Offal 101

This is a guest post from Paléo Québec – and was originally written in french.

Liver pâté

Liver pâté

Recently, a blog reader mentioned a problem when she ordered beef on a farm which raises their animals naturally. Because of the lack of demand, the producers are not used to keep certain parts of the animal (such as brain or tendons) and others are hard to obtain. A butcher’s shop confirmed that they threw away some offal every week because of lack of demand. That is really sad because they are not only extremely nourishing but also delicious, if correctly prepared. If you splurge on a high-end restaurant, you’ll notice the menu will be filled with offal.

Environmentally speaking, it is a lot more logical to eat an animal nose to tail rather than to waste a good part of it. When talking about the density of nutrients of offal, they’re unbeatable. It’s not surprising predators first try to eat offal whenever they kill a prey. It’s what humans were also doing : stories of american natives tell that hunters kept the offal and fat for themand gave the muscle meat to dogs. Funny enough, we do the contrary today.

My reading of Hemingway’s « Africa’s green hills » has been quite a shock for exactly that reason. During the book, Hemingway feeds on mostly two things : offal and whiskey. He kills an animal, cooks slices of liver and has a kidney sandwich between two slices of liver.

“After having killed an antelope with your bare hands, eat it’s heart raw and season the rest of the

carcass with a little gunpowder, and the tears of your enemies.” – Hemingway


Here are the available types of offal you can try.

Liver : Personnaly, I have almost nearly never ate liver during my youth, so I didn’t develop a liking for the taste. However, since it is like a natural multivitamin, I try to include some every once in a while in my menus. Usually it will be steak au sautéed with vegetables, but it really is in a pâté form that I like it better. All the possible variations are interesting : with fruit, onions, or different alcohols. In general, veal and poultry livers have a lighter taste than beef or pork liver.

Bonus : grilling pieces of liver on a campfire. I did it a couple of times, not only it tastes awesome, but it is so much more nourishing than marshmallows!

Fat : Is awesome for cooking, and is dirt cheap. Beef fat is particularly good to make home fries or plantain chips. It is stable even at high temperatures, and tastes awesome – this is why the restaurant industry used it as a frying fat before nutritionists freaked out with saturated fats and started dumping vegetable oil and trans fats everywhere. Last I heard, the “Frites Alors” franchise in Quebec still used beef fat for their fries.

When you buy the raw fat from an animal, cut it in small cubes and put it in a casserole in an oven set on low heat for a long period of time. After a couple of hours the fat will be completely rendered – if you filter it, you can keep it in a glass jar and it keeps for months on end, even at room temperature. Be careful though – it smells! Open your windows.
Keep your eyes open for deals – it’s easy to buy high quality fats from a butcher’s shop.

paleo qc 2

Your diced up fest should look like this. Honestly it looks so monstrously

delicious and rich that I’d eat some raw if I thought it was safe.

Feet : Pig’s feet contain little meat and might be interesting in a crock pot. Chicken feet are better in a barbecue. However, they really shine through when you are making a stock. My girlfriend and I were wondering what to do with chicken feet that we had bought without thinking, and we discovered that they make our stocks all the more gelatinous and tasty… so much that we began using them as bouillon cubes : we keep frozen chicken feet in our freeze and we take one occasionally when we cook.

Kidney : It is the offal that is the hardest to deal with, because the taste is the strongest. The kidneys being a filtering organ, they seem to keep a slight urea taste, which is not very appetizing. Luckily it is possible to reduce that taste by soaking it in water for a day, changing the water 2-3 times.

Thymus gland / ris de veau : It is a gland in the throat of veal. It is an absolute classic of French cuisine and it is costly, with reason. You have to soak it in water that we change a couple of times, blanch them (a couple of minutes in boiling water), remove the excess flesh, dice it up and sautée it with butter with your personal choice of green onions, shallots, mushrooms…

Heart : Nothing says “barbecue” like heart. Chicken heart skewers and beef heart steak are both simple, quick and nourishing.

Tongue : Contrary to what you might think, it is one of the offal that is easiest to prepare. You let it simmer for a couple of hours in water, remove the top rubbery surface flesh (very easy to do), cut it up and sautée it in a pan with butter. The cooking water also makes awesome stock for soup!

The problem with tongue is that a lot of people figured out how delicious it is, so it is not cheap offal. It’s still an amazing dish to serve on special occasions.

Brain : It was one of the most… interesting foods for me to try.  On one side it was delicious, but on the other my own brain was working hard to rationalize it.  I tried a couple of variations, like steak or soup, but it is skewered and wrapped in bacon that I’ve had the most success.

Note: In mostly all of the recipes I’ve looked at, it was recommended to soak the brain in salty water and remove the external membrane before cooking it.  I did that each time I tried it, so I cannot tell if it makes a difference or not.  In doubt, you’d better imitate me.

Cheeks : The cheek is one of the costliest pieces of meat, with reason : it’s extremely tender. Don’t knock yourself over trying to cook the cheek : let it simmer a few hours with vegetables. I prefer to give them the provençal treatment with parsley, basil, oregano, thyme, and rosemary and a mix of tomatoes/garlic/celery/onions. If you combine it with spaghetti squash, your next Tinder date will be a success!

Prairie oysters (testicles) : I only cooked them once and just like the brain, it is a contest between my tongue and my brain. “Wow! It’s good! For nuts…” My aunt raises lambs and it seems like I’m one of her only clients that eats animal nose to tail, so sometimes I have a package of frozen lamb testicles.

December 31st of 2013, my girlfriend and I decided to bring them as appetizers to a party. We decided to cook them in a pan and coat them with a crumble of fried plantain chips. Almost everyone tasted it and the feedback was generally positive. Fun fact : we didn’t salt anything, but it was salty all the same.
In conclusion

For the brave, many animal organs can be eaten and the above list should give you a good headstart in the right direction. If you are not sure where to begin, invite friends over and make a special event out of it!

Bon appétit!

Paléo Québec