A-Z of offal

Reader's Digest Editors

Though it's largely fallen out of favour, offal is full of flavour and makes for an interesting addition to your weekly meals. Here's our guide to the available offal meats. 

The term "offal" comes from "off all" and refers to those edible parts of the animal that remain when the meat has been cut off the carcass. This includes internal organs: tongue, kidneys, heart and liver, which all have their own distinctive flavour; brains and sweetbreads, which are quite different and more delicate; the stomach lining from ox which is prepared and sold as tripe; intestines, which are used as sausage skins; and blood, which is used in black pudding.

Offal also covers pig’s head (for brawn) and cheek (the latter cooked and coated with crumbs to make Bath chap, a small ham); ox tail; and feet, pig’s or bacon trotters and calf’s foot, the latter being valued for their gelatine content as well as flavour when making stocks and soups.

what cuts of offal are available UK

All offal is highly perishable—more so than any other food—so it should be used on the day of purchase or certainly within 24 hours. On pre-packed offal, take care to scrupulously observe the recommended dates by which the product should be sold and used.

Chill offal promptly after shopping, placing loose-packed items in a covered container but leaving sealed supermarket packs as purchased. The majority of offal is sold already prepared for cooking, with only minor trimming necessary, for example snipping out the small white fatty core in lamb’s kidneys, peeling off thin membranes or snipping out tubes from hearts. Some offal, particularly hearts, requires long slow cooking for tender results, but the majority is tender and cooks quickly. Tripe is sold ready blanched and often has already been boiled until tender.

 

Brains

Currently, brains from British cattle are not sold, but imported brains and sweetbreads are available. This does, however, mean that this form of offal is in limited supply and expensive: larger, high-class butchers will provide a complete range of offal.

Calf’s brains are considered to have the most delicate, superior, flavour, but lamb’s brains can be substituted for them.

 

Feet

Pig’s trotters are the ones most frequently seen in butchers, either fresh or brined. Cow heel, once a favourite ingredient for jellied stock, is now rarely seen. Calf’s foot, too, is rare and must be ordered well in advance.

Calf’s foot: This type of offal contains a high proportion of gelatine and is ideal for making stock to be used with jellied moulds of meat or poultry.

Pig’s trotters: This offal may be used instead of a calf’s foot for making jellied stock and as a base for lentil soups. Pig’s trotters are also suitable, after boiling, as an ingredient for setting brawns. Alternatively, trotters may be boned, stuffed and slow-roasted.

 

Heads

Pig’s heads are the only offal of this type now sold; the others are no longer available in butchers.

Pig’s head is prepared by boiling with vegetables and spices, then all the meat is removed and set in the reduced jellied stock to make brawn. A pig’s head from the butcher comes cleaned, trimmed and chopped into pieces ready for boiling.

 

a-z of offal pig head and trotters

 

Hearts

All hearts make for good eating but require long slow cooking.

Calf’s heart: Available only from specialist, high-class butchers. Ask the butcher to cut out the coarse fibres.

Lamb’s heart: This is the smallest and most tender heart. Choose bright red and firm hearts, avoiding any that are grey.

Ox heart: A muscular and coarse piece of offal weighing up to 1.8 kg/4 lb. It is best used chopped in stews and casseroles.

Pig’s heart: This is larger and less tender than lamb’s heart, usually inexpensive and may be stuffed and slowly braised.

 

Kidneys

Ox kidney is the largest and coarsest, followed by the similar but smaller and more tender calf’s kidney. Lamb’s kidney is far smaller, and is surrounded by a thick, white deposit of suet before the kidneys are sold.

Pig’s kidney is similar to lamb’s in colour and texture, but is more elongated and flatter with no suet covering.

Calf’s kidney: Prepare and use as for ox kidney. Calf ’s kidney, being more tender, may also be braised or stewed. It is light brown with creamy-white suet.

Lamb’s kidney: This is the best kidney for grilling or frying. Choose light brown and firm kidneys, avoiding any that are dark or strong-smelling.

Pig’s kidney: May be grilled or fried or chopped up for stews and casseroles. Cut in half and snip out the gristly cores before grilling or serving.

Ox kidney: This large kidney, about 675 g/1ó lb in weight, is usually tough and suitable only for slow-cooking stews, pies and meat puddings.

 

Liver

The best and most expensive is calf’s liver, the cheapest ox. The latter has the strongest flavour, followed by pig’s, lamb’s and calf’s liver in that order.

Calf’s liver: This is pale milky brown in colour and soft to the touch. Make sure the butcher removes the inedible main pipes.

Grill or fry?

Lamb’s liver: Less expensive than calf ’s liver and excellent for frying and grilling. Choose liver light brown in colour and avoid any that is dark brown and therefore from an older animal.

Pig’s liver: Stronger in flavour and softer in texture than both calf’s and lamb’s, pig’s liver may be grilled or fried. It is, however, which is usually removed better used for pâtés or included in stews and casseroles.

Ox liver: A coarse and tough liver, not recommended for grilling or frying. It should be soaked in milk or lightly salted water for a few hours to mellow the strong flavour. It can then be stewed or braised, either on its own or with stewing steak.

 

Oxtail

This is sold ready skinned and jointed; the fat should be a creamy-white and the lean meat deep red. Excellent braised or in casseroles, and as a basis for rich, meaty soups.

 

sausages made from offal

 

Sausages

These are made by blending lean and fat meat with bread or cereal and seasonings. Preservatives may be added, but many butchers make sausages which have to be used promptly or frozen.

There are a vast array of sausages on offer, from simple pork chipolatas to game sausages and others with herbs, seasonings or vegetables. The meat content of sausages is controlled by law and has to relate to the title given to the sausages: pork sausages have to contain a minimum amount of pork, similarly beef sausages, and there is a limit to the percentage of fat to lean that can be used.

Chipolatas are slim, fine-textured pork sausages. Cocktail sausages are short chipolatas. There are many regional variations, including black pudding, a sausage made with pig’s blood, and haggis, made with sheep’s offal, oatmeal and spices packed into a sheep’s stomach.

 

Sweetbreads

Currently, sweetbreads taken from British cattle are not sold; however, imported sweetbreads are available.

This is the term used for the thymus gland and the sweetbreads of calf and lamb are considered to be a delicacy as they have a light flavour and texture. Ox sweetbreads are tough and stronger in flavour.

 

Tongue

Ox and lamb’s tongues are the most readily available.

Lamb tongue: A small tongue weighing only about 225 g/8 oz. Should be soaked in lightly salted water before boiling or braising. Skin before pressing the tongue between heavy weights and serving it cold cut into slices.

Ox tongue: A single ox tongue weighs 1.8–2.72 kg/ 4–6 lb and can be bought fresh or salted. It must be slowly boiled for several hours, and the rough skin and bones removed before serving.

 

Tripe

This comes from the ox and is the lining of the stomach. Tripe from the first stomach is the smoothest and is known as blanket tripe. From the second stomach comes the honeycomb tripe. Both types of tripe should

be thick, firm and white; avoid any that is slimy and grey or has a flabby appearance.

Tripe is sold blanched, rinsed and partly boiled—ask the butcher how much longer it should be cooked as it may require short braising. It can be stewed, boiled in milk, or sliced and deep fried.