Offal Alphabet

“Sorry, did you just say the Offal Alphabet!?”

This is what happens when a a few chefs have one too many pints and an evening to kill. Here’s one to pin up on your child’s wall..

Andouillette - Not everyones cuppa but absolutely banging if made well. A coarse-grained sausage made with pork intestines or chitterlings, pepper, wine, onions, and seasonings.

Blood — Yes, blood is technically an organ, even though it seems odd. Pumped by the heart and transported via veins and arteries, blood ferries nourishment to the body and aids in defense against disease. Blood is coloured by hemoglobin, a component of red blood cells that bonds with oxygen to carry it throughout the body, and also removes the carbon dioxide that results from metabolism. Culinary uses of blood — usually from a cow, pig, duck, or chicken — include thickening and colouring stews and soups, and as an ingredient in sausages and puddings.

Bone marrow — The yellow and red jelly-like tissue inside bones is known as bone marrow, constituting as much as five percent of the body weight in some animals. While the red bone marrow’s primary function is to generate red blood cells and lymphocytes (white blood cells), the yellow bone marrow is mainly fat. Bone marrow of cattle and pigs has long been important in European cuisines, where special bone marrow spoons were developed in 18th century France and England to scoop the marrow out. In Southeast Asia and China, marrow is more likely to be used as soup thickener, or bones containing marrow cracked open and put in soup so the marrow can be sucked out.

Brain — In both vertebrates and invertebrates, the brain is the center of all cognitive functions, the wheelhouse of the ship, if you will. Known familiarly as "gray matter," the brain achieves the consistency and appearance of pudding in the pigs, sheep, and cows that are the principal sources of culinary brains. In those animals, the organ is wrinkled, bilaterally symmetrical, and lobulated. The brain is composed mainly of neurons and ganglia, and is about 60% fat, making it the fattiest organ in the body. The use of brains as food is more limited than some other organs, though it takes well to being sauteed with burned butter and served with capers. When seared, the outside can become crusty, while the inside retains the texture and wobbliness of custard.

Caul Fat - Caul fat is mostly used as a casing for faggots and sausages, and comes listed under all sorts of exotic-sounding monikers, such as lace fat, crépine and fat netting. On menus, it goes largely uncredited, possibly because it is a membrane that surrounds an animal’s internal organs, but it is clearly the prettiest fat in the genre. By and large, fat tends to be a thick, white, inert grease. Stretched out like clingfilm, caul fat looks like Brussels lace.

Ear — The ear is a uniquely diverse and complex organ, protruding from the body, but also going inside the skull and interacting with the brain. It has two primary functions: collecting sounds from the outside world and assisting animals in maintaining balance. The first function is assisted by the exterior manifestation of the ear (often called the "outer ear"), consisting of a molded flap of skin given shape by cartilage. When cooked it can become pleasingly crisp. If you haven’t tried crispy pigs ear fries, you haven’t lived my friend.

Face — The face meat of a cow or pig is cheap meat indeed. Consisting of such tissues as cheeks, ears, lips, brow, and sometimes eyelids and eyeballs, these tissues are most often made into headcheese (aka "brawn"). Before that, it was mainly a cold luncheon meat found in Eastern European meat cases. Head cheese is made by long-boiling the whole head; connective tissue and bone provide the natural jelly to glue it all together.

Foot — "Give me a pig foot," sang Bessie Smith, "and a bottle of beer," articulating the appeal of this pickled bar snack for the cuisine of the American South. Usually including the actual foot — bone and all — plus part of the shank, the foot of the pig, chicken, cow, sheep, and goat is not an organ but a variety meat, including muscles, ligaments, skin, and tendons. While smaller examples can be gnawed on as snacks, more common usage is found in the foot’s broth-generating properties, used in terrines and soups (in Japan, ramen especially), and valued for its gelatinous properties and its collagen, supposedly good for the skin.

Gizzard — The gizzard is a type of stomach, often one of several in birds, fish, worms, and dinosaurs. Its purpose is grinding up morsels of food rather than sloshing them around with stomach acids. Often, the gizzards contain gravel or other grit to aid in the grinding action. Gizzards are extremely muscular and usually take lots of cooking. The most important gizzard is the chicken’s, which is featured in fried chicken ensembles or eaten by itself either fried or baked. Turkey gizzards are consumed in roasted or pickled form. Gizzards of chickens and turkeys are also important components of stuffings.

Heart — Most meat that we eat is actually muscle, and the heart — which circulates the blood through the mammalian body — it’s simply another form of edible muscle. The heart is stronger and more fibrous than any other muscle, which means it must be tenderised by slow cooking or cooked high and rare. Chicken hearts are similarly skewered in Japanese restaurants. Heart meat is high in protein and such nutrients as iron, selenium, phosphorus, zinc, and amino acids.

Intestines - Needless to say, the intestines must be very well cleaned before cooking, and are often turned inside out for this purpose. bung is eaten by itself, usually boiled for an hour or so and fried, sometimes stuffed, sometimes not. Typically, bung, can be 30 feet in length, but typically only the last two feet — uniform in width — are used. These form the casings of large sausages in Western gastronomy; in parts of Asia, including China.

Kidney —Shaped and coloured like a huge red bean, the kidney is an organ that filters the blood, removing water-soluble wastes, and adjusts the homeostatic balance of nutrients in the circulatory system; animals typically have two of them. Its byproduct is urine, which flows out of the body through a pair of ureters. Kidneys are particularly popular as food in Europe where the most common cooking method is grilling and served devilled with mustard and sherry. Chinese cooks stir fry them with other powerfully flavoured ingredients.

Liver — Like the kidney, liver is a filter organ that removes poisons from the body, but also synthesises hormones and other chemicals needed for digestion. It dwells in the upper abdomen and contains several flap-like lobes. Calf liver is the most popular, but chicken, goat, lamb, and pork liver are also delicious. The texture of the liver is crumbly and yielding, and is one of the few organs sometimes eaten rare or raw. Fish liver sashimi is popular in Japan.

Lungs — Every mammal has two of the them, which hang like gunny sacks in the chest cavity — are the means by which organisms intake oxygen and eliminate carbon dioxide. They are an important component of the Scottish national dish, haggis, and are often used in Italian cooking, where they are valued for their spongy texture.

Penis — Though it sometimes behaves like one, the penis is not a muscle; indeed, an erection is a hydraulic phenomenon by which the organ becomes engorged with blood. Its purpose is the impregnation of the female of the species during coitus, and the passage of urine that arrives from the kidneys. The penis is gristly in mouthfeel and without any flavour. Its most common usage is in Chinese and Korean cooking, wherein it is eaten to enhance the male libido rather than for any culinary properties. We are yet to find a good cock recipe, but bear with us dong lovers..

Skin — Yes, the skin is an organ! In fact, pound for pound, it’s the largest organ in the mammalian body. It consists of three layers: the epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis (which is mainly fat). It functions as protective coating for the animal, but also helps to regulate body temperature. The skin can be eaten attached to underlying flesh, as in Chinese roast pig or Bolivian pig foot escabeche, or detached and cooked separately, as in the chicharrones prized in Mexican and other Latin cuisines.

Spleen — A part of the body that acts as a blood reservoir, and has anti-bacterial properties that make it function as a giant lymph node. It also metabolises used red blood cells and salvages the components. Sicilians are particularly fond of spleen, and make it into little focaccia sandwiches called vasteddi or pani ca meusa. It’s a regular ingredient in French pot au feu. Apart from that, it is most often found as a component of sausages, so you all likely eat a little spleen now and then.

Sweetbreads (thymus) — Sweetbread is one of the most confusing terms in the offal lexicon. Usually pluralised, the term can refers to at least two completely disparate organs, both of which most commonly come from young animals such as calves or lambs. The thymus is one type of sweetbread, a bi-lobed gland that lies behind the breast bone and manufactures T cells. It is sometimes called "neck sweetbreads" and is high enough in fat that it can usually be sautéed with no extra oil once the exterior membrane has been removed. It is highly prized in French cooking and has enjoyed a vogue in American restaurants for the last decade or so. Argentines and Turks are fond of grilling sweetbreads over charcoal.

Sweetbreads (pancreas) — Sweetbread can also refer to the pancreas, a gland that hides behind the stomach, and is thus sometimes called "belly sweetbread." Manufacturing insulin and other hormones that aid digestion is the organ’s biological function. Shaped like a handgun, pancreatic sweetbreads sometimes end up in head cheese, but more often they’re breaded and fried or grilled over charcoal. Rabbits have no pancreas, but most vertebrates do. Other tissues sometimes described as sweetbreads include testicles, the parotid (salivary gland), and a series of secretory glands under the tongue.

Tail — The porcine tail is a popular foodstuff in many cultures. It can be pickled or smoked, but when boiled produces animal gelatin of the type used to glue headcheese together, or to form a stock for ramen. Mainly composed of skin and cartilage, and constituting a corkscrew in shape, it is a prize tidbit that often goes to the pitmaster in barbecue restaurants.

Tendon — This is the tissue that attaches muscles to bones. It is fibrous and partly composed of collagen, which makes tendon great for thickening soups. It is common is Asian cuisines, being a frequent ingredient in pho, and slicked with oil and ma la peppercorns in Sichuan cuisine. The variety meat displays a rubbery and jellylike consistency, and benefits from long cooking. When you pull a hamstring while jogging, you are injuring a tendon.

Testicles — The testes of an animal primarily function in producing sperm for the purposes of reproduction. They often hang outside the body in order to maintain a lower temperature than the body. Mountain oysters are a euphemism for bulls’ testicles, and known as lamb fries when referring to the testicles of baby sheep. In culinary usage, testicles are surprisingly tender and luscious, like a well-marbled steak.

Tongue — The glottal organ can be prepared in quite few ways. It can be made into pastrami (recipe here), it can be braised then fried and made into beautiful tongue tacos; or it can be stir fried in Chinese cuisine, for which veal tongues and duck tongues are often employed. The possibilities go on!

Tripe (stomach lining) — Like sweetbreads, tripe is something of a catchall term. Most commonly it refers to the stomach lining of various farm animals, most especially the cow. This is called honeycomb tripe for its resemblance to a honeycomb. When thoroughly soaked before cooking, often in milk, it achieves a sparkling white appearance. To the extent it is cleaned, tripe has a neutral flavour that takes to many sauces. When not well-cleaned (which some cultures prefer), it tastes a little skanky. Latin cultures feature it in the soup called mondongo, while Turks use it as a hangover remedy in the soup iskembe corbasi. In fact, soup is the most common way to feature tripe, especially in the Balkan countries.

Tripe (small intestine) — In Chinese cuisine, tripe is more likely to refer to the small intestines, which are most frequently braised or stir fried. These are ubiquitous on unreconstructed Chinese menus. The intestines are of small circumference like drinking straws, long and rubbery. In Argentine cuisine they are popular charcoal-cooked item in a mixed grill.

Udder — That’s right, and it’s udderly fucking delicious when cooked correctly. US chef Chris Cosentino braises it in milk, of course.

Sure we’ve probably missed a few off the list. Feel free to suggest additions!

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