eating kidney as well as tripe. I dont think I minded the kidney but dont recall liking the tripe, I just remember the strange smell of it. I actually thought tripe was a type of fish until now.

    Scott wrote on January 4th, 2012
  16. recipe for the ick crowd:

    1 dynamic offal good chef
    1 blindfold
    1 resistant offal consumer

    all the various offal selections
    prepared served ~ gourmet style
    and savored in blindness

    I would be up for that offal good experience and I bet many icker’s would be the next group of offal good eaters.

    JR wrote on January 12th, 2012
  17. I grew up eating all of the above, except for glands (just didn’t have a chance to try). Liver was served in our household regularly, we typically just quick saute it in butter, a minute on each side, no longer, and sprinkle some salt and pepper on it when done. My mom always said “don’t overcook the liver, it needs to have some blood in it” :).
    Then onions were thinly sliced and sauteed in the “liver juice” in the same skillet. And of course chicken livers were fried or made into pate quite frequently. Long live liver!

    crainny wrote on February 2nd, 2012
  18. You know what I wanna do? Put these in soup. Throw ‘em in the slow-cooker with a couple spoons of vinegar and a bunch of vegetables – and maybe a couple bones – simmer them on low for a couple of days, and make the most amazing POWER BROTH known to man!! >:D

    TQ wrote on February 24th, 2012
  19. I live in Brazil, and these organ foods are all very common here. Originally hailing from Canada, i have found it very difficult to get over the ‘ick’ factor as Mark so brilliantly put it. However, I am slowly acclimatizing! I already eat chicken hearts here, which oddly enough end up being more expensive than a lot of regular meats! Not sure i’ll ever get over tripe or brains though. I just can’t go there, although my wife’s dad eats it without hesitation!

    Jake wrote on February 24th, 2012
  20. I love tripe, grew up eating it as a kid and now I go searching for different restaurants that offer it. But I have an important question. I fully understand and accept all the nutrient value in the rest of the “offal”, but after the bleaching and cleaning that has to be done with tripe (to go from green to white), is there really any nutritional value left? For now, I eat it because I love it, but I’m not sure it is really doing anything for me from a nutrient standpoint.

    Amy wrote on March 8th, 2012
  21. I love this site I practically live on egg yolks and chicken livers -they are cheap and wonderful and versatile.

    I love sweetbreads, too, but have a hard time finding them, would love to find chicken hearts, any suggestions where to get them?

    I grew up eating tongue and tripe and kidneys so I’m down with all of this, a little cautious about cow products now -abut they do taste great

    dotsyjmaher wrote on March 8th, 2012
  22. Good posting… I’ve been eating raw organ meats for about 12 years. I began doing that after took a (now discontinued) supplement made of raw extracts of liver, pancreas, thyroid and a couple of other organs that I don’t remember. I did a bit of research as to how beneficial they are. My interest was initially only on the weightlifting end of the effect, but a little farther down the road of life, my interest has expanded to the 30’s and on part of life, where the natural production of hormones decreases.

    Eberhardt wrote on March 21st, 2012
  23. With the pink slime uproar, perhaps companies might start using hearts and tongues as their hamburger filler.

    I wonder how many people would simply be less squeamish about organs if they simply looked like another chunk of meat in their stew? I could probably tolerate eyeballs if they were minced and mixed with something.

    Hubby doesn’t like liver, but I do. For chicken livers I rinse them, then either throw them in a cold pan, put on a lid, and turn the burner to low for about a half hour, stirring occasionally. Or I soft-fry some bacon, turn the heat to medium, and stir the chicken livers often while the bacon is draining.

    For beef liver, I put fat in a hot pan and saute sliced onion, dredge the liver slices, push aside the onion and brown each side of the liver for about a minute, turn down the heat and pile the onions under and over the liver, add a bit of liquid to the bottom of the pan, and gently steam until the entire liver is evenly firm. (It should be a little soggy and have the texture of cold dense quiche.) Pull the liver out of the pan and add a thickener to the leftover liquid, preferably what’s left on the dredging plate.

    I use flour for that recipe, powdered cauliflower might work.

    Kelekona wrote on May 20th, 2012
  24. It’s simple. Place organ in pot/pan. Apply heat. Apply spices. Apply mental brainpower. Ope mouth. Insert organ. Chew. Swallow. Be happy!

    Good read Mark, I’ve been eating organ meats in smaller quantities (as delicacies) since I was a child. Now I’m trying to eat them a lot more often, had liver for the past 2 days in a row. Lightly fried in tallow in my wok, it’s delicious.

    The_Spartan wrote on May 21st, 2012
  25. Interesting. What about cholesterol levels in liver and arsenic content in chicken livers due to growth promoters? Also I’ve read that liver is moderately inflamatory. Why would that be?

    Jason wrote on May 29th, 2012
  26. in eastern europe where I am from I have been served and eating things like liver, kidneys, tongue (we even buy it in los angeles at jons) which are very delicious to my taste and can be prepared in a very nice dish. yum

    ed wrote on July 4th, 2012
  27. i have eaten all plus testicles love it all if cooked correctly with the right ingrdients and etc heart is rather tough

    alice wrote on July 6th, 2012
  28. Hi all! Great post!

    To everyone who is reading DON´T BE AFRAID OF THESE! I´m from Argentina, we eat these on a regular basis, sweetbread is considered a delicacy, I grew up eating tongue (my favorite!) and tripe makes part of one of the most typical dishes here. So try them, don´t think about it too much, and once you taste it you´ll forget all about any “ick!” factor.

    Veronica wrote on July 7th, 2012
  29. Hi There,

    I would really like to eat grass fed beef liver, but i was wondering, if you already take a high dose multivitamin like say the Damage Control Master Formula, wouldn’t you get Vitamin A poisoning (Hypervitaminosis A) if you also would eat liver?

    This is the only reason I’m a little reluctant to eat liver, I hope someone can clarify it for me.

    Remco wrote on July 12th, 2012
  30. I am a fanatical organ eater since I was a small boy and I’m very disappointed you left small intestines out the list… lookup “chichulines”…

    Julio wrote on July 26th, 2012
  31. Having Hungarian parents, I’ve eaten all of these and continue to! So delicious. Since cooking for myself after college I’ve not made these, since they just aren’t found as ingredients in many of the cookbooks I went to the past 10 years. Since going paleo I’ve gone out of my way to find them again. Thank you for the tips and assurance that my parents weren’t crazy! haha.

    Liz wrote on July 30th, 2012
  32. I’ve been having trouble finding a butcher willing to give some of the organ meats. Has anyone had success in getting the following items from small family-owned butchers who process meat for local farms?
    – Cow brain
    – Blood
    – Tripe
    – Lungs

    Thanks!

    Maggie wrote on August 19th, 2012
  33. Well, when I was a kid we used to eat pickled pig’s feet and “head cheese” which was a gelatin type substance with brain in it.

    I ate it cause my Dad ate it. It was good. Now, it just grosses me out!

    I’ve eaten liver, not bad. If I’m going to eat any of this, it will probably be liver.

    Rich wrote on August 24th, 2012
  34. Liver sautéed with bacon and onions. Yummy!
    Chop bacon and cook. Drain off some of the fat. Add onions and cook until soft. Add chopped liver and cook until done. Salt and pepper to taste.

    Tonight I an going to add ground beef hearts to my hamburger patties.

    Ruth wrote on September 3rd, 2012
  35. OMG! I am glad organ meats are considered to be good for you. I grew up eating organ meats a lot in Russia, especially liver and tongue. It never grossed me out. And now being on Paleo diet, I get even more excited from creating different recipes with organ meats.

    Anon wrote on September 11th, 2012
  36. Bravo Mark. Organs concentrate and hold nutrients in the body of any animal, so there is no flesh-cut of meat that comes close to the nutrient density of organ meats. In the NYT dining this week, I read about the Academy of Organ Meats, “academie des abats”. We may need to start one in the US. I’m in! -Dr. Maurer

    Dr. Richard Maurer wrote on October 5th, 2012
  37. Has anyone heard of what to do with spleen? That seems like the one organ meet not mentioned.

    Erin Kennedy wrote on November 18th, 2012
  38. i have eaten every thing all of you have said and can say for certian all is or can be wonderful if prepared correctly, also no one meantioned chitterlings which is also very good, thats the pigs intestines, and i bet most of you have eaten it ,thats what is used to hold the sausages together, smoked sausage,bratswurts boudin andouille and so on, thought its called casings in the stores, its just pigs guts. so if you’ve eaten sausages you are already into offal .happy eating all

    wanda wrote on December 18th, 2012
  39. I was telling my 32 year old daughter about my Mom making souse or headcheese when I was a teenager. Never tried it myself as I could barely tolerate the smell in the kitchen. She and my Dad loved it. Daughter wants to learn primal cooking but my Mom, born in 1908, did not leave these types of recipes. Is there a cookbook on the market for Primal cooking? Thanks for the article.

    Frankie Bidwell wrote on February 12th, 2013
  40. I’m going to start eating cow hearts and imitating that one line from Indy, ad nauseam.

    KALIMA!

    Thanks for the opportunity to annoy the piss out of my folks. ;]

    A Concerned Cannibal wrote on March 4th, 2013

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