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

Tails, Tendons and Tripe: A Guide to Discovering the Odd Bits

chickenfeet 1Put down your rib-eyes, don’t thaw those chicken legs just yet, and step away from the pot roast. Don’t get me wrong – those are fine examples of animal muscle meat. Delicious, even. But they’re not all that we should be eating. Not by a long shot. Allow me to explain.

The other day, I received an enthusiastic email from a reader who’d just returned home from the grocery store with a sack of smoked turkey tails. Thanks to a little holiday called Thanksgiving, meat counters across the country are inundated with turkey parts: gizzards, livers, hearts, necks, backs, and tails. Most consumers rarely think of using turkey other than as a “healthy” replacement for ground beef or during Thanksgiving. But not our reader. No, he filled his freezer with smoked turkey tails and the whole experience apparently inspired him, because he wrote to tell me that maybe if I wrote a post extolling the benefits of all the “odd bits” of the animals you eat, other readers would also discover a whole new culinary world.

I know what you’re thinking, because I thought the same thing. I already make bone broth regularly and eat liver on occasion. And I may pick up some “strange” things if I come across them (say, a lamb kidney, or beef heart). I usually thoroughly enjoy it all, too. But offal isn’t usually at the top of my shopping list. If we truly want to eat nose to tail, though – and we should, you know – we have to branch out. We have to delve deeply. We have to get creative. Our wallets, our taste buds, and our bodies will thank us.

So I went out and spent a couple days hunting down odd parts at the farmers’ market, the Asian supermarket, and my other sources. Here’s what I found:

Heads

heads 1

Ever since the Mad Cow Disease scare, heads of ruminants are hard to come by. I’ve asked many a farmer for a cow head on many an occasion, but I’ve always been rejected. It’s sad, but I guess I understand. Luckily, I managed to dig up a pastured goat head for a mere dollar per pound. This particular head ran me two bucks, and while its meat content is pretty scant when compared to a cow or pig head, it’s still a head, and that’s what I came for.

Goats aren’t geniuses, but they do have brains. Split open that head, scoop out the brain, and make like an ancestral hominid and cook it up. Okay, while our ancestors probably weren’t stir-frying their brain in garam masala and turmeric, they were eating it. Brain is a rich source of omega-3s, especially pastured brain, and it’s likely that landlocked hunter-gatherers satisfied some of their omega-3 requirements through brain. If you don’t want to bother splitting skulls, why not make some broth out of your head? Throw it in a pot, cover it with water, and toss in some spices, herbs, and a bit of vinegar. Turn it into head cheese (that’s what I’m doing) if you prefer, or just make some soup. Once the meat is tender enough, remove it from the skull to avoid overcooking.

I also picked up a couple fish heads – halibut and salmon. Three and a half pounds worth for $10. I’ve gotten these before, and my favorite thing to do is apply a light dusting of salt and pepper, rub some olive oil all over, and pop in the oven at around 350 degrees for just under twenty minutes. That’s enough to crisp the skin without drying out the meat or burning the fat. Once it’s done, go to town on it. The cheek is the best part, but use your hands to access the interior and keep a lot of napkins handy. You’re going to make a pretty big mess if you want to get everything. It should go without saying that these contain omega-3s, but there should also be a big dose of fat soluble vitamins, selenium, iodine, and other minerals found in ocean water. You could also make fish head soup, of course. If you want to make soup, have the heads cut at the butcher.

Feet

feet 1 1

People find feet gross, for some reason. Maybe it’s the fact that they’re in constant contact with the ground, and the ground is definitely not sterile. I guess I see where they’re coming from, but I look at feet differently. I like the fact that feet are what the animal uses to get around, because that means the feet bear all the weight. And any body part that has to handle a lot of force – like the foot – tends to have a lot of collagen, cartilage, and other connective tissue to deal with all that stress. That’s why feet make the best stock. Chicken feet, pig feet, beef feet – they’re all incredibly gelatinous and when you cover them with water and apply heat for 24-48 hours, amazing stuff happens. There is very little meat, so soup/broth/stock is the best option here. Dim sum joints serve fried and braised chicken feet, so I suppose you could play around with that dish. Now that I think of it, a chicken foot braised to the point of disintegration would be really good.

I got pig, beef, and chicken feet for $0.99/lb, $1.29/lb, and $1.99/lb respectively. I’m going to make some stock so rich and so thick that you could sleep quite comfortably on a bed made of it. I suggest you do the same. I kept the beef and pig feet intact for the photo’s sake, but if you get any sort of large animal foot from the butcher, have them cut it up to make the stock-making easier.

Tails

bettertails 1

As you can see, the bison tail (which is very similar to beef oxtail, really) is meaty and massive, while the pig’s tail is quite small (and unfortunately not curly). Both are super-gelatinous and both make excellent broth. Both tails have a fair bit of meat on them, so I’d recommend a braise or a crockpot recipe where the meat is featured prominently. Don’t just treat the tails like broth bones. They’ll make a fine, rich stock, sure, but there’s also some good eating to be had. Cook ‘em long and slow and let them cool a little bit before you plunge in.

I picked up a box of pastured bison tails for $2.90 a pound and a few pork tails for a dollar per pound. The bison tails were whole, so I had to cut them up myself. Cutting a big bison tail without professional equipment requires getting in between the vertebrae. Use your fingers to find the joints and go from there.

Stomach

pigstomach 1

While your first inclination may be to retch at the idea of eating a pig’s stomach, I like to call it the Primal crockpot (or, alternately, the Foolproof Sausage Casing). It’s tender, rich, mild, and assumes other flavors really well. Most cooks usually use stomach as an encasing for ground up meat and vegetables. Since what stomachs do in the wild is hold food, it’s an obvious way to cook with it, but another option is to boil and chop it. You could eat the boiled stomach as is (or in soup), or you could dry it off, toss it in spices and fat, and roast/saute it until browned and crispy. I recommend something spicy and sour, maybe a cumin-chili-lime-olive oil spice mix, or even a turmeric-chili-vinegar-coconut oil one.

Stomach isn’t a nutritional powerhouse on par with liver or kidney – it’s mostly fat and protein with a nice dose of selenium – but it’s cheap, it’s tasty, and you can fill it up with other foods (think massive rotund sausage). I paid $1 per pound for mine.

Spleen

porkspleen 1

Spleen is sometimes called a poor man’s liver. It tastes a bit like it, but not as strong. It kinda looks like it, but not when you look closely. It’s high in iron, copper, selenium, and vitamin B12. It’s more delicate than liver with none of the retinol.

I got pork spleen, also called pork melt, for a couple bucks per pound.

 

Tendon

beeftendon 1

When most people want real broth, they turn to bones. I mean, bone broth is great. It’s alliterative, for one. It makes your house smell good (or terrible, depending on whom you ask), and it is filling on a cold day in a way that only meaty liquid can be. But if you’re a true rich broth fiend, if you’re a devout Ray Peat-ian, if you’re all about the gelatin – you had better go out and procure yourself some beef tendons. A tendon is a prime piece of connective tissue designed to hold muscle to bone and withstand all the crazy tension and force and stress that such a relationship inevitably entails. Thus, it is pure collagen, which means good things for your broth. Of course, it’s just collagen without the bone, so the broth won’t have that boney meatiness, but if you add a few bones to the mix you’ll get the best of both worlds. Tendons are basically fat-free, but a well-cooked tendon gives a mouthfeel similar to good pork belly. Good braised, good in soups.

Beef tendon ran $2.99 a pound. I got two large tendons for $4.

Tripe

moretripe 1

Tripe is (usually beef) stomach lining. Of course, cows have several stomachs, so there are several types of tripe. I bought book tripe, which comes from the third compartment in a cow’s digestive system – the omasum. As you can see, it’s white, but that’s only because to prepare it for human consumption, tripe is thoroughly cleaned. Uncleaned tripe is intense stuff. Dogs love it, it smells like a barn, it’s green thanks to all the partially digested plant matter, and because it’s literally a cow’s gut, it’s a good source of probiotic bacteria. I almost wish it was palatable in its uncleaned state, because it’s supposed to be a nutritional powerhouse. Cleaned tripe is very mild. Its fibrous texture demands long, slow cooking and it goes well with spicy soups (a lot of tripe is used in Southeast Asian and Mexican cuisine). High in protein with a good amount of calcium.

A little over a pound of tripe cost me $3.75.

Blood

pigblood 1

Blood is scary. Too much of it in the room at once means someone’s hurt, usually seriously. It’s red, really red. But countless cultures across history have used (and still use) blood in their cooking. Okay, so what does one do with blood? If you’re Maasai, maybe you drink it raw. If you’re an ancient Spartan, you make melas zomos, the “black soup.” If you’re a cured meat artisan, you’d probably make blood sausage. Cubed fully coagulated pork blood is often used in Southeast Asian cooking. One of my favorite soups from a local Hollywood Thai restaurant uses pork blood cubes. The texture makes it feel like blood tofu.

The blood I bought came from a pig and cost $2 a pound. When you buy blood from the meat counter, it’s already partially coagulated. This makes for easy handling, as you’re not dealing with a pure liquid. When it’s coagulated, you can pick it up and it stays relatively solid. Coagulated blood is incredibly fragile, though, and it’ll break apart at a moment’s notice. Nutritionally, there’s not a lot of available information. It’s definitely going to be high in iron, and it has a fair amount of protein, while according to this source (which references lamb blood), it’s quite low in fat and carbs. I plan on trying blood cubes in a homemade coconut milk soup (from Primal Blueprint Quick & Easy Meals). If you want to cook with blood without it fully coagulating, add vinegar.

Trim

beeftrim 1

After the butcher removes the steaks, the roasts, the burger meat, the ribs, the loin, and every other cut that enjoys name recognition, he’s left with scraps of meat attached to the animal carcass. Of course, if you’re dealing with an animal as big as a cow, those “scraps” are actually quite substantial. Enter beef trim. The beef trim I purchased came in three oddly shaped slabs of good, deep-red grass-fed beef. They weren’t steaks, and they weren’t roasts, and the angles were all weird, but these were solid cohesive pieces of meat that could easily be cut up for stews, soups, ground into ground beef, or even made into jerky. It’s only trim because it wouldn’t look pretty in a display case. Other than that, it’s great meat at a great price.

I paid $3.50 a pound for grass-fed organic beef trim.

Well, that’s my haul. Between all of that, the “regular” parts described in my offal post from way back, and the post showing how to get this stuff into your diet, I’d say you have plenty of material to work with.

The beauty of buying all the odd bits is trifold. First, you’re getting a wider range of vital micronutrients, vitamins, minerals, and connective tissues that just don’t exist in large amounts in regular muscle meat. Second, it’s an affordable way to get your hands on high-quality, pastured animal products. You think you could ever find grass-fed, pastured muscle meat for a few dollars per pound? No way. And third, you are personally seeing to it that the animal in question does not go to waste. It’s not turned into poor quality pet food, nor is it discarded. It is utilized and enjoyed by a person that truly appreciates it.

Now I’d like to hear from you. What are your favorite odd bits? Are there any parts you’ve been dying to try, but haven’t found the courage to go out and find? Well, consider this post a challenge. Go branch out. Eat some weird stuff. It’s good for you and it’s delicious to boot. Make it so that it’s no longer weird, it’s no longer a special occasion, but just something you eat.

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 am absolutely grossed out by most of these things. I’ll eat some weird meats (http://kooztop5.blogspot.com/2011/12/top-5-weirdest-creatures-ive-eaten.html), but I am not a big fan of weird animal bits!

    Kooz wrote on December 21st, 2011
  2. I recently went home to a family feast and had beaver feet and tail, porcupine and whale. I ate it all, but a bit rich for my stomach. The beaver and whale, especially had very high fat content.

    Savage67 wrote on December 21st, 2011
  3. I am fascinated by everyone’s comments. I was not raised with any offal, save liver and did NOT like it as a kid. Just got some from my grass fed beef guys and will give it an honest try. Probably mixed into a meatloaf. I’m going to stretch my tastebuds this next year. Proud of myself for having beef tongue at a Basque restaurant last week.

    T Hut wrote on December 21st, 2011
    • I knew there was a reason I still fear meatloaf even my own… LOL

      Star wrote on December 22nd, 2011
  4. I love grilled chicken heart, grilled chicken tail and pork intestines.

    Jacq wrote on December 21st, 2011
  5. When I was a kid we ate chicken hearts & gizzards a lot! I love to boil them a bit and then either toss right away with melted butter or saute with butter and garlic.
    We raise our own chicken and turkeys, but a friend slaughters. The first group came back and I said “Hey where are all the hearts & gizzards?”. He did not think I looked like the “type” to want them. LOL!
    He actually gets good money selling the feet.

    mary b wrote on December 21st, 2011
  6. Liver cooks quickly. When over-cooked, it becomes tough and almost inedible – this is the usual reason for hating liver.

    terrymac wrote on December 21st, 2011
    • Good to know.. my mom admitted to me as an adult she was a terrible cook, now I know why I couldn’t stand the liver and could barely chew it!! She just overcooked the stuff!

      Eileen wrote on December 23rd, 2011
  7. For those of you that want to branch out a bit, but are leery of diving in head first, I recommend smoked turkey tails if you can find them.
    Being smoked, they’re obviously pre-cooked and only require being heated up. In my opinion, they’re the most delicious part of the turkey. They’re rich, and fatty, but certainly not too fatty. It’s about 90% edible meat (with the remainder being the tail itself). I’ve seen them priced between $1.99-$2.99/lb, which for minimal bone loss, is quite good.
    They require no sauce. Please, try these! You can thank me (and Mark) later.

    Cheers,
    Nick

    Nick wrote on December 21st, 2011
  8. Offal’s kind of like a staple at our house. I grew up on tripe, gizzards, and feet. Yum! :9

    Venne wrote on December 22nd, 2011
  9. I absolutely love this post. So many great ideas on how to cook offal. I haven’t tried all of these animal parts yet, but I now know how to cook them if I ever find some of the more ‘hard-ti-find’ items. Definitely need to be making friends with local butchers.

    I am surprised by how many long-live former vegans and vegetarians visited this post. That’s pretty bave of you guys:) I’m proud of ya!

    Next month I’m planning on starting elimination diet and I will be making and eating a lot of bone broth’s and trying to get as much fatty parts of meat in it as I can. This post couldn’t have come at a better time. One thing I’m most excited to try is ox-tail. I imagine it’s going to be so tender, sticky and flavorful that I will die and go to heaven after I eat it.

    chocolatechip69 wrote on December 22nd, 2011
    • Thanks for the praise! I was just thinking the same thing as you. This post has been a delight to read, well when I want retching HA!

      Star wrote on December 22nd, 2011
  10. We love turkey tails, but we call them pooters. “Hey, pass me one of those pooters, please.”

    Donna wrote on December 22nd, 2011
  11. Wait, aren’t you in Malibu? How are you getting Marin Sun Farms trim all the way down there?

    Gillian wrote on December 23rd, 2011
  12. I have eaten weird items at my Mexican neighbors house, and really it wasn’t bad at all, but for me I am going to at least branch out and buy some beef trim at my local grass fed farm, I would really like to learn to make my own nutritious broth at home, whether it is using chicken parts or beef… this really interests me. My mouth gets weak looking at the other stuff, whenever I pass chicken feet at a grocery it makes me queasy.. hopefully one day I will give it a try. :)

    Eileen wrote on December 23rd, 2011
  13. I’ve wanted to try lots of offal and whatnot for a while, particularly brain(I’ve eaten it from crayfish and a lobster but I couldn’t really taste a difference from the rest of the meat).
    I’ve had liver a number of times and think its ok. It’s nutrititous and cheap and makes a decent meal slow-cooked with onions.
    A few months ago I was living on the street and ran out of protein so I “caught” and ate some clam-like creatures(I thought they were clams, my friend said oysters, I looked up both and I don’t know what they were.. they look like dark brown, oval clams) from a river a few times and they made interesting meals. I boiled them and at first opened them up and bit right into them, a couple times ending up with a mouthful of pungent, mushy, greenish-brown stuff that I think must have been the filter part containing partially digested plant matter or algae. It was gross so I ended up just eating the outside flaps and discarding most of the body, but I used some of the broth for a soup on the side with raw fresh tomatoes, olive oil, spices, and olives, which was alright. The flaps tasted decent and seemed to be a good, rich protein source. They were tough and chewy.
    When I lived with a few cats they used to bring their dead rodents back to the house and sometimes just leave them and I wish I had tried cooking some. I didn’t consider it until recently but I bet there would be some benefit, if only that it’s a free meal.
    This summer I’ll probably do a lot of fishing and maybe some hunting and trapping because I want to try to live off the land more (I’ve really just scratched the surface) and eat a varied, natural diet.

    Animanarchy wrote on December 24th, 2011
  14. Besides pâté, my favorite preparation of liver is Lebanese style. I recommend it to anyone who wants to give liver a try for the first time. It’s basically sautéed chicken liver that has been marinating in garlic, lime and mint the previous night. The lime kills the “liver flavour” for newbies.

    And as for pâté, not all pâtés are created equal. There are dozens of varieties and styles. I love pâté, but have also had a lot of bad ones. Hint: it shouldn’t taste metallic or bloody. Don’t let one bad experience ruin it for you. Try again.

    jinushaun wrote on December 25th, 2011
  15. Awesome post…I live in madrid where there are local butchers in a market, and then there are the “odd bit” guys that sell only that. All of the above is easily come by. Haven’t tried it all, but mostly for lack of experience in how to handle. One of my favorites: roasted, crunchy chicken tails…delicious, delicious chicken crispy fat.

    RicT wrote on December 25th, 2011
  16. I’m surprised, with all this talk about offal, that no one has mentioned chitterlings (pork intestine). Or maybe they have and I just missed it. Thoroughly cleaned, slow cooked with spices, onion and lots of apple cider vinegar and hot sauce. Also putting ham hocks in my greens and a big slab of ribs, it’s my New Years meal! I used to limit this to once a year (yearly indulgence) But now I am actually looking forward to having this throughout the year!

    Trishie wrote on December 26th, 2011
  17. I’m also surprised. Cow’s intestines (“Chinchulines”) are great. Cow’s salival glands (“mollejas”) such a delicacy that you can get hooked on them. They are quite fatty and have a very delicate taste, nothing like you imagine.

    You can google both terms and find links to uruguayan and argentinian pages and photos. They are served in restaurants and cooked at home in our BBQs.

    Grok would be proud!

    Álvaro wrote on December 27th, 2011
  18. I used to cook with blood regularly until I moved on campus at uni.
    They thought I was strange for eating my steak bleu. I’d hate to think what they would have said if i’d continued cooking with blood.

    Charli wrote on January 2nd, 2012
  19. stew pig feet is a Chinese dish.

    they also make amazing broth (lot’s of gel).

    PHK wrote on January 5th, 2012
  20. Hi Mark nice to meet you I am so happy when I can share with other offal lovers

    marieclaire saint maux wrote on July 24th, 2012
  21. My favorite offal at the moment is book tripe, the omasum. I buy it at the Asian Market for 2.75/lb, cleaned, partially cooked. There is no odor to this at all. I slice it thin like noodles. After boiling in salted water for 5-8 minutes, I rinse it to cool it. Mixed with veggies as a cold salad, it’s hard to tell it’s tripe. It has a crunchiness that is more like vegetable and even looks more like a veg. No strong taste or odor. Great source of protein. Great with any type of dressing or sauce. Thinking about using this tripe in place of pasta for marinara. Also would be good in stir fry.

    The other tripe, the rumen, I use for other more typical tripe dishes. I don’t care for honeycomb tripe at all.

    chieko wrote on September 5th, 2012
  22. I am having trouble finding most of these items from grass-fed sources. :(
    I have tried calling various butchers, but have been told that USDA inspected facilities are not allowed to sell most of these items.

    Where do you buy them?! I am dying to try beef feet and tripe. The tendon also looks awesome for soup…

    Maggie wrote on October 20th, 2012
  23. for the bison tails (uncut) do we HAVE to cut them up? or can we crockpot them whole?

    ds wrote on November 22nd, 2012
  24. My grandparents ate cow brains with scrambled eggs and cow tongue and had chicken feet to make for soup “~

    Dinny wrote on January 27th, 2013
  25. Just made my first batch of chicken stock with feet — Oh wow! Incredible depth of flavor! So rich and velvety! I’ll never make stock without them again.

    Peace Karen wrote on January 31st, 2013
  26. It’s a very good article…reading all those part came with nutritional explanation. I’m Indonesian, which is very familiar with those you’ve written above. But we just ate them without thinking about the nutrition, only the joy of eating the taste when they are turning into a tasty meal. We use it all, from head to toe (including tail) in our cooking. From fish to cow. Even the skin from fish & cow, we can turn into chips for snack :) We have so many recipes that turns them into a tasty food

    najia adiyanti wrote on April 7th, 2013
  27. I’d like to know what nutritional value – if any – eating tendon could provide?

    Denise wrote on May 8th, 2013
  28. Pickled chicken feet and duck feet prepared in pressure cooker with vinegar, seasonings and salt. You end up with lots of gelatinous collagen too. Great with a cold brew and they really creep people out if they’re not into eating weird stuff. That’s ok. More for me!!! LOL

    chieko wrote on August 13th, 2013
  29. Makes me hungry. These are all available at asia. Usually at night markets…or at random streets.

    Owner wrote on March 31st, 2014
  30. For those with damaged hips and other joints (and for your pet dogs -cats?) eat ligaments/tendons daily. However, there is a catch.
    We’ve both been eating bone broth with cooked ligaments/tendons with some admirable improvement to our hip joints. Then I began giving the things raw to my elderly dog and within days she could walk longer and could get up and down stairs as well as in her younger days. I haven’t had to carry her home once in three months now nor have to carry her up and down stairs.

    So I took a chance and began eating the things raw myself. I butcher them quite thin with my cleaver for quicker ingestion (taking care not to slip and cut my fingers) and then I just gulp about an inch or so’s worth down twice a day. They have no taste. It’s like eating elastic bands.

    Amazingly within three or four days the pain in my hip disappeared. I always have some pain there and sharp pain when I am not careful in walking; at night, when I turned in bed, I was often woken by the sharp pain. I have had no such pain in going on two months, no wakeful nights either. Then last week I was negligent and didn’t take any for three or four days. The pain began to return. Won’t be doing that again. These rubbery guys are lifers.

    There must be something in the natural glucosamine or whatever is in this food when it is not cooked that is healing our hip joints or at least extinguishing pain. Thirty + years of suffering seems over, and though I still walk with a limp, it seems less so, though I have to have that verified from another’s point of view.

    An curious aside: I was told in ’98 that I’d have to have a complete hip replacement within five years. I’d just finished trying Dr Ornish’s diet for four months. I’d gained forty pounds (I am stubborn; he claimed weight gain might be a problem but then it would come down but there was ups but no downs, Dr O.) and my specs had gone through the roof—triglycerides were at the high danger level. That is when I tried the Atkins’ like diet of D’Adamo’s “O” type. I tend to use my body as my laboratory.

    Also, I can’t have wheat. I found that out on Dr D’Adamo’s diet for O blood fifteen years ago. I lost about 80% of the excruciating pain avoiding wheat completely.

    mhikl wrote on July 1st, 2014

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