Offal is sometimes referred to as the side meats or “nasty bits,” of meat. But besides “head cheese” and “sweetbreads”, you typically know exactly what you’re getting into – heart, lungs, liver, and other organs that are nowhere near as misleading as the word “hotdog”. Here are five delicious, easy, and great-for-offal-beginner dinners to try.
1. Beef Heart Pastrami
Beef heart pastrami is a versatile meal that's time consuming to make, but delicious for first-time offal eaters. Pick up a beef heart at the nearest butcher and brine it for two days, then smoke it for three to five hours (depending on the smoker). After that, reduce the brine down a bit, then sous-vide it in the brine for another 72 hours. Once the wait is over, slice it up like you would regular pastrami, and pretend you're in some wacky mid-century New York City deli. A quick warning - beef heart can be, well, anatomically accurate. In other words, it's not a pretty, indistinguishable slab of meat you can toss on the frying pan: It’s a heart, and it damn well looks like one. But if you get over the initial squeamishness, you end up with a topnotch protein with all the taste of beef and texture similar to hanger steak, all for a fraction of the price. So there you go! Now, like the Tin Woodman from The Wizard of Oz, you too can enjoy the sweet, sweet taste of heart. The Tin Man wanted to eat the heart, right? Yeah, we'll go with that.
2. Haggis, Neeps and Tatties
Haggis, a traditional Scottish dish, is a pudding composed of sheep's pluck (heart, liver, and lungs) that is minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, salt and spices. Then it’s mixed with stock and encased in the animal's stomach (though commercial haggis mostly uses sausage casing these days), and simmered for around three hours. Haggis began in Scotland as a common dish of the poor, as it’s very cheap, yet nourishing.. “Neeps and tatties” simply translate to turnips and potatoes, which are boiled and mashed separately. Also, feel free to up the authenticity a Scottish-smidge by gulping down a dram (a glass of Scotch), especially if this is your first time eating a pile of mushed-up sheep organs.
3. Chicken Livers Fried in Sherry
You'll find this classic meal in many tapas bars, as it’s quick, tasty, and can stand as both the focus of a main plate or an appetizer. Frying chicken livers in sherry only takes about 30 minutes, and recipes are generally very straightforward: After chopping up the chicken livers, you toss them in the heated oil along with ground pepper, onion, garlic, and parsley, then let the mixture bubble until it no longer smells of alcohol. When it's finished, let your guests eat and drink merrily before telling them they just ate a bunch of chicken livers, and not the microwaved Chicken Presto Popper Any’Tizers they thought they were eating. If they complain, simply explain that at least you know what you're actually getting with the chicken livers.
4. Stir Fried Chicken Hearts
If your guests enjoyed the chicken livers, follow up with more of the chicken parts you bought at the butcher – specifically, their hearts. Frying up chicken hearts in a run-of-the-mill stir-fry is as easy at it is delicious - first mix your hearts with some cornstarch and garlic, then brown in a hot wok (or frying pan, if you want to remain unquestionably patriotic) with oil. Remove the hearts from the pan, and fry up some onions and mushrooms in the remaining oil. Then, add the chicken back in along with some soy sauce and wine. Cook it all together for another nine minutes, then serve with rice. If any of your party guests start to act a little weird, they're probably just getting overemotional from all the extra heart they've added to their body.
5. Fried Sweetbread
Following the logic of many offal dishes, sweetbread isn't actually a sweet bread, much like the way head cheese is not in any way a curdled dairy product milked from an animal’s skull. While the term “sweetbreads” can refer to several different body parts – including the tongue, cheeks, or testicles – it most commonly refers to the thymus gland of calves (and occasionally lambs), which are considered the easiest offal for beginners to love, since they have a creamy inside and crispy outside that rivals a scallop. There are all types of ways to fry sweetbread, but here's our favorite: Soak the sweetbreads in cold water, then poach them to firm them up. After poaching, roll them up in some paprika-seasoned flour and cornmeal coating, and finally deep-fry those suckers. This will give a crunchy exterior to the soft, pillowy interior. Dip them in some spicy sauce, and you'll be eating sweetbread on the regular.
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