Just How Awful is Offal?

Offal by Charles Haynes on Flickr [licensed under Creative Commons]

Though known to strike fear in the hearts of many, organ meats never fazed my grandmom. She often sang the praises of braunschweiger on rye and calf's liver with onions, and she enthusiastically doused her turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes in giblet gravy at the holidays.

Daniel's grandmother – another organ meat aficionado – could attest to the fact that offal is no stranger to the Argentine table. In addition to the famed steaks, a typical Argentine barbecue features a number of organ meats including mollejas (sweetbreads), riñones (kidneys), chinchulines (small intestines), and morcilla (blood sausage). Hearty stews such as locro commonly contain mondongo (tripe). Lengua en escabeche (pickled tongue)  and queso de chancho (head cheese) are frequently on offer at Argentine delicatessens.

Although today most Americans wrinkle their noses at organ meats, it wasn't always the case. In the past, frugality combined with a greater understanding and appreciation of where our food came from meant that Americans ventured into offal territory more often. According to a post on food blog Offal Good, "before the Second World War, Americans consumed almost all of the offal produced"; however, in the 1950s and 1960s, consumption of offal declined significantly. [1]

I'm a fairly adventurous eater, yet I have more or less given up on offal. I have tried mollejas, chinchulines, and morcilla (twice, in fact), but I find it difficult to overcome my psychological hang-ups about these foods in order to be able to savor what I'm eating. In all honesty, the mollejas in particular weren't half bad, but I literally started to gag when I thought about what I was eating. I do, however, freely admit to enjoying scrapple fried thin and crispy, a Pennsylvania Dutch classic, and smoked ham hocks have worked their way into many a  bean soup in my kitchen. Go figure.

If we routinely stomach the "mystery meat" encased in a hot dog or a slice of scrapple, can we Americans take a cue from the Argentines and a number of other cultures to make the shift toward preparing and cooking offal on a regular basis? Chef and food activist Dan Barber would certainly like to see us try.

"…Barber writes about the 'protein paradox,' or the huge waste of edible animal parts such as liver, kidney, and tripe. Barber really wants us to like, or learn to like, organ meat — the bits and bobs typically saved for hot dogs, sausage links, and yes, dog food. He hopes that people will eat meat modestly, and when they do, consider the carcass scraps." [2]

What's your take on organ meats? Should Americans quit whining and learn to love offal?


[1] Offal Good, The Art of Having Guts
[2] Serious Eats, Dan Barber Says We Need to Like Organ Meat

Photo credit: Charles Haynes

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