The word “offal” originated in England as a combination of the terms fall and off, and was used to describe almost anything that wasn’t used during processes of preparation and manufacturing—i.e. byproducts of grain milling, stalks and dust from tobacco leaves, and the less valuable portions of butchered animals and hides.
Nowadays the word is mostly used in connection with animal innards. Synonyms for offal include trash, garbage, and rubbish. But one person’s garbage, could be another’s treasure.
Here in the U.S. there’s often squeamish resistance to consuming offal—like tongue, kidneys, intestines and pigs ears. We consider them dog food, not people food. But other organs like liver, bone marrow, and tripe are more familiar to us, and possibly eaten on an infrequent basis. The rest of the world is more conservation focused, and/or economically motived, to consume every part of the animal possible. Their diets regularly include many parts of animals we consider garbage. The times though, are a changing.
Anyone who watches Food Network and the Travel Channel in the last few years knows that transforming bizarre bits of animal parts into gourmet dishes has become quite vogue. This new trend is perhaps the networks fault for publicizing it so much, but offal turns up on celebrity chef shows all the time now. A few have even made it their platform like Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern; Close to the Bone: Surgeons and Chefs; or any one of Anthony Bourdain’s shows as he travels around the globe eating things we wouldn’t touch.
I enjoy watching Chopped on the Food Network. Although bizarre foods have been highlighted as a special theme in several shows, now regular Chopped competitions have mystery baskets that often include offal like pork bungs (aka rectum), pigs ears, and chicken feet—things I thought were inedible. Nevertheless, what those chefs did with awful, i.e. gross, animal parts was amazing. So much so I would actually eat (or at least try) every one of their dishes.
Then there are those who go too far…as in blogger Lucy Moore, who restricted herself to organ meats and entrails for an entire year and wrote about it. Some of her recipes included: “crispy pig’s ear salad, rosemary kidney skewers, stuffed veal hearts, pig kidney stroganoff, lamb’s neck curry, and pasta with blood and tomato sauce.” And if you’re really that interested, you can check out her page yourself. Even adventurous me is overwhelmed by that menu.
The truth is: I love food, all of it—and I’ve never shied away from trying anything. Although I will draw the line at reptiles. Rattlesnake was good—tasted like chicken—but alligator is just a fishy reptile—and there’s nothing good tasting about that.
So be adventurous. Take the awful out of offal and try a new recipe. Organ meats are nutritious and highly valued in other parts of the world. Join the latest food trend and don’t waste that tidbit—turn your trash into tapenade; your garbage into gourmet; and your rubbish into roux!
After all, you only have your dinner to lose.