Thursday, August 30, 2012

Offal Good

When I was growing up I always got a little treat when my mom was frying chicken, she would fry up the heart and gizzard that came with the chicken. Many consider these tasty internal organs, offal, or icky bits something disgusting and nasty. Not for me, there was something about eating these that was so good. Was it getting a little taste of the chicken that was to come or was there something more?

Today, when I fry chicken I still eat those lovely icky bits that came from the bird. I get very excited when I find two hearts in the bird. I believe these small lovely gifts from the chicken became my gateway drug into offal.

My next step in eating offal was another beautiful item from the chicken and that is its liver. Southern fried these gems are so good. I love to make that 1950's cocktail party appetizer Rumaki from time to time. I can't get my husband to eat chicken liver, though he has tried it, he just hasn't become a fan. I can't give him a hard time about it because I have yet to become a fan of calf's or beef liver. It is probably from a lack of trying since you can't buy the liver in a small amount and I'm not going to make all that liver for myself and also you don't see it on too many menus anymore so it makes it a little harder to try.

Cow tongue, now that is something incredible. I first had that at Centro Basco in Chino, CA. They serve it sliced thin with some of the most incredible cheese. The meat just melts in you mouth. I continue to enjoy lingua at a local restaurant where they serve it in tacos. Thankfully I have been able to get my husband and daughter to enjoy this wonderful muscle from the cow.

I am a person who will try anything once and I seek the weird and unusual in food. I must be related to Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods somehow. Is offal really that bizarre or is it making a comeback? When you look back in history who ate the internal organs and unwanted cuts of meat? It was the people who couldn't afford to have meat everyday and used these pieces for the little protein they could get for survival. And they were in a time where nothing went to waste. They had to find ways to make these icky bits edible and taste good.

I am happy for the resurgence of offal as it gives me something new to try. I already mentioned I grew up eating the innards of chicken and thinking back I ate tripe in the menudo we would have when we visited friends. Offal cuts are not that easy to find in markets in the area I live in and you have to sometimes search them out, but they are out there. I have found a couple of places that I can buy beef cheek. I braise those just like a pot roast and you can't tell that it came from the face of a cow. It's still a muscle and doesn't look any different so don't be afraid of its name and give it a try.

Sweetbreads are a delightful organ that I have eaten a couple of times. I have been hesitant on making this as I am the only one in the house to eat them and they come in larger packages. If it looks like a muscle it will be eaten without hesitation by the others in the house, it's the odd looking items that give the others reason to stand back and avoid it at all costs.

Foie Gras from Caprice
Probably the most known or famous internal organ is that of the duck or goose, Foie Gras. Foie Gras is French for fat liver.  This liver is sumptuous and has a creamy texture. It is usually seared on both sides and served with toast and a sweet condiment on the side. It is also found in pate's and terrines. I have been lucky to have enjoyed this treat cooked to its finest at a Michelin Star restaurant, Gary Danko in San Francisco in November 2011.

Sadly the legislatures in California have banned Foie Gras from being produced and sold in the state. The ban went into effect July 1, 2012 and I was among many that celebrated this classic and wonderful dish at a Goodbye Foie Gras event on June 30, 2012 at Paxton's Cellar, a local wine bar in Redlands. The event was a successful collaboration with next door restaurant Caprice. The place was packed and the foie gras sold out quickly.

I still have a long way to go in eating offal and trying the different organs. Finding where the items are served is half the battle. I am always on the look out and ready to go when I hear of a place that is serving something I want to try. I hope some of you test yourselves and try something new when you are out. You might surprise yourself and find something that is Offal Good.

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