The Lovecraftian Kitchen: Organ Meat.

Three months ago, I decided it was time to try a new sort of personal challenge.  Like I mentioned back in May, I think one of the problems with a lot of "back to nature" diets that include meat is the insistence on just eating the prime cuts of animal muscle that are popular in the regular American diet.  What about everything else that we don't normally eat?  All the "gross" bits that most Americans have never eaten in their lives (so how do they know it's disgusting)?  This is where varied nutrition lies, not in steaks and pork chops.   I'm not exactly prepared to go Andrew Zimmerman and start eating everything from blood to bugs, although who says I couldn't in the future?  Insects, just like any farm animal, can be kept in conditions that are either clean or dirty, but unlike large mammals, they can easily be raised in a small home(meaning you are taking charge of your protein source, even if you lack space), and are packed with nutrition--the only caveat being our cultural "cooties" about munching on grasshoppers or mealworms.  

First, though, I needed to start simple.  That meant the organs that are readily available in my local grocery store: liver, kidneys, heart, tripe, tongue.

Something like that.
I'll confess right now, I've been trying to screw up my courage and buy tongue for months now.  So far, I can't do it, and I am not timid about dead animals.  My children are going to be embarrassed as teens of their memories of laughing while I use the chicken I'm prepping like a puppet, and visitors are often surprised to find bones drying on the kitchen windowsill.  Tongue, though...perhaps it's because I had nightmares as a kid of having my tongue cut.  Perhaps it's because I look at it, even wrapped in plastic, and can almost picture it sneaking out of the fridge in the middle of the night, growing anime-style tentacles as it comes looking for me.  Only thing worse then that would be eyeballs.

So no tongue.

The first one tried was heart...not the best recipe, so I won't share it, but a start.  Slight mineral flavor, and a texture very similar to tough skirt steak.  Because of that, I'm probably going to simply use a skirt steak marinade next time, like a strong  chimichurri. It did mean, however, that I learned two very important lessons: 1) Most organ meat recipes of Norther European origin are wonder people don't like them. 2) My spouse doesn't want to know.  I can cook it, but he will only eat it if he doesn't know what it is. Otherwise, the "cootie" factor gets in the way.

Second try was liver tacos, much more successful, although the kids were more willing to eat the liver the next day mixed with chorizo. First, many cultures have some way of additionally cleaning liver.  Even though it has a lot of nutrition, it's also a natural filter, so the idea is to try to get out anything that is undesirable while holding on to the good stuff.  Many European recipes soak it in milk, while the Latin recipes I found all called for it to be blanched in boiling water, until the outside turned gray.

Then, the water was poured out and I added a vinegary garlicky marinade.  I didn't follow a specific recipe, but you can see my ingredients:

 Then I dredged the liver slices in flour, browned them in a hot pan, and served them with chopped tomato, sour cream, and caramelized onions in soft tacos.

 Much better then a plate of plain old liver and onions, wouldn't you say?

 Getting daring, I decided to try my hand at menudo,one of the few organ meat dishes I'd previously eaten.  Menudo is a stew made of honeycomb tripe, chilies, and hominy, a type of large corn. 

First the tripe gets boiled, often in multiple changes of water.  I can not stress enough that if able, the cook should do this outside.  Holy cats, that is a memorable smell.  I then chopped mine into tiny pieces, to try to make it less obvious what it was. 

 I couldn't get over how beautiful the honeycomb pattern is.  It's so intricate, with little bumps and striations between the large walls.

 Final cooking, in stock:


In goes the pig's trotter, which I did not serve...a little too much culture shock.  Instead, it took a second bath in the stock pot the next day and dissolved entirely.  Very rich stock!


In go the hominy.  I looked everywhere for dried or fresh hominy to cook separately, but had to make do with canned.  Still very tasty. 
End result:  fresh onions and cilantro with a slice of lime on top, little sopapillas, watermelon, and stir-fried chayote squash on the side.

Not too bad, eh?  The kids loved it.  For those of you squeamish about giving tripe a try, remember that many processed meats, like sausages, already have it!  It's one organ meat you've probably been eating for years without even realizing.

Now that it's the beginning of a new month, I need a new Lovecraftian horror to try...any ideas?


Kjerstin said...

I love your blog so much... you're so... I don't even know the word. Bold. Creative. Open-minded. All of that plus something extra. The organ thing isn't throwing me, oddly (well, except for maybe the tripe... I've never seen it before and it looks more like an exotic textile than food) but that may be because I usually think of meat as muscle and at that level, there's not much difference between that and heart...

Jesse said...

Ok, just figured out why I was having issues posting comments on my own blog! Ghostery was acting up after the latest edition of Firefox.

Anyway...thanks Kjerstin. You would not believe the huge smile reading that gave me.

I agree, too...I would honestly love a textile with that pattern. I can think of all sorts of things to do with it.

Jana said...

Way to go! I've tried to get past my irrational avoidance of organ meat, but I have not yet succeeded as well as you.

Jesse said...

Thanks Jana!

Thank you! It's just one of those things, really...part of the cultural mindset about what it means to be American. Good recipes go a long way toward helping, but if you didn't grow up with it,'s something to try and adapt.

~~louise~~ said...

Oh what a flood of memories this post erupted, Jesse. My father was a stout Italian from Sicily. We grew up on this stuff and more!!! He always soaked the liver in milk as you said but, I have another trick you might like. He wrapped it in lacy caul fat. Before wrapping it with the fat, he inserted one Bay leaf and then wrapped it, lightly breaded it in seasoned bread crumbs (we made ours from day old rolls) fried it ever so gently. Delicious!!!

I wish I could remember how he made the tripe. You are so right though, the water has to be changed a lot!!! And, the smell, well, the smell is unforgettable.

Have you ever tried calves brains?

Thanks for sharing, Jesse!!! I LOVE your blog:)

Jesse said... that is some food for thought, Loise!

No, I've never heard of caul fat before that I can remember. I've had some luck with the butcher at my little local grocery store (ask someone for beef bones enough and they remember your face). Looks like I'll need to see if I can try that out! If you remember how he did tripe I'd love to hear about that, too.

No, I've never had brain, in any form. My relationship with meat has taken a strange course in my life...believe it or not I spent the better part of four years as an ardent vegetarian and animal rights activist, and another couple as a vegan, but that's a story for another day, and probably a blog post of it's own.

Now I need to bookmark the blog mentioned at the top of the link you included. Thanks!

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