I’m pretty sure that Hannibal Lecter wasn’t talking about beef, but all in all, he was on to something with his passion for liver, fava beans and a fine Chianti! Some of the most underrated types of meats are the offals, or organ meats.
Granted, organ meats are sort-of icky looking, which may explain why people are afraid of them. Plus, the fact is that most people simply aren’t used to them because they never had to eat them. But, back in the day, nothing was wasted, hence everything was available at the meat counter and at a price that was hard to pass up when things were tight. I was very fortunate that my family did take part and therefore I did get accustomed to eating liver, tongue, heart and that yummy pepper-pot soup that my grandmother made from tripe. So, I was at least open to these items by the time I hit culinary school, which made my experience all the better. Today, you barely see these exotic beauties unless you request them. But, when cooked properly, offals more than have their merits and can be exceptionally delicious, all for pennies on the dollar. If you’re game, offals would provide an interrrrresting menu for a Halloween dinner party. Pull out the dark linens, set the table with pewter or dark dinnerware and crank up the creepy music. Provide your guests with menus or, for more fun, have them guess what they’re eating. Who knows? They may like it!
I found most of what I was looking for at Country Meadows Farms’ Central Market stand. Amen to the local butcher!
Anticuchos de Corazon
Let’s have a little heart-to-heart – beef heart, that is. Anticuchos are skewered pieces of meat in Peruvian cuisine, with Anticuchos de Corazon, or skewered heart, being the most famous of all. When butterflied, sliced into thin medallions and then marinated in cumin, garlic, smoked paprika, dried oregano and red-wine vinegar, this hard-working muscle grills up for one truly tasty treat. There isn’t enough fat for well-done cooking and no good connective tissue to allow for slow braising without drying out, but if quickly seared on the grill to a medium-rare doneness (at most), this is one amazingly flavorful cut. Think about it: All of that blood running through the heart brings an obscene amount of beefy flavor! Hot off the grill, the skewers get sprinkled with a fresh chiffonade of mint and then are served with a smoky, spicy ghost-pepper mayo. The tangy meat, the smoldering-yet-creamy sauce and the cooling, fresh mint make for an exciting experience in every bite.
Liver and Onions
Liver and onions have long been a dynamic duo and considered to be a very healthy meal when enjoyed in moderation. A one-slice serving of liver is high in quality protein, packed with tons of vitamins such as A and B, and has enough copper and iron to plumb your house! One of the issues with cooking liver is that when you buy it from a butcher or supermarket, they sometimes leave the silver sinew layer on it. It is just as important to peel it off liver as it is from a filet mignon. Liver will cook and curl into a leather strap if it’s not removed. Another issue some folks have with liver is that it is often served too well done. That’s usually a result of being sliced too thinly. Non-fans also complain of a mealy texture, which again is a result of overcooking. To remedy that, order your liver in a peeled lobe state. You can then slice it into thicker, more cube-like cuts, which will allow you to get a better sear on the outside while still leaving the inside more of a rosy medium. As is tradition, sweet, fried onions serve as a fabulous foil to the richly flavored meat. To update the dish, add some balsamic vinegar and cook it down with those onions, then swirl in a knob of butter to create a sweet-sour sauce for the meat. It’s a match made in heaven! I like the earthy tones of lentils to go along as a healthy starch that fills the plate a little more, allowing for a slightly smaller amount of liver. Finally, add some hearty greens like bok choy, kale or chard to really ramp up the nutritional content of the dish in a way that only leafy greens can.
A lot of people have undoubtedly heard of sweetbreads, yet have no idea of what they are. Actually, they are glands from a few different areas of an animal. Whether they are derived from veal, lamb, beef or pork, one of the most common is from the throat: the thymus gland. When poached in milk – which gently smoothes out their flavor – then enhanced with herbs, garlic and spices, these glands are transformed into one of the most succulent proteins out there. Think chicken nuggets for a king! Serve them with a dill-pickle and grain-mustard salsa, a spritz of lemon and an Italian Parsley salad for a super-simple yet spectacular way to enjoy these outstanding offals. While they do require some work, they are totally worth it! I found them at Stauffers’ Rohrerstown store.
Lastly, we have a cut that will leave you speechless: tongue! First, get beyond the obvious: the look of this cut. Once it’s slowly simmered in a flavorful broth, made so by aromatic vegetables and fresh herbs, and then peeled of anything that once resembled a tongue, the resulting meat within is about as good as it gets. The meat is very similar to brisket, only it’s a bit more refined. The striations in the meat are a little finer and when sliced into little filets, served with a sauce made from that wonderful broth plus some baby vegetables, we are truly talking high cuisine! You may have had tongue that was pickled like corned beef, where it was perhaps sliced onto some quality rye bread and schmeared with some Düsseldorf mustard. This is great too, but to me, that doesn’t allow it to pass as another cut of excellent beef. Try it sort-of “pot roast” style and you would never know the difference. Go ahead, don’t be scared!