What's the Deal with Offal?

Recent food movements to make use of all parts of an animal and eat "snout to tail" have brought offal back into forefront of cooking. Even so, unless you grew up with it or are a particularly adventurous eater, offal still might not seem very...appealing...to you. Where do you stand?Offal is the broad term for the organ meats and other parts of the animal leftover after butchering. The most common kinds of offal are the liver, heart, kidneys, sweet breads (thymus and pancreas glands), tripe (stomach lining), brain, lungs, tongue, and intestines. Almost all of these can be easily found at a good butcher, and we're also seeing the more popular kinds more frequently at larger commercial supermarkets.

Offal is high in protein and many other essential nutrients, and dishes made with offal have often played a big nutritional role in parts of the world where other forms of protein are rare. On the other hand, many types of offal are also pretty high in cholesterol, so some moderation is required!

Offal can be cooked whole, as in dishes like tripe soup, fried sweet breads, and steak and kidney pie. Organ meats are also often used in terrines and pâtés for the richness and texture they add to the mix. We've also had salami made with tongue - not too bad, really!

Prepared poorly, offal can still be pretty darn awful (pun intended). So if offal is new to you and you're curious to give it a try, we'd suggest finding a good friend who knows how to cook with it. Second to this, try a few offal dishes at a good restaurant so you know how it should look, taste, and feel when you make it at home.

What kinds of offal and dishes would you recommend trying?

Related: Chicken Giblets: An Illustrated Guide

(Image: Flickr member Gee licensed under Creative Commons)

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