“The Offal Truth: Organ Meats aren’t Awful”
I’ll tell you when – when my mother cooked liver and onions in the oven for umpteen hours, till the meat fell like sawdust or wormed wood rot when it was cut …
I’ll tell you when – when my mother cooked tripe and onions and when ‘required’ to eat it, it came up faster than it went down!
Olive: I hate liver and onions and I don’t even want to discuss tripe.
Tilly: I love liver and onions Italian style – the meat is still moist and tender and the onions melting. Tripe … well … yuck.
I’ll tell you when – when school lunches comprised unidentifiable lumps of something that had elastic bands woven throughout, bounced when touched with knife or fork and defied division. I still don’t know what it was.
Olive: Thank heavens I didn’t eat at your school.
Tilly: It was one school among many and as I was a fussy eater at the time – now I genuflect to (almost) anything that has calories.
All that changed when one lunchtime when I went to an Italian café in the City of London. They served really good food at a price office workers could afford. The tables were big and it was a matter of sitting anywhere you could – no ‘table for two’ – it was a family business and they were there to feed you in a short space of time.
Olive: I love Italian food. Easy to cook also.
Tilly: Even easier when someone else has cooked it …
The person sitting next to me had ordered before I sat down. Her meal arrived and it looked delicious. Seared meat, thinly sliced, with a moist line through the middle, rich gravy around it (not all over it) with crunchy roast potatoes, bright carrots and really green cabbage. Maybe not true Italian fodder – but fantastic eye-appeal.
Olive: Thanks now you have made me hungry,
I said I’d have the same. Despite the fact that I did not eat carrots or cabbage … and had no real idea what the meat was. . My mother was the type of cook with the two-hour rule: everything went into the oven for two hours and vegetables were put to boil at the same time. A nightmare for me and an offense to the nose and mouth.
It was divine. Proved to be lamb’s liver with onion gravy, seared but left pinkish and tender in the middle. The carrots were crisp as was the cabbage – unlike the vegetables, I was used to at home.
Olive: You lost me a lamb’s liver and the cooked carrots. But the cabbage, bit of bacon grease and fry it. So yummy.
Tilly: Looking back, I would say the vegetables were steamed rather than boiled. Whatever, they were a taste sensation.
Don’t misunderstand me – my mother made fantastic curries and Bolognese sauce and roast potatoes and soups. Fresh vegetables were another matter – unless they were in a salad – as was meat, which had to resemble the soles of shoes before it was ‘Ready!’
That meal was an apocalyptic moment for me and changed my attitude to trying new foods and I have continued to experiment ever since.
I discovered I love kidneys – wrapped in bacon and put on the barbecue or under the grill (broiler), served with béarnaise sauce, in Marsala … in fact, any damn way you can image. I like lamb’s liver, calves’ liver, chicken livers – not keen on the texture of pig’s liver, though it is great for pâtés and making into dog treats.
Olive: The only thing decent in this paragraph is the chicken livers. You can have everything else.
Tilly: And sweetbreads – have I mentioned sweetbreads?
Ox liver is an acquired taste – though if you soak it in milk with a pinch of bicarbonate of soda, it will emerge as pale and non-strong tasting as calves liver. I have heard that restaurants are given to using this technique …
Olive: Tilly you eat this stuff. Oh my…
Tilly: I don’t like ox liver – too coarse and strong and I don’t approve of restaurants cheating in this way, either.
Stuffed braised hearts – yum. Braised hearts with wine, orange peel, black olives – double yum. Marinated, sliced and cooked on the barbecue, also yum.
Olive: Tilly, NO.
Sweetbreads and lamb’s fry are so good but so hard to buy. I always order them when I see them on a menu – which seems to be confined to Italy and France these days.
Oxtail – what a splendid casserole they make – though don’t expect to eat it the day you make it. Needs a lot of long, slow cooking.
Olive: Remind me NOT to go out to a restaurant with you.
Tilly: I haven’t seen these on menus in the UK for years. Havenn’t even seen them on menus in France and Italy or Spain.
Lamb’s tongue, calves tongue – wonderful with a mushroom and mustard sauce. Trés Français.
Olive: Tongues now…what else?
Tilly: Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.
One of my favourite meals is breast of lamb stuffed with spinach and lamb’s kidneys. Ask your butcher to leave the breast whole, and to bone it for you. It is easy enough to do at home but why have a dog and bark yourself?
Olive: You can keep the kidneys out of it.
Tilly: Absolutely not.
I do not like fat – especially lamb fat, so I strip all the excess fat I can see from inside and from under the skin; I do like the crisp skin! Split them carefully on one side to form a pocket for the stuffing. Or – as I like things to be quick and easy, just pile the stuffing along the breast, fold in half and stitch’ together with mini skewers, often called lacing pins.
Stuffing for two breasts of lamb, which will serve 4-6
2 lambs kidneys, cored and chopped (I use more ‘cos I like them)
6ozs/300g diced (small) ham – preferably home cooked, not the plastic stuff full of water and salt from most supermarkets)
Clove garlic, chopped or grated (grating is quicker) I use more – I like garlic and it keeps Dracula away. He’s never been to our house.
2oz/50g breadcrumbs (keep bags of them in the freezer for ease – using up heels of bread)
Approx. 5oz/275g spinach chopped – if using chard, take out the spines first and use them as poor man’s asparagus – delicious sliced and stewed in butter)
1 egg, beaten
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
Mix all the ingredients together, season well and divide between the breasts. Sew up the side or use the mini skewers (or toothpicks) to hold the edges together.
Sweat a selection of braising vegetables – onions cut into eighths, carrots cut as you like, sliced celery, and whatever you fancy: potatoes, turnips, whatever is in season.
Add some chopped bacon if you wish.
Place the breasts of lamb on top.
Add ½ pint/250 mls jellied stock (if you don’t make your own stock – shame on you! It will transform the humblest stew or sauce.)
Add a bouquet garni – I know you have a herb garden in or near your kitchen and some extra parsley. Parsley stalks are packed with flavour and can be removed at the end.
Cook in a moderate oven, uncovered, for 1 ½ hours. Mark 4, 350F 180C. Baste occasionally.
For a really tasty sauce, take two shallots, a large knob of butter, a tablespoon flour, some tomato puree, more herbs and some homemade brown stock. Melt the butter, blend in the flour and the other ingredients, bring to the boil (to make the starch grains burst) and stir till smooth. Add the juices from the lamb – having spooned out the excess fat – and serve separately.
A healthy slug of wine, brandy or whatever you like, is wonderful in the braising process and in the sauce.
Excellent with creamed potatoes (or the potatoes from the braise) and cabbage – or any colourful vegetable you like.
It is cheap, tasty, nutritious and oh so easy.
And, for anyone who says they don’t like kidneys – don’t tell them. They’ll love the dish. It looks good, tastes good and will do you good.
Olive: I not eating at your house either. Kidneys rank up there with beef livers.
Tilly: You wouldn’t even notice them chopped in with the other ingredients.
For easy reference:
Oven: Gas 4, 180C, 350F cooking time 1.5 hours
2 lean breasts of lamb, de-boned.
1-2 onions cut into eighths
Carrots, in fingers or slices
2 or more stick celery sliced
2,3,4 slices bacon, sliced
Jellied (homemade!) stock
Extra parsley stalks
2 or more lambs kidneys, chopped *
6oz/300g Chopped/diced cooked ham
1 clove garlic – minimum – grated or chopped
Large handful spinach (deveined if using chard)
Sea salt and fresh black pepper
2 or more shallots
Butter – a heaped tablespoon is about right
Flour – ditto
Tomato puree – as much or as little as you like
Brown stock – Homemade!
Olive: Can we just make * optional?
Tilly: Only after you’ve tried the meal.
Enjoy the humor and recipe
“His antipasto was the classic Roman fritto misto –tiny morsels of mixed offal, including slivers of poached brains and liver, along with snails, artichokes, apples, pears, and bread dipped in milk, all deep-fried in a crisp egg-and-bread-crumb batter. This was to be followed by a primo of rigatoni alla pajata – pasta served with intestines from a baby calf so young that they were still full of its mother’s milk, simmered with onions, white wine, tomatoes, cloves, and garlic. For the secondo, they would be having milza in umido – a stewed lamb’s spleen, cooked with sage, anchovies, and pepper. A bitter salad of puntarelle al’ acciuga – chicory sprouts with anchovy – would cleanse the palate, to be followed by a simple dolce of fragole in aceto, gorella strawberries in vinegar.”
Anthony Capella, The Food of Love