Looking at the diets of our very healthy recent ancestors, a commonality is that they prized organ meats. They were often saved for the tribal leader, the infirm, couples preparing to conceive a child, or during pregnancy and lactation. When modern nutrition was invented it was found that these parts of the animals have the highest concentration of nutrients.
While I love experimenting in the kitchen, I was intimidated when it came to working with organ meats because I just didn’t know how to start preparing them. Reading just wasn’t enough for me on this one, so I decided that this was something I needed to learn hands-on.
With equal parts curiosity, thrift, and knowledge of how nutritious organ meats are, I decided to take a class called All Things Offal, offered locally by Tressa Yellig, at her wonderful kitchen called Salt, Fire and Time. I didn’t know what to expect and thought it would just be a demonstration, but the class plunged us into working hands-on with the organs almost right away.
Tressa first talked about the importance of sourcing organ meats from local farmers who are raising animals naturally. Organ meats have gotten a bad rap in mainstream nutrition because in an unhealthy animal, toxins will more likely be stored in the filtering organs, like the liver and kidneys. Next, she mentioned that most organs are best when brined to help improve flavor, texture, and cooking times. For the class this part had been done in advance.
We then headed to the kitchen, where we prepared cow heart by cutting out the tough “vasculature”, or visible arteries and veins. Tressa said that heart is the best “gateway” organ meat because it’s really just like any muscle, in that it doesn’t have a strong flavor. A common way to use heart is to grind it and mix it with hamburger, in which case you don’t even need to remove the vasculature.
Next we worked with kidneys. Slicing them down the side to make sure they are drained, and then removing the outer membrane. We took out the vasculature on these too, but left the fatty parts. We cut this in to chunks for steak & kidney pie.
We also learned how to work with cow tongue. Tongue should be slow-simmered for at least a couple, but up to, 24 hours. I have to say that seeing whole tongues being boiled in a pot was a little off-putting, making it the hardest thing for me to prepare. After they were cooked we had to slice off the “skin” of the tongue to reveal the softer meat inside. We cut this in to chunks and Tressa combined it with lentils in a Mediterranean-type salad. Surprise-surprise this was my favorite meat of the night! It tastes just like pork! Tressa said the texture of the meat changes the longer you cook it, and it will get to a point where it falls apart when you peel it, becoming just like pulled pork.
Unlike the other organs, chicken livers didn’t really require any preparation. A lot of people don’t like liver because they’ve had it overcooked, and she said the key to cooking any organ meat, especially livers, is light cooking. With that in mind, she made a chicken liver pate that had loads of lemon zest and was really bright tasting.
I was pleased to realize that I actually liked everything we prepared. I had never eaten organ meats and thought that they would taste weird or strong, but that was not the case here. It probably didn’t hurt to have an experienced chef in charge.
This class really got me over my hesitancy and helped me see that cooking organ meats isn’t so scary – it’s just another new cooking skill.