Category Archives: Offal

The Heart of the Matter

We all need one, we all have one, but most of us take them for granted. The hardest working muscle we possess, I’m talking about the heart. The iconic romantic symbol that we all recognise, epitomising love and friendship. But what of the culinary delights it has to offer? Is that screams of disgust I hear?! Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

My mother served us stuffed hearts as children, and we knew better than to utter the words ‘yuk’ or ‘that’s disgusting’. We ate what was put in front of us, with no fuss. And thank heavens for my mothers no nonsense attitude, or I may well have missed out on this culinary pleasure. She would fill the hearts with stuffing mixture and bake in the oven and serve with mashed potato and gravy. I can safely say that we were the only children at our school who relished the thought of this supper (or had even heard of it). We did have the advantage of having lived in France, so mums cookery repertoire took on a whole new exquisite range. That may have been because when we first moved to Dunkirk, she couldn’t speak French, so may not have realized what she was buying! No matter what the reasons, I am forever grateful for her introducing us to this cheap yet utterly delectable delicacy.

In turn, I presented stuffed hearts for supper one evening, to my new then boyfriend (it couldn’t have been that bad as he’s now my husband!) and his daughter. Neither had experienced eating heart before and both devoured the meal with gusto. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for my daughter, who had unbeknown to her eaten heart before, albeit disguised in a casserole. The heart still looked like a heart, just stuffed and covered in gravy, so she could only stomach eating half before turning a delightful shade of green. I’d like to point out now, it was nothing to do with my cooking, but the thought of what she was eating. I’ll go back to ‘hearts in disguise’ in future for her.

Which is recently exactly what I did. My husband admitted after the meal that he actually preferred to have the heart chopped up so it didn’t resemble a pumping muscle quite so much – wuss. Rather than stuffing the heart (quite tricky if it’s diced!) I decided on devilled instead. There are so many recipes out there which vary considerably, but this is my version. This method works well with most offal, and since this meal, I’ve also produced the same dish with kidneys, but added extra crème fraiche for a creamier sauce.

Devilled Hearts – serves 2

2 lambs hearts
1 tsp oil (or one spray of oil)
2 tbs plain seasoned flour
1 onion
1 clove garlic
1 tsp crushed peppercorns
150ml stock
dash of worcester sauce
1 tsp paprika
100g mushrooms
1 heaped tsp wholegrain mustard
2 tbs crème fraiche

Devilled Hearts

Devilled Kidneys

Wash and dice the lambs heart, ensure all sinew is removed. Cover the diced heart in the seasoned flour and coat thoroughly. Chop the onion and garlic. Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the heart, onions and garlic, adding a drop of water if it starts to stick on the bottom of the pan. Add the peppercorns, stock, worcester sauce and paprika, cover and simmer gently for an hour, stirring occasionally. Add the mushrooms and mustard, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Take off the heat and stir in the crème fraiche. Serve with mashed potato and vegetables.

I hope some of you will try this, or a variation of this recipe and with offal being such a cheap option compared to other meats, not only are you expanding your horizons, you’re also saving yourself a pretty penny. Win win as far as I’m concerned!



What An Offal Waste

Described in the Oxford Dictionary as ‘the entrails and internal organs of an animal used as food / waste material / decomposing animal flesh’ it’s no wonder the vast majority of the younger generation contort their features to mimic a Cumbrian gurner sucking lemons at the very suggestion of the word. What could I possibly be describing that could invoke such a response? Offal of course.

Although previously described as ‘waste’, offal is ‘doing a Madonna’ and undertaking a reinvention. As just the word ‘offal’ conjures up fearful grotesque images in far too many minds, the new word in the butchers is ‘the fifth quarter’. Although to be honest, this isn’t new. Quinto quarto (literal meaning, fifth quarter) was utilised in modern Rome to describe the distribution of slaughtered cattle. The first quarter went to the noble, second quarter to the clergy, third to the Bourgeoisie and the fourth to the soldiers. This left the innards of the beast for the lower class, hence the fifth quarter.

The now fashionable comeback of offal excites me, well as much as entrails and organs can excite me, however it’s not really been a comeback for me, it never left. I remember the first time my mother served lambs tongue, although the image of my teenage boyfriends horror struck face is actually more memorable than the meal itself. Once we got past the visual horror of a surprisingly large lolling tongue sitting on our plates and the thought of about to french kiss our supper in front of my parents, it was actually a culinary delight. Amazingly to me the lamb was incredibly lean and tender and tasted of roast lamb with sweet mint sauce, which was apparently due to the fresh spring grass the lamb had been grazing on recently, blissfully unaware that slaughterhouses even existed. No doubt my boyfriend at the time will be eternally grateful that he was not present when my mother served up brains on toast one evening.

I don’t believe I can claim to be a lover of offal as I have only sampled a small selection of an animals innards, but if cooked properly can be a carnivores dream. I would have to say that stuffed heart and bone marrow are at the top of my ‘to do again’ list, but I have many more on my ‘to do’ list, including sweetbreads and pig snout. I’m unsure however that lungs, spleen or testicles will be a delicacy I will be trying in the not too distant future, although I wouldn’t say no if they were offered.

I would think that even the most squeamish have tried liver (pate) and kidneys (steak and kidney pie), and I would have thought the majority (excluding the non meat eating species of course) would have tried oxtail, probably in the form of soup. Although to say you have tried oxtail when a leading manufacturer of soup, who have over 56 varieties, only include 1% oxtail in their soup, seems a bit ambiguous to me. But how many of us have tried many more of the offal delights? Tripe, stomach, sweetbreads, lungs, spleen, mesentery, testicles, scrotum, snout, head, trotters, heart, liver, tongue, brains, kidney, bone marrow and oxtail are all classed as offal, are all available to us from our friendly butcher (if you ask nicely in advance), are all affordable, yet I can only say I’ve knowingly tried 9 out of the 18 I’ve listed, I have after all eaten haggis! However, having travelled round China, amongst other Asian countries, and unable to speak the language, there’s no telling what parts of an animals body I have digested.

Now I’m all for this culinary trend towards using every part of the animal or ‘nose-to-tail’ cooking, as I hate wasted food, however there are always drawbacks to becoming the in thing. As with anything that becomes fashionable, with offal being no exception during these economic challenges we now face, the cost spirals along with the popularity. Although still affordable and obviously much cheaper than your sirloins and fillets, is it me or has anyone else noticed the slow ascent of offal? I live in hope that even though the trend setting Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s and Tom Kitchin’s of this world create their offally good masterpieces (couldn’t resist!), this mere peasant girl will still be in the line up for her share of the bargain fifth quarter.

Below is my mothers recipe for a gentle and friendly way to introduce offal cynics to a scrumptious taste of liver, which transferred her son-in-laws from liver loathers to liver lovers.

CHINESE LIVER – serves 4

2 tablespoons soya sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon soft brown sugar
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
1 small piece fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
salt and freshly ground black pepper

450g lambs liver, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon cornflour
150ml chicken or beef stock
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 spring onions

Mix together the marinade ingredients and pour over the liver in a bowl. Leave to marinate for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Drain the liver from the marinade and put in a separate bowl. Mix the cornflour and stock to the marinade. Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok, add the spring onions and fry until golden. Add the liver to the pan and fry briskly, about 1 minute. Pour in the marinade and cook until thickened, stirring constantly. Serve immediately with noodles or rice.