Ask a Chef: Buying and Cooking Offal

Mj 618_348_ask a chef buying and cooking offal
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Growing up, offal (organ meat for less fancy of us) was not something we had around the house. My dad was squeamish of underdone pork chops, so chicken giblets were never going to be on our menu. However, most cultures around (and some fans of the paleo diet) the world have figured out a way to use organ meats, and rightly so. They're often rich in nutrients, giving you the most protein and iron for your buck, and they let utilize cuts that would otherwise have gone in the trash. The first time I tried an animal organ I was at a churrascaria, and I discovered that grilled chicken hearts are one of my favorite flavors. And then I ate sheep stomach stew at a Moroccan restaurant, and now I'm really curious about eating placenta. This is what offal does to you.

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Cooking with offal "it reminds me of all the foods we'd eat when we spent time at my family’s ranch in Mexico," says Chef Aarón Sánchez, chef/partner of Paloma in Stamford, CT and IMUSA brand ambassador. So, how to buy organs? Most of us have a good sense of what a good steak looks like, but a good heart is a little different. First, go to a butcher instead of the meat counter at the grocery store, and look for stuff of the best quality. The flavors of organs are so strong that you’ll really taste it if it's bad. "You want it to be firm, smell and look fresh and not be discolored or slimy," says Sánchez. "The organs should be cleaned of the membrane and excess fat." Once you get home, Sánchez recommends soaking the organs in milk for an hour or two before cooking, which "helps to break down and tenderize the meat."

That seems easy enough, but if you don’t know how to cook the organs it won’t be much help. Sánchez says to start simple with calf's liver, probably the easiest to find of all offal: "just dust with flour and cook with some onions, stock, butter, lemon, white wine and herbs and you have an easy and delicious meal." You can use the same technique with chicken livers, and then puree and refrigerate in small ramekins for chicken liver pate. If you want to incorporate offal with something more familiar, chop some liver or beef heart into a burger patty, or make steak and kidney pies. Mushrooms, lemon, fortified wines and chimichurri all go well with offal according to Chef Sánchez, so there are plenty of options.

A word of warning though–since organs are where the vitamins and nutrients are concentrated, they’re also where the smells are concentrated. I made chopped liver for Passover and my kitchen smelled like a smelting workshop for three days. Just be sure to keep a window open or something so the offal smell doesn’t get awful. Get it? Sorry, I had to.

Mint Creek Farm's lamb heart and cabbage recipe 

Ingredients

  • 2 lambs’ hearts
  • 2 cups lamb sausage
  • 1 cabbage, washed, leaves separated
  • 4 cups water
  • Seasonings to taste

Instructions

  1. Open lambs’ hearts at the top (larger aperture).
  2. Fill with sausage meat. Place hearts in cheesecloth (washed) and tie cloth with a string. Place in kettle.
  3. Add cabbage leaves, water, and seasonings.
  4. Cover and let cook for about 55 minutes.
  5. Drain off excess water, if there is any left.
  6. Untie cheesecloth bag and remove hearts.
  7. Serve on the cabbage.

Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 55 minutes
Serves: 4

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