Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Putting the 'organ' in organic

I’m hoping to win a few converts here to the wonderful world of organ meats.  Now I like prime rib and tenderloin as much as the next guy, but there’s a whole lot more to an animal than what gets packaged and sold at Costco.  Now I never grew up eating a lot of organ meats.  My mother would cook liver once in a blue moon because she figured it was healthy, but I don’t think either of us liked it all that much.  But lately, I’ve been experimenting a lot with cooking other organs (heart, sweetbreads, tongue, etc.) and have found that they’re not ‘offal’ at all, but can be quite good.  Here are some reasons to give it a try:

  1. They’re packed full of nutrients, vitamins, minerals and amino acids. 
In many cases, they’re much more nutrient-dense than more traditional cuts of meat.  Perhaps this is why they were held in such high esteem in the diets of many traditional cultures, and why predatory animals tend to eat the livers and organs of their prey first.  Here’s a good article outlining some of the particular nutritional strengths of various forms of offal, over at Mark's Daily Apple.

There’s also a good article over at the Weston A. Price Foundation, that talks about some of the, admittedly anecdotal, evidence behind organ meat consumption from a fitness/health perspective.  Bucking the bodybuilding trend in the 1980s toward low-fat everything, bodybuilder Ron Kosloff said, speaking about his grandparents’ longevity on a fat-heavy diet, “What astounded me most was their farmhand who went by the name of Indian Joe. When I first saw him he looked in his 40s and was incredibly cut and muscular. He looked like Conan. I was shocked when I found out he was well into his 70s. Indian Joe lived to 115 years of age and ate nothing but meat, glands and intestines!"

  1. They’re soooo cheap!
I prefer to buy meat that’s grass-fed and local, whenever possible.  That means shopping mostly at farmer’s markets, CSAs, etc. rather than the supermarket.  But that certainly gets pricey.  While I have absolutely no issue supporting farmers who are using good, sustainable practices, treating their livestock well, by paying a premium for their product, that doesn’t prevent me from capitalizing on the law of supply and demand.  The fact is that demand for organ meats is quite low, so the prices are always very low.  In some ways it seems that farmers are just trying to get rid of this stuff at cost.  I almost feel bad about paying so little.  I mean, check out some of the prices I’ve paid recently for livers, hearts and tongues.  Keep in mind that this is organic, pastured, locally-produced meat – cheaper than the worst processed shit (hotdogs, etc.) you’d find in a grocery store:

Are you kidding me?!  These are big chunks of meat (enough for at least two meals) for under one dollar!

  1. Properly prepared, they can be really delicious
I’d recommend the following book for recipes, called Odd Bits.  Some of the recipes in it are labour intensive, but I’ve made a few that are quite easy (I’m no chef!).  And of course there are a tonne of excellent recipes on the internet at various Paleo/Primal sites, as well as more traditional cooking sites.
Just last weekend, I made a recipe for tongue tacos that I found over on the Crossfit main page a couple weeks ago.  They turned out phenomenal!  Made with pineapple, and served in lettuce leaves, the slow-cooked tongue had the consistency of pulled pork when it was finished. It was my first attempt at cooking tongue (I know, technically a muscle and not an organ), and I’ve since made other good recipes with it as well - like this batch of green curried beef tongue earlier this evening.

Heart is really versatile and can be prepared like a lot of other lean meats.   I made Moroccan heart kabobs (based on a recipe in Odd Bits) a couple of months ago that turned out really well.

Sweetbreads (pancreas) are really quite good.  I’ve only cooked them a couple of times, stir-fried with green vegetables and spices, and they end up taking on a very similar texture to General Tao’s chicken.

Liver is tricky, as it has a tendency to dry out.  I’ve had the most success with grilling it quickly with a bunch of onions, garlic and pancetta/bacon for extra fat.  I eat it quite often (because of availability) but am still trying to come up with the best way to do it.

There are many other options of course.  I always order tripe when I’m out for Chinese dim sum, but haven’t ever tried cooking it at home.  I love both haggis and blood sausages as well, but have yet to try making my own.  I hope to change that in the near future.

The final point that could be made, in addition to the aforementioned cost-savings and nutritional benefits, is that eating organ meats is sustainable (in the whole ‘snout to tail’ sense of making use of the whole animal).  I always think it’s important to remember that the animal you’re eating gave its life for you (not exactly voluntarily, but nonetheless!).  I’m cognisant of this, not just as a hunter and a fisherman, but also as a consumer.  In some small part it seems that eating organ meats is a gesture, amidst a culture that is quite often wasteful, in support of a more mindful and measured approach to eating that takes into account the ecosystem and food chain that supports us.

And if anyone objects to eating organs on the basis of “they’re gross” or “I can’t get past the idea of it” kind of garbage, just remember that bacon is pig’s ass.  I bet you like bacon, don’t you? (It’s pretty much the best thing ever)  If you don’t, we can't be friends anymore.  I’m sorry.

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