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Offal2The word 'offal' comes from 'off falls' - those parts of slaughtered pigs, cattle or sheep which are left after the carcass has been cut up. Despite the fact that offal includes some of the most appetising and nourishing food to be bought from the butcher, it has always been given a low status among meats, because of its association with scraps, waste, and parts that are thrown away. It is even spoken of in the homely language of the Anglo-Saxon farmyard, rather than in the polite Norman French which is used for cuts of meat. This is apparent in terms such as calf's liver and pig's liver, rather than veal liver or pork liver. The Americans use the term 'variety meats' to describe offal, but the name has never caught on in Britain.

Many types of offal - liver for example - are excellent sources of the minerals and vitamins necessary for good health. Much offal - brains, sweetbreads, and tripe, to mention a few - is also easily digestible and therefore suitable for a building-up diet.

Ironically, certain types of offal, such as brains and calf's liver and sweetbreads, are considered such gourmet's delicacies that they are often priced out of the market for the average housewife. But generally, offal compares favourably with meat in price. It seldom requires lengthy preparation and cooking, and as it contains no bones and little fat or gristle, wastage is cut to the minimum.

Offal does not store well, it should be used on the day of purchase and stored in the fridge until prepared for cooking.

Liver

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

Calf's liver - Pale milky brown in colour and soft to the touch. Make sure the butcher removes the inedible main pipe. Imported liver is smaller, similar in colour and less expensive. Grill or fry liver underdone.

Lamb's liver - Less expensive than calf's liver and excellent for frying or 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, better used for pates 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 ours to mellow the strong flavour. It can then be stewed or braised, either on its own or with stewing steak.

Kidneys

Ox kidneys is the largest and coarsest, followed by the similar but smaller and more tender calf's kidney. Lamb's kidney has a different shape, and is usually surrounded by a thick, white deposit of suet. Pig's kidney is similar to lamb's in colour and texture, but is more elongated and flatter with no suet.

Calf's kidney - In short supply. 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 - 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 frying.

Ox kidney - This large kidney, about 700 grams in weight, is usually tough and suitable only for slow cooking stews, pies and meat puddings.

Tongues

Ox and lamb's tongues are the most readily available. Calf's tongue is rare, and pig's tongue is always sold with the head.

Lamb's tongue - A small tongue weighs only about 225 grams. 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 - This weighs 1.8- 2.7 kilograms and can be bought fresh or salted. It must be slowly boiled for several hours, and the rough skin removed before serving.

Brains

Calf's brains have the most delicate flavour, but are not readily available. Lamb's brains are more easily bought and may be used in any recipe for calf's brains. Both types of brains must be soaked in cold water for a couple of hours to remove all blood.

Heads

Pig's, sheep's and occasionally calf's heads are sold whole or in halves.

Calf's head - Bought fresh or salted. A fresh head may be boiled and served hot with a creamy or vinaigrette sauce. Salted calf's head is used for brawn.

Pig's head- The best brawn is made from boiled pig's head. The cheeks of the heads are sometimes cured and boiled. These are sold as Bath Chaps.

Sheep's or Lamb's head - This can be boiled or stewed after thorough scrubbing and used as a base for broths or for pie filling.

Hearts

All hearts make good nutritious eating, but require long slow cooking.

Calf's heart - Not readily available, 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, avoid any that are grey.

Ox heart - A muscular and coarse piece of offal weighing up to 1.8 kilograms. 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.

Sweetbreads

This is the name given to the two portions of the thymus gland, one in the throat and one in the chest cavity (heart bread). Sweetbreads, and especially those from calf and lamb, are sold in pairs and are considered a delicacy. Pig's sweetbreads are not sold.

Calf's sweetbreads - These are considered the finest, with a delicate flavour, they are in short supply. Braise or fry.

Lamb's sweetbreads - More readily available, but smaller, though as tasty as calf's sweetbreads.

Ox sweetbreads - Large and tough, with a strong flavour that does not compare with that of lamb or calf.

Feet

Pig's trotters are the ones most frequently seen, 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 will in advance.

Calf's foot - This contains a high proportion of gelatine and is ideal for stock to be used with jellied moulds of meat or poultry. May be bought in concentrated form in jars.

Pig's trotters - These may be used instead of a calf's foot for making jellied stock, and as a base for lentil soups. They are also suitable, after boiling, for inclusion in brawns, or they may be boned, stuffed and slow-roasted.

Tripe

This comes from the ox and is the lining of the stomach. Tripe from the first stomach is smoothest and is known as blanket. 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 bleached and partly boiled - ask the butcher how much longer it should be cooked. It can be stewed, boiled in milk, or sliced and deep fried.

Ox cheek

Economical cut, used for stews and brawn.

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 soups.

Sausages

These are made by blending lean and fat meat with cereal, seasoning and additives. The meat is put into manufactured castings. Sausages should be stored in the fridge until required.

Beef sausages - Also available as chipolatas or small sausages. BY law, beef sausages must contain at least 50% meat, of which at least half must be lean. Grill, fry or boil.

Pork sausages and chipolatas - These must contain at least 65% meat,and at least 50% should be lean.

Marrow Bones

These thigh and shoulder bones from beef contain delicately flavoured marrow. Poached marrow is used as a spread for hors-d'oeuvre.

Black Pudding

A Northern favourite, it is a mixture of pig's blood and pork fat stuffed into pig's intestine and boiled. Cut into thick slices and fry or grill.

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