If You're Not Eating Offal, You're Missing Out
Originally named after "garbage" or literally the part of the animal that would "fall off" when butchered, the offal cuts of meat have, hands down, the worst PR in history. But don't be fooled by the name! Offal can be ridiculously delicious and when prepared properly is a downright decadent treat. If you didn't grow up eating innards, follow this entry-level guide and you'll come to see that offal isn't awful at all.
SweetbreadsFor first-time offal eaters, start here. Despite their name, sweetbreads bare no resemblance whatsoever to a doughy pastry. Often taken from the thymus or pancreas of veal or lamb, these puppies are generally soaked in salt water, poached in milk, and then grilled or breaded and fried. Try the fried variety, served with a brown butter caper sauce or anything rich and acidic. The flavor is neutral, the texture light and creamy at the same time. You’ll think you're having classy KFC.
Order: Crispy sweetbreads
Taste similar to: Chicken nuggets... but better
Bone marrowBone marrow is that stuff you learned about in Biology 101 that has magical blood cell-producing powers, but it's also like butter met foie gras and had a baby. Man's enjoyment of bone marrow dates back to early human scavengers and has since evolved onto the tables of haute cuisine. Most bone marrow we consume is from veal because it is particularly mild and delicate. From pho and osso buco, to straight-up roasted and served in its bones, bone marrow is guaranteed to highlight any meal.
Order: Roasted bone marrow with toast
Tastes similar to: The most flavorful butter you've ever eaten
TongueSee it in a deli case and you’ll know what it is right away. A cow tongue is huge, a lamb tongue is smaller, but in the end they are both still tongues. Seeing an entire cow's mouth muscle is daunting, but the good news is it's almost never served in its full form. After it’s boiled and braised for hours upon hours, tongue is usually sliced for sandwiches (popular in many Jewish delis) or shredded for the most incredible tacos.
Order: Beef tongue tacos
Tastes similar to: Super-tender braised beef
BloodEating blood might sound a bit creepy at first, but you don’t need to be from the underworld of Transylvania to try it. Between its natural thickening qualities and sweet, delicate mineral flavors, blood easily lends itself to the kitchen. It’s most commonly used in black pudding and blood sausages such as Spanish morcilla or French boudin noir. The former is usually made with oats and served as a staple and prized component of traditional Irish and English breakfasts, and the latter tastes similar to a regular pork sausage, though often has more iron or notes of minerality.
Order: Black pudding
Tastes similar to: Meaty oat cakes
LiverThe liver is perhaps the most popular form of offal. Foie gras (literally translated to "fat liver"), calf’s liver, liverwurst, and chicken liver mousse are just a few of the popular liver dishes that can be found everywhere from your local Irish pub to a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
Liver is prized for its ultra-creamy and buttery texture and varies drastically depending on what animal it comes from. If you’re new to liver and have the budget, splurge on foie gras, liver from an overfed duck or goose. If not, opt for a chicken liver, either chopped or in a mousse, then feel free to move up to calf’s liver, usually served with lots of buttery onions and bacon. How bad can that be?
Order: Chopped (chicken) liver
Tastes similar to: A creamy mix of lentils, walnuts, eggs, and onions. Just try it. You’ll love it.
TripeThe first time I ever saw tripe I was living in a homestay in Italy. It was defrosting in the sink and I thought, "I wonder what fuzzy calamari is doing there." For many, tripe is the hardest offal to mentally swallow. Honeycomb shaped with a slightly putrid smell, it's certainly different! However, a great chef will take care to meticulously clean and slowly cook their tripe. While it’s popular in many Asian cuisines, a first timer's best choice is trippa alla Romana, which is tripe that's slowly cooked and then braised in a tomato sauce. By the time it gets to the table, you’ll just think you’re having a mild, slightly chewier cut of beef.
Order: Trippa alla Romana
Tastes similar to: Braised beef in tomato sauce
FeetYou’ve heard of chicken fingers, so why not try the feet? OK, so maybe they're a little different, but feet are just as tasty if not tastier. Chicken feet are prized in many Asian cooking preparations, often served whole in an orange sauce for dim sum. Pigs' feet or trotters are wonderful in stocks, as they lend their natural gelatin to thicken any sauce or broth they may make.
Newbies should try trotter croquettes. The feet are usually braised, then the meat is picked off the bone and combined with all that good croquette filling before being fried.
Order: Pig trotter croquettes
Tastes similar to: A seriously tender croquette
Pig earsFrom China to Spain and even our own South, almost every culture has its own way to prepare them. Boiled, pickled, or the new trendy favorite, fried, they have a neutral flavor and slightly gelatinous texture that melts in your mouth when cooked just right.
Order: Crispy pig’s ear
Tastes similar to: Fritos!
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Julianne Feder is a freelance writer for Thrillist. She enjoys searing chicken livers and making offal food puns. Follow her @TheGastroNerd or watch her on YouTube to get more nerdy food insights and to pop your offal cherry.