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. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. 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
  11. 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
  12. 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
  13. 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
  14. 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
  15. 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
  16. 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
  17. 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
  18. 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
  19. I love the organs!! In Mexico we eat them all the time. We do not waste anything from any animal. Yummy!! By the way Mark, I was thinking of all my friends and family in Mexico (I´m in Canada now) and how they should go primal. You have a lot of amazing info here but it´s all in English! Will there ever be a version in Spanish? Just so you know, you would have millions of latin followers. I hope you can consider it.

    Lila wrote on March 8th, 2013
  20. After living in Thailand for 2 years, I want to get back into eating organ meats. I used to have chicken hearts and some kind of pig organ every morning for breakfast with a little sticky rice and green beans. Truth be told I didn’t know they were organ meats until someone told me but by then my morning meal was so habitual that it didn’t gross me out. Try to imagine the meats as another kind of animal (ex. your eating chicken hearts… “wow crocodile sure does taste interesting!!”)

    JJ wrote on March 11th, 2013
  21. Hey, great article! I love organ meats of all sorts, as much if not more than I like the muscle meats. I buy organs when I can from grassfed or naturally raised animals, and I always save and eat all the organs from my own chickens, ducks, and rabbits when I slaughter.

    The part about lighter colored livers being from younger animals, though…? I’m not sure that’s accurate. Definitely not the case with chickens in my years of raising and slaughtering them; fresh livers from young poultry are uniformly dark and firm, while livers from OLDER birds (spent layers and cocks typically three years old or older) are usually lighter brown, sometimes slightly uneven or mottled in coloration. I do not save or eat those livers. A dark, deep reddish-brown color and firm texture has always been to me the sign of a healthy, fresh liver from a young animal.

    Cheers, and happy dining!

    Sky wrote on May 7th, 2013

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