This week’s Epicurean Concept is the current “in thing” for hipsters shopping at overpriced delis and cutting edge restaurants… and oddly enough comfort food for the poor and downtrodden – Offal.
Definition from the folks at Merriam-Webster:
Pronunciation: ?o?-f?l, ?ä-
Etymology: Middle English, from of off + fall
Date: 14th century
1 : the waste or by-product of a process: as a : trimmings of a hide b : the by-products of milling used especially for stock feeds c : the viscera and trimmings of a butchered animal removed in dressing : variety meat
2 : rubbish
For those in larger cities (or the south) the concept of offal might not seem that new or hip, but I’ve been hearing it pop up in conversations and am seeing it on menus, cooking shows, etc more and more these days so thought it’d be fun to cover.
The thing that interests me most about offal is that depending on the region you’re in or person you’re talking to, it’s completely different. In Japan, for instance, it’s perfectly natural to dine on grilled chicken heart….but I imagine it’s hard to find chicken heart in most grocery stores in the US. Few probably know of Sesos (cow’s brains), an original ingredient of our beloved quesadilla. I could go on and on with regions of the world and their different offals (read through the wikipedia link above), but will leave it at that.
The other point of interest to me about offal is that it signifies a full circle as far as our western dining trends are concerned. Originally when food was scarce, recipes were developed to eat the entire animal and let nothing go to waste. Then America was blessed with an abundance of produce, livestock, and the means to mass-produce. Suddenly dining on livers, hearts, etc was viewed as something disgusting…more disgusting than eating the skin and flesh of a beast somehow. But as the trend heads back to organic (non mass-produced) meat, our understanding and appreciation for the animal has returned. I think this is a good thing.
For those that are more adventurous, offal can offer interesting flavors not found in standard cuts of meat. Also it can be one of the safest bets on a menu. Why? Because it takes guts (pun slightly intended) to put offal on most menus, so if it’s on the menu, you can bet the chef has found a way to make things delicious.
Have any offal experiences, dishes, etc you’d like to share? (ie late night dining on fried pig’s intestines in Bangkok’s Chinatown, raw horse heart, etc) Let us know in the comments.