Thursday, 2 July 2015


"Hunger is the best sauce in the world." - Cervantes

If you are a vegetarian, you may like to skip this blog today as you may find it too distressing! People with heart conditions are warned not to read any further. Treehuggers and animal liberation people read no more. If you are an incurable romantic with easily bruised sensibilities, likewise, do not read this.

Humans are described as omnivores biologically, meaning that we eat a little bit of everything. That everything includes fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, meats and fats. Ii some cultures, the term “everything: is taken rather more literally and if an animal is slaughtered for food, each and every part of that animal is consumed or somehow used. The term “offal” is used for describing the internal organs and innards of an animal or fish, including brain, liver, kidney, tripe, and heart. It can also refer to the animal's extremities, such as head, tail, trotters and tongue. Various other bits and pieces like giblets, cockscomb, caul, lights, various glands, bone marrow, blood, etc are also included in this definition. Offal used as food is a tradition that goes back to the hunter/gatherer days of prehistory when to have killed an animal meant an awful lot of good luck. Every part of that animal was eaten as people did not know when again they would be able to feast on such a luxury.

We have come a long way since then, but our Neanderthal heritage is still to be found in our genes, and offal is still on our menu. The masters of the contemporary euphemism, the Americans, prefer to refer to offal as “variety meats” and in several chic restaurants in the States, one may now find increasing use of these delicacies. Are the foodies and epicures slumming it? The tradition of offal consumption represents a simple case of thrifty agrarian necessity. The farmer who knows what expense and resources go into the raising of a food animal, is convinced easily that if one is to be so indulgent as to slaughter an animal, one had better make use of all of it, even the “nasty bits”. Europeans rich and poor have always dined on offal, but it nevertheless has retained a certain… bucolic reputation. The Italians call it “la cucina povera”, or “poor food”, as a reminder of the farming origins of these dishes.

Recipes for offal abound and regional cuisines around the world make full use of all bits and pieces of the animal. “Waste not, want not” is still very much alive and many cultures would blanch at our wasteful society and its preoccupation with “chicken breasts” and “fillet mignon”.

Everyone has heard of the famous traditional Scottish haggis, which consists of sheep stomach stuffed with a boiled mix of liver, heart, lungs, rolled oats and other ingredients. Steak and kidney pie is traditional English fare, while in France, the Iberian peninsula and Italy, many items in the delicatessen and charcuterie displays boast delicious concoctions made from offal. Some of the top restaurants in Europe serve offal as “plats de resistance” – with prices to match! Asian cuisine makes no distinction between offal and other parts of the animal and is it very much a case of eating everything from the pig except the squeal.

In Greece, offal is consumed with great gusto and some famous Greek dishes utilise offal to great effect. Splinantero consists of liver, spleen and small intestine, roasted over an open fire. Kokoretsi is a similar dish that is usually Easter fare and comprises pieces of lamb offal (liver, heart, lungs, spleen, kidney and fat) that are pierced on a spit and covered by washed small intestine wound around in a spiral fashion. The kokoretsi is then roasted over coal fire. Another traditional Easter food is mageiritsa, a soup made with lamb or kid's offal and lettuce, dill, spring onions in a white egg-and-lemon sauce. Tzigerosarmas ("liver wrap") and gardoumba are two varieties of splinantero and kokoretsi made in different sizes and with extra spices to improve the taste.

If you want to read more, here are a couple of links:

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