Offal

If Americans are so averse to offal, how come it is priced so high? There was a time when liver, kidneys, sweetbreads, etc. were really cheap, and not infrequently seen on the table. Now, they sell for as much as the best muscle meat, so they are rarely found on the table anymore. I have heard that many of these desirable parts, which many of us grew up on, are no longer cheap or widely available because dog-food manufacturers buy it all up. My cousin and I used to fight over the unlaid eggs in chicken soup; my mother used to fricassee the feet; you can’t even get those parts nowadays, not even from Amazon.

I love liver. Liver sausage, liver and onions, liver pate, chopped chicken liver, it’s wonderful.

Other bits, I have to admit I like less, or I’ve never had them.

Stuff like brains, kidneys, testicles, no, I’ve never tried. I’d be willing though.

I’ve had heart meat. It’s a little tough. Tongue is a tad stringy for my taste. (Does tongue count as offal?)

I’ve tried chitlins. I will not be eating that again, I think. I’ve had tripe. It wasn’t spectacular. Maybe cooked differently, I’d sample it again.

I’d like to try haggis. I wouldn’t even mind the bagpipes over the muzak, or whatever.

I assume it’s supply and demand. You’d think low demand would lower prices, but Americans want to shop at grocery stores, and many butcher shops only use packaged large cuts of meat. So because of the low demand the supply at these outlets is very low and they can charge whatever they’ll get from the small number of customers who want the organs. I think you’ll find some small butcher shops and meat packers would have these products at reasonable prices. Some ethnic specialty groceries and butchers will carry these items at reasonable prices because they have enough demand to order in quantity and use them to produce their own sausages.

I’ve noticed this as well. There seems to be a threshold effect in brick-and-mortar retail, where if an item doesn’t sell well and consistently it won’t be carried at all. Waste of storage and shelf space, as it were. This is the “long tail” that the internet is supposed to fix for us, in the sense that there’s SOMEONE in the world who carries this rarely-desired commodity, just not the grocer down the block. But that also means that a rarely-desired commodity turns into a “special-order only” commodity.

Link to the column being discussed.

We have a subscription with a local (farmers market) farmer where you can order “half a cow” or “half a pig” in advance. They also sell all the pieces separately. When buying pieces, the beef offal (liver & heart) is about 20-30% cheaper than the prime cuts; for pig it’s a good 50% cheaper. Note that overall, this is “higher end” meat, but that gives you a direct window on meat to table supply/demand when there’s no middlemen or supply chain.

I suspect with longer supply chains, the difficulty of storing, cutting and handling these relatively low demand (“special order?”) products is driving up the price.

For my taste, the best beef I ever had was the Japanese style where they bring very fresh muscle and also offal (heart, liver, and stomach lining) to the table raw, and you drop it on your little table hibachi and eat it freshly cooked (it’s called “shabu shabu” style). Stomach lining is sooo rich and good.

The salient factor here is the perishability of things like offal and the low price in absolute terms. Lots of stuff without huge demand will still be carried if they’re non-perishable- they’ll eventually get shifted off the shelves if they don’t sell at all, but a grocery store buying a single case of some canned good, and then selling it over the course of a year isn’t a huge problem for them. They just may not reorder it if they think they can more profitably use that shelf space. But if they sell it steadily but slowly and it’s on a relatively low-traffic area to begin with, they may just order another case the next year and go about their business. Case in point- how many cans of almond paste do you think the average grocery store sells per month? Not too many, I’d guess. But it’s not an uncommon ingredient, because it’s canned and lasts forever.

But with things like meat and offal, that timescale is sped up drastically- they can’t let their shipment of liver stay on the shelves very long before it spoils, so unless that stuff sells pretty steadily, they’re unlikely to actually stock it at all. Same thing probably applies to web grocers and butchers; hopefully they have a higher demand being nationwide than a local grocer would, and can afford to ship that stuff. It’s not going to make it cheaper though.

Ethnic markets tend to have a better selection if the market caters to groups who have an offal-eating tradition.

since I live in a large Hispanic populated area you see some interesting things in the meat section … like whole hogs head with open eyes and all (I chased my mom with it all around of the store til management got annoyed) … and I lived in a African American foster home and since they were from the south and elderly I learned to tolerate all sorts of strange things on the table …

although one day when I asked what something was as I was eating it and he said do you like it ? I said yeah its ok … he said then all ya need to know is its what they used to call “darky food” …

I’ve never been able to tolerate more than a couple of bites of liver or any liver dish (braunschweiger, pâté, etc.) just has an “iron-y” taste too reminiscent of blood.

If you like liver sausage you’ll probably like haggis. They’re not the same thing, but there’s some similarities, probably because they both contain liver.

Shabu-shabu is meat cooked in a hot pot of water or broth.

I live in a mixing bowl of immigrants from central and south America, the middle east, and east Asia, and university students in the western part of Boston.

You can go to the Sunshine Asian-Hispanic Grocery and literally find the two foods in my title right next to each other. We also have specialty stores for Brazil, Turkey, non-Mexico central America, Japan, India, some sub-Saharan African (Ethiopian and Eritrean at least), and China, China, and some more China…

Which brings us to the Super 88 Market, your Hong Kong-style supermarket. It is as big as a supermarket, and is next to a Whole Foods, but you can get whatever part of an animal you want. Fresh, frozen, canned. The “foreign/import food” section is devoted mostly to Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Filipino imports.

And yes, university students have their own cuisine. It is built around chicken, cheese, potatoes, marinara and ranch sauce, and booze. I’m afraid to try anything in the category of “meat bomb”, but maybe you aren’t.

So come to Allston MA for your unamerican culinary cravings. Enjoy the feeling of being where many entertainment celebrities lived before dropping out of college while you’re here.

Foie Gras is technically offal, right? So just give all of it French names, add in a lot of fat, and have PETA protest it.

It helps to have a poem and a single-malt to go with it. A cheap scotch, so that it Burns.

My favorite way to prepare heart is to dice it into one inch cubes [or split poultry hearts in half] and soak in iced salt water [combined with squidging it gently around underwater to press out any clots or remaining blood] then rinsing well. Place into a small cocotte [covered casserole, I use those tiny one serving ‘bean pots’] with coarsely chopped onion, whole garlic cloves, italian herbs and red wine, cover and cook gently at a low [250F] heat for 2 or 3 hours until tender [I have cooked it as long as 4 hours] and serve over noodles, rice or with a nice loaf of sourdough bread. With something as muscley as heart you need to cook it to where it is tough then past until it goes tender again. [pure muscle like heart can be tender as really rare, then toughens as it goes into medium and tender much like a pot roast/chuck roast does with long slow braising. For tender at most stages of cooking you really need fat interspersed with the muscle fibers which is why wagyu is so tender.]

Yes, any liver dish is, by definition, organ meat. Beef liver isn’t even all that uncommon on restaurant menus. It would have been interesting to read Cecil’s take on why liver entered the American culinary lexicon while other organs didn’t.
Powers &8^]

My guess on beef liver being part of the American diet:

  1. Liver as a “tonic” - it’s long been recommended for anemia and such and thus has a “medicinal” air around it that other organ meats don’t.

  2. Sliced beef liver looks more like a slice of muscle meat than a lot of other meat slices, so it looks more like “acceptable” food.

  3. When ground/chopped into a paste it’s fairly anonymous looking and thus either doesn’t look like what it used to be or is easily mixed with other stuff to “disguise” it, at least appearance-wise. The taste of liver usually does come through.

As a kid, we ate calves brains on Sundays as a treat, and I loved it! Unfortunately, Mad Cow disease has made it impossible to find in local meat markets.

Big-market butchers often can get you any organ meat you want, if you give them a few days’ notice of what you want. Your butcher’s supplier either has it or can get it for him.

scrambled in eggs? that’s how we usually ate ours