Take a look at that picture to the right. Appetizing? While I wouldn’t be surprised by numerous affirmatives from the Mark’s Daily Apple community, for most people even the sight of brains, kidneys or tongue is enough to turn their stomachs. Nutritionally, of course, we can all agree that offal is fantastic stuff. Leading the pack is liver, also known as nature’s multivitamin and the best source of pre-formed vitamin A. There’s the heart, full of CoQ10 and taurine, and the kidney, a rich source of selenium, B12, and tons more. Brain (rich in omega 3s) and marrow (rich in awesomeness) got mankind involved in our million year-old torrid love affair with animal flesh, while tongue is rich in fat, protein, and B-vitamins. The nutritional content of tripe, thymus glands, eyeballs, blood, intestines, and other miscellaneous parts are less studied but undoubtedly just as impressive. But truly enjoying offal – diving into a slab of liver, a heart kebab, or a plate of brains with slavering hunger and conspicuous salivation because you crave it – can be a hard sell. You know it’s good for you, intellectually, but the hunger often isn’t there. It’s kinda like forcing yourself to like a highly lauded yet obscure French film or listen to some underground experimental rock band that no one’s really heard of but who influenced just about everyone. You know it’s supposed to be amazing, and everything points to it being objectively good, but you simply can’t get into it. I even see a strong undercurrent of Primal folks who actually feel guilty about not eating organs.
With this in mind, the Bees and I have been devising methods to sneak offal into our families’ diets, because I know it’s a common stumbling block for people, and successfully hurdling it means getting better nutrition. So, whether you want to eat more organs without suffering or you want to trick your kids into eating them, read on for some pointers. And guard this (publicly accessible to billions) article and its contents with your life.
Okay, so “liverwurst” isn’t exactly inconspicuous, but it tastes damn good and I’d argue that most people say the name without pausing to realize that “liver” actually means liver. Liverwurst is simply a type of sausage to most people, and a tasty one at that, so you can usually pawn it off without trouble. It’s especially effective when dealing with tiny humans who can’t read, like your toddler. A favorite of mine is the German braunchweiger (traditionally pork liver, sometimes beef or calf; try frying slices of it in butter and onion, served with cinnamon apples), and there’s also a Chinese sausage made of duck liver that’s very good.
Pate, being a spread, often promotes cracker or bread usage, so beware. I find a few tablespoons in scrambled eggs added right before serving is very palatable.
Look for quality sausages with simple ingredients listed (animals, spices primarily). A good online order option is US Wellness, but check out your local meat supplier and ask if they make liver sausages. Or, you could just make your own.
I know, I know. It sounds bad, but one of the Worker Bees swears by it. Whenever he makes a stop at his local grass-fed farm in the Bay Area he always makes sure to grab a few pounds of pet food. And no, it’s not just for his dog – he eats it himself. The particular blend he picks up consists of 70% beef trimmings (meat and fat from steaks and roasts that were, well, trimmed off), 10% liver, 10% kidney, and 10% heart. Apparently, it looks like ground beef from afar, but if you look real closely you can see darker streaks representing the organs. By his trustworthy account, it’s a tasty source of organ meat that tastes just like ground beef and makes great meatza dough, tomato meat sauce, chili meat, and stir frys. He’s been feeding his organ-averse wife the stuff for months now, usually via meatza loaded up with garlic, onions, cayenne, salt, pepper, and oregano, and she loves it. Any grass-fed beef supplier or butcher will probably also offer “pet food” at a bargain, so check. Slanker’s carries it, for example.
You might also check out the Whole Foods frozen section near the meat counter. They’ll often grind up heart, liver, and ground beef, freeze it, and sell it for $1.50-$3.00/lb, though it’s generally not exclusively grass-fed. And, of course, you could grind your own pet food mixes. Start with low concentrations of offal and work your palate slowly.
Stews are wonderful, are they not? You toss a bunch of tasty items into a pot, turn up the heat, cover, and forget about it for a few hours. Sure, you could get more complicated with it, but simply doing those four steps will generally produce an acceptable meal. Another thing I like about stews is that they’ll turn anything into gold – even offal. The dozens of flavors meld together to form something unique. You don’t taste the tomatoes or the turmeric or the ground beef; you taste the curry. Slipping half a pound of finely diced heart and liver into that burbling brew will only enhance the flavor profile, not disrupt it. Stray closer to a pound, especially with liver, kidney, or some of the other stronger tasting organs, and people might notice.
Keep your organs frozen solid and grate them into your stews, or run the frozen offal through a food processor to save on time, if you worry that even diced chunks will be too obvious.
Old school powerlifters and bodybuilders used to take liver pills and swear by their benefits to strength and stamina; today, you can order Argentine low-heat processed beef liver powder online. I haven’t sampled it myself, since eating actual liver is pleasurable and probably more beneficial than eating powder, but it looks like a good compromise. Plus, most Argentine beef is still pastured. Add a few tablespoons to a shake or a glass of water and choke it down. You may not be fooling yourself or anyone else into thinking it’s not beef liver, but a master chugger should be able to bypass most of the tongue’s taste buds and get it down quickly enough. Heck, make it a beer bong and I bet you’ll down it even easier.
Pills are also still an option (also from Argentine beef).
Heart, being nearly pure lean muscle, makes excellent jerky. Get a half-frozen heart and carve as thinly as possible (freezing makes accurate slices easier). For three pounds of heart, marinate slices in a 1/2 cup red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon cumin, 1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne, 1 tablespoon salt, 2 teaspoons black pepper for at least twelve hours. Let them dry on paper towels completely before drying. Obviously, a food dehydrator works best but an oven set to its lowest heat with the door ajar works, too. They’re ready when completely dry. Everyone will enjoy it, and best of all, you won’t be lying by calling it beef jerky.
I suppose you could use a similar method to make your own dried liver treats, though I haven’t tried it. I bet the flavor would be tough to hide.
Assemble several pounds of various organs. You could go all liver or mix it up with a variety; your choice. Cram your food processor full of offal, add a few tablespoons of water, and hit the switch. After twenty or thirty seconds, your organs will have become a smooth reddish brown slurry. If chunks remain, process it until they disappear. At this point, you have a few options:
Pour out shots of slurry (I never said it would taste good).
Add a couple ounces of slurry to a shake (again, not tasty).
Immediately use a cup of slurry in a soup, stew, chili, or curry.
Freeze your slurry, using tupperware, ice cube trays, or even just plastic baggies, for later use in soups, stews, chilis, or curries.
Use an approximation of Richard’s method for making red wine reduction sauce. I reduce wine to syrup, add equal parts beef stock and organ slurry, reduce again to a beefy red wine syrup, add a bit of cream, let it reduce some more, then turn off the heat and add cold butter to thicken. Bam: delicious organ gravy/sauce.
Be careful with this one, and exercise caution when dosing. Organ slurry can be powerful stuff. And your slurry will be raw, so if you’re going to eat it raw make sure you trust the source.
This isn’t about learning to enjoy the taste of offal. While a valiant quest to undertake, that can also be impossible for some, because it often means overriding a lifetime of cultural and culinary programming. This is about eating offal without knowing it, either by deception or taste-bud detours, in order to reap the nutritional benefits.
Any other novel ideas, readers? Let me know in the comment board!