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. I often found Westerners’ aversion to offal pretty amusing. I’m Chinese after all, and the saying goes that we eat anything with legs or that crawls. 😛 My dad, when he was studying in Canada, would go to the veterinary school with other Malaysian students to just get the offal they were simply throwing away.

    Eating “the whole hog” has long been a revered custom for the Chinese. In fact, we frown on throwing away edible bits of the animal. We eat everything, including the ears and the trotters and I’m pretty sure … the er, reproductive organs.

    Elizabeth wrote on August 7th, 2010
    • I second Elizabeth. (am also Chinese.)

      i also agree with Carina that most Americans are wussy. XD

      regards,

      PHK wrote on September 2nd, 2010
  2. PS: Offal is considered a delicacy in many Asian cultures … my grandma would make Pig Stomach soup just for Chinese New Year. Good times.

    Elizabeth wrote on August 7th, 2010
  3. I just tried liver the other day and LOVED it! I didn’t even follow a recipe :)

    Primal Toad wrote on August 10th, 2010
  4. I’m from Argentina.. we eat all the foods you mentioned (also, cow’s small intestines, “chinchulines”), although they’re not everyday foods, and some people do find them disgusting. I love them all!

    Jess wrote on August 31st, 2010
  5. THE WORST PART OF THE ORGAN MEATS IS NOT THE FLAVOR. IS FINDING A ORGANIC SELLER. SEEMS MOST ORGANIC FARMS ARE NORTH OF TAMPA AND THEY DONT EVEN METION THE ORGAN MEATS IN THEIR WEBSITES. AND EVEN THE ASIAN MARKETS DOWN HERE IN MIAMI DON’T CARRY MUCH. ANY IDEAS???
    NOW IF I GO TO THE CHINESSE BUFFET IN PEMBROKE PINES. I GOT LOCO WITH THE TRIPE, CHICKEN FEET, OCTOPUS, AND PIGS EARS…:^)

    TOMAS SURIA wrote on September 20th, 2010
  6. OOOPS I FORGOT… IF YOU WANT FRESH FISH; JUST GO TO THE PIER WHEN THE CHARTER BOATS ARE COMING BACK. IT DOES NOT GET ANY BETTER THAN THAT.
    THE FISH GOES FOR 2 TO 4 DOLLARS A POUND. AFTER WORKING IN THE AIRPORT AND SEEN ALL THE FISH AND PRODUCE THAT COMES FROM AROUND THE WORLD; I WOULD NEVER BUY IT AT THE STORE, CAUSE I KNOW IS BEEN SEATING AT THE HOT TARMAC FOR HOURS WAITING TO BE PICK UP BY THE DISTRIBUTORS. AND NEVERMIND THE FEDS STICKING ALL KINDS OF GADGETS ON THEM, LOOKING FOR CONTRABAND. EEEEWWW..

    TOMAS SURIA wrote on September 20th, 2010
  7. Hi, Tomas Suria,

    I have the same problem.

    the Chinese & Spanish market nearby do have some offal (not as “extensive”). but they’re not organic or grass fed.

    last weekend, i found an organic (pasture) in a Farmer’s Market. & got pig feet & pig belly (both with skin on) from a the young American Chinese woman. she said one needs to call ahead.

    regards,

    PHK wrote on October 10th, 2010
  8. I had all of the above several times in my life time and I love them all. Thanks to my Chinese parents, they taught me to appreciate what I eat.

    Alex wrote on October 18th, 2010
  9. Ranch 99 for the win!!!

    Asian Mossback wrote on November 11th, 2010
    • really? thanks. are they of high quality? if so, then i have to visit Ranch 99.

      also i’m looking for Chinese recipes cause i really don’t know how to clean/cut/cook them.

      but recently i heard that in CA, Chinese restaurants stopped offering pig blood cake due to hygiene concern. :-( >_<

      regards,

      PHK wrote on November 11th, 2010
  10. I am on a raw primal/paleo diet…and I eat my organs like I eat my meat, raw. I have been on this diet for over 7 years, and am 44 years old. I got on this diet due to having Graves’ Disease(an aging disease), and now have no symptoms of this disease, and look like I am in my 20’s. My body is completely muscular, and my skin looks like that of a young person. Organ meats each contain the nutrients the corresponding organs in our bodies need. Since I added organ meats to my diet, my energy levels and health have gone up majorly. Liver does not contain toxins, it merely processes them, toxins are mostly stored in the fats of the body, which shouldn’t be an issue of the meat is of good quality. Cooking food period causes the following:
    “Cooking creates heterocyclic amines (HCA). Many of these HCA are directly or indirectly physically addictive.197,198,199,200,201 Due to the heat of cooking, these HCA originate from the interaction between protein and carbohydrates and / or creatine (in red meat) or nitrate (in vegetables).”
    http://xrl.in/77eo
    http://xrl.in/77ep
    Cooked foods also cause free radicals, and kill the majority of nutrition found in food, not only vitamins, but beneficial microorganisms which keep the body’s flora healthy. Such nutrients as coQ10 are completely destroyed. Living foods feed living cells, and therefore do not cause the effects of aging that dead foods do. We literally are what we eat…living muscle creates living muscle and living fats give us healthy body fat and EFA’s to fuel and lubricate the bodies systems. A lot of people on regular primal diets talk down those on the raw diet, but I can guarantee you, our health is superior.

    ShadowMyth wrote on February 10th, 2011
  11. So sad to witness the large number of Americans, spoiled, coddled and coerced by their currently failing capitalism, corporatism, left unable to stomach the good nutrition God has granted them in the form of wild boar, Asian fish infestations and the like! In Canada, we harvest our deer, moose populations by strict licensing practices, as we do for our wild fish, and game birds. We have no wasted surpluses, and we even condone and sanction the eating of seal meat, and the exporting of the same to our Chinese neighbors as food!
    We pray, Americans, when their dollar fails, and their corporatists, capitalists, have all moved to the Beijing, Hang Seng and Shanghai stock markets with their ill gotten American sweat-generated Capital, will be able, like the rest of the world, to stomach the lesser parts of the bodies of the animal kingdom killed in order to feed humans.
    Egypt has left the American Capitalist empire, Tunisia, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan,Yemen, and others are soon to follow – all these people cherish and hold in high esteem, the organ meats! Only spoiled, pampered, American palettes refuse to gain sustenance from what is really very good food!
    The Americans have been conditioned by their corporate, capitalist, masters, through the most powerful propaganda machine the world has ever seen, to be selective and eat only certain parts of animals, and only certain animals! No other nation in the world, no other force on earth has been able to accomplish this, and certainly not to boost the profits of the huge meat preparing houses! Imagine, in a world plagued by starvation, malnutrition, a race so self-centered as to refuse to eat but a part of a slaughtered animal!

    Uncle B wrote on February 11th, 2011
  12. Folks,

    a great way to get started with Tripe is to go to a local Pho place and have one of the soups that has tripe in it. Ask them to hold the noodles though!

    Rish604 wrote on March 8th, 2011
    • That’s exactly how I fell in love with tripe!

      Rebecca wrote on May 4th, 2011
  13. So far i’ve only tried heart and liver. heart is easy-peasy, just marinade for a few days, skewer, and grill. it’s pretty good actually.

    liver, ummm… i don’t think beef liver will be gracing our table again any time soon. maybe i’ll work up to trying chicken liver.

    i’m interested in the concept of “sweetbreads.” they look really gross, but i think it’s worth a try.

    Rachel wrote on March 9th, 2011
  14. I am salivating… with the exception of the tongue, I could see myself smacking someone with it before eating it. I was also REALLY afraid you were going to say eat the tripe with everything inside like my gives to her dogs, but the lining I can stomach… ha.

    Ieshua wrote on March 17th, 2011
  15. My folks raised beef cattle, and we ate the whole darn animal. So I was exposed to organ meats since I was a baby and never knew different – love it all but the liver, especially love the tongue and tripe. I was, however, always afraid the kids at school would find out that I was eating a heart sandwich for lunch…

    Rebecca wrote on April 10th, 2011
  16. For the foodie or adventuresome eaters who have never tried these cuts, this stuff…when prepared correctly is delicious. I have several recipes handed down by my mom which I would be happy to send to anyone who is interested. She was born in Sicily and moved to Tunisia…which is where I was born. As a result; the recipes are Italian, French and Arabic.

    Ben Oliva wrote on April 17th, 2011
    • I would appreciate any recipes you’re willing to share. Thank you

      Senorita Bonita Arizona wrote on September 30th, 2011
  17. I would like to offer some web sites for anyone living in and around Idaho State for organ meats.
    It took me an entire year to find suppliers willing to go out of their way and package sweetbreads, tongue, heart, kidneys, whatnot….and they’re all grass-fed/finished. All these animals graze on the mineral rich volcanic wild soil of southern Idaho.

    Here are some sites:

    Elk, Deer and Pheasant http://www.cabullelkranch.com

    Pork, Chicken (soy free), and Beef
    http://www.homesteadnatural.com

    Rabbit
    goldenpremierfarms.com

    The organ meats are not on the web sites and have to be special ordered by e-mail or phone.
    I wish everyone good health and a joyful life :-)

    Suvetar wrote on May 3rd, 2011
  18. 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

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

© 2016 Mark's Daily Apple

Subscribe to the Newsletter and Get a Free Copy
of Mark Sisson's Fitness eBook and more!