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Something Altogether Offal

Something Altogether Offal -- Appetite for Life -- © Microsoft
Human carnivores have a pretty easy time of things. If we want chicken breasts or pork chops, we simply go up to the butcher counter and order them. Such has been the way of things for a good long time, and we've been all right with that.

But there's another side to that counter, and over there, things aren't quite so neatly packaged. Chops and wings don't arrive at the butcher's already wrapped in brown paper; they come with the rest of the animal, and that animal has organs, entrails and appendages. It's what butchers call offal, a shortened version of "off fall" — quite literally the parts that fall off when the butcher is cutting out the prime cuts. And it's these parts that interest Chris Cosentino.

The executive chef of acclaimed San Francisco restaurant Incanto and a regular presence on nearly every cooking show you can name, Cosentino has made an art of preparing the bits of the animal you don't think you want — yet. If you take the time to read through Cosentino's how-to site on preparing organ meats, the puckishly named Offal Good, you'll find that he wastes no time in telling you what you're dealing with: Offal consists of the heart, liver, lungs, tail, feet, brains and tongue, along with a few other parts of the anatomy you probably don't want to hear named. We'll just let Offal Good do it:

"Ambivalence about eating certain bits of an animal's anatomy, such as testicles, is expressed through the use of euphemistic names," the site cheerfully explains. Glad that's out there.

The reasons for eating offal go beyond losing a bet. Offal is a good protein source, and other forms of nutrition can be found here and there in that mess of guts. But more than that, this "head to tail" approach represents a new way of eating meat — a way that discourages waste, broadens the palate and opens one's eyes to what being a carnivore really and truly means.

Plus, there are people besides Cosentino who swear this stuff tastes great. Yelp reviews are full of regular folk raving over beef heart tartare; waxing poetic over pasta served with pork blood, snail and pig head meat; and swooning over duck neck and porcini mushroom ravioli.

The prospect of preparing offal for consumption may seem daunting, but on Offal Good, Cosentino breezes through several recipes like they were nothing at all. Here are a few of the best, and some of his tips for making them:

- Calf's Brains With Porcinis and Capers: Cosentino describes brains as "a beautiful creamy cut," and recommends poaching them in a bouillon before cooking. He also suggests getting something called a brain fork, "which any self-respecting offal eater should own."

- Duck Fries With Bacon and Peas: No, these aren't potatoes cooked in duck fat. They're the aforementioned testicles, and Cosentino suggests browning them in bacon fat. "This is probably the hardest one to get folks to tuck into," he admits.

- Porchetta Di Testa: Better known as "a pig's head that is boned out, then marinated for two days with rosemary and garlic, rolled and tied, then braised for 14 hours." Cosentino quite naturally suggests "[splitting] the skull with a saw to save the brains and have a proper butcher's treat of brains and egg."

If you're thinking of exploring the wide world of offal in your own kitchen, make sure Chris Cosentino is your guide. What could it hurt to try?