Offal – a cost effective solution
In these harsh economic times, more and more consumers are turning to the less expensive items on the butchers shelves – offal offers a cost effective solution
Some well known examples of offal include: brain, liver kidneys, heart, tripe, tongue, and intestines. Brain remains a popular ingredient in many cultures. Even the tail is regarded as offal although looking at today’s prices for oxtail one can be forgiven for thinking that it grows somewhere close to the fillet.
Although the bulk of offal is generated from beef carcasses, virtually each and every animal and fowl has something to contribute to this vitamin rich food source.
Pigs head and trotters are regarded by many as great delicacies, but sadly appear to have disappeared from the shelves of most butcheries both privately owned and within a supermarket environment.
The humble chicken contributes, feet, mala, gizzards, hearts, head, neck and livers although there doesn’t seen to be much call for duck feet, at least none that we could verify. Mala and chicken feet are very popular with the hawker community. They clean the product and braai it on an open flame for consumers to eat on the run. Mala is also used in a stew format over pap.
Lamb or sheep liver is sometimes a preferred choice over ox-liver having a more delicate flavour. Sheep brains, tongue and even the knee joints are used in dishes. The traditional Scottish haggis consists of sheep stomach stuffed with a boiled mix of liver, heart, lungs, rolled oats and other ingredients. Closer to home, we have the skilpadjie, which uses sheeps liver, onion, nutmeg, corriander, seasoning and vinegar cut and rolled into leeflard or netvet.
The history of offal usages dates back virtually to the Stone Age. When families butchered and processed their own animals not one iota of meat was wasted. The same can be said of this day and age when the hides and even hooves are sellable commodities.
The flavours and textures of offal are quite distinctive and extremely varied. The liver, for example, is extremely rich, dense, and creamy, which is why it is typically used in small amounts when blended with other ingredients. Brain, on the other hand, has a lighter, more crumbly texture which can sometimes be almost flaky.
Kidneys, with their distinctive flavour, are especially popular in British cuisine, while “lights,” or lungs, are still consumed extensively.
Tripe with its smooth, velvety texture and mild flavour was and still is a particular delicacy that can be cooked in a variety of ways; boiled, fried, breaded, stewed, sautéed or poached.
Tripe is undoubtedly a hugely popular commodity in this country, each community preparing it accordingly to recipes handed down, in some instances for hundreds of years
Cattle are by far and away the biggest source of tripe. The large tripe is known as Black tripe or “Magodi”, then there is the small tripe known as “Bible” or “Blaarpens,” each lending itself to different culinary interpretations.
Pork gives us chitlins which are really hog intestines and certainly not for the faint hearted. Then there is pork stomach and off course tripe. Sheep tripe appears to be a strong favourite in Indian and Eastern cultures and through our research surfaces in numerous French recipes.
Our understanding is that offal is divided into two distinct categories. Put simply, mostly everything above the diaphragm is red offal. Rough offal is in the paunch area of cattle eg large tripe, small tripe, intestine, heads and heels etc. Red offal includes heart, gullets, lungs, spleen, tongue, sweetbread, skirt and ox tail.
Onglet steak or Hanger steak which comes from the skirt is apparently a very popular dish in many fine dining establishments. The flavor is prized for its savoury offal like taste because of the proximity to the diaphragm and kidneys. The popularity of offal in French cooking where cheek or head meat and even the pizzle are much sought after.
A perhaps little known fact is the impact caused by weather changes and seasonal demands on offal stocks. In summer for instance, most if not all offal stock builds up and very little fresh stock gets sold, in the winter however demand can sometimes outstrip production.
Another factor which impacts on the local market is that of offal imports. According to industry sources this is an extremely sensitive and volatile issue.
Regulations regarding the handling of offal appear to be quite comprehensive. These state that offal must be washed with clean running water, hung on hooks or placed in containers and chilled in a offal or carcass chiller, to reach a core temperature less than 7 °C within 16 hours, but it need not be chilled at the abattoir if dispatched directly to the chilling facility, the proximity of which must not compromise hygiene standards and be approved by the provincial executive officer. Red offal may not be stored, or come into contact, with rough offal.
Further separation, cutting and packing of red offal must be done in a separate area or room.
Where red offal is packed in cartons, containers or plastic bags for dispatch, chilling or freezing may only be done in a separate area or room and specific equipment must be provided for this function. Storage facilities for clean empty bags or containers, for a day’s use, must be provided and bulk storage facilities must also be provided for packing material. Cartoned offal may not be stored in the same chiller as carcasses or uncartoned offal.
Rough offal must be removed from the dressing room to the offal room directly adjacent and connected thereto, where paunches and intestines must be separated and emptied of contents; washed with clean running water; and hung on hooks for cooling and drip drying before and during chilling.
Having said all of the above, very few butchers have to worry about these procedures. In most instances they can be assured that the offal they are purchasing has been subjected to the most stringent preparation conditions. The main criteria, as with any meat purchase is that the product is sourced from a certified abattoir or respected meat trader.