Cutting and Processing Meats

Offal (Variety Meats)

Offal, also referred to as variety meats, is the name for internal organs and entrails of a butchered animal. The word does not refer to a particular list of edible organs, which varies by culture and region, but includes most internal organs excluding muscle and bone. Some cultures shy away from offal as food, while others use it as everyday food or in delicacies.

Some offal dishes are considered gourmet food in international cuisine. This includes foie gras, pâté, and sweetbreads. Other offal dishes remain part of traditional regional cuisine and may be consumed especially in connection with holidays such as the Scottish tradition of eating haggis on Robbie Burns Day. Intestines are traditionally used as casings for sausages.

Depending on the context, offal may also refer to those parts of an animal carcass discarded after butchering or skinning. Offal not used directly for human or animal food is often processed in a rendering plant, producing material that is used for fertilizer or fuel or, in some cases, it may be added to commercially produced pet food.

Table 37 lists the most common types of offal from the various species.

Species Common Offal Uses/Notes
Beef Heart Beef offal is more commonly retailed
Liver
Kidney
Tongue
Tripe
Oxtail The only external offal meat
Veal Heart
Liver Veal offal is more commonly served in restaurants than other types.
Kidney
Tongue
Brains
Sweetbreads Thymus gland
Pork Liver Pork offal is stronger in flavour; the liver is most commonly used in pâté.
Heart
Kidney
Intestines Used for sausage casings
Skin Used to make cracklings or chicharron
Blood Used for blood sausage and black pudding
Lamb Liver Lamb offal is milder in flavour
Heart
Kidney
Tongue
Intestines Used for sausage casings
Chicken Heart, Liver, Gizzard These three are often referred to as giblets as a whole.
Duck/Goose Liver fatty livers.

Table 37 Common types of offal

  • Liver: Liver is very fine textured and is almost devoid of the characteristic fibre bundles found in red meat (liver has no grain). Consequently, it is very tender and can be sliced in any direction needed to attain the best yield. It can be prepared using dry heat. It has a very distinct flavour and is relatively inexpensive.
  • Kidney: Kidneys are either smooth, bean-shaped (in lamb and pork) or irregularly shaped with reddish-brown lobes and deep clefts (beef). Beef kidneys are very tough and require intense moist heat cookery.
  • Heart: Heart is retailed whole, halved, or cut into slices depending on species and size. The inside of the heart contains string-like sinew, which should be removed if the heart is being stuffed and cooked. Dry heat is suitable for cooking heart. It is commonly stuffed and roasted whole or slices are seasoned and pan-fried.
  • Tongue: The surface of the tongue is very coarse and requires a long period of slow cooking to be able to remove it (six to eight hours of simmering). Once skinned, the tongue can be sliced and is quite tender. There is a very large amount of gelatin in the meat which provides a rich flavour. It is often pickled or corned before cooking.
  • Tripe: Tripe is processed from the muscular inner lining of the stomach. It can be smooth or honey-combed depending on which chamber of the animal’s stomach it is harvested from. It is commonly sold fresh or pickled. Washed tripe, also known as dressed tripe, is boiled and bleached, giving it the white colour more commonly seen for sale. Tripe requires moist heat cookery to break down its rubber-like texture. It is most commonly used in soups and stews.
  • Sweetbreads: Sweetbreads are the thymus glands of calves and mature beef. They are pinkish-white in colour. Veal or calf sweetbreads are considered a great delicacy. They are largest in size when the calf is five to six weeks old and decrease in size as the animal ages. Sweetbreads should be thoroughly soaked in cold water, then blanched so that the membrane can be removed. They then can be braised, or cooled then sliced and breaded for pan frying.
  • Brain: Brains are a small volume seller. They perish very quickly so are generally frozen at the plant as soon as they are harvested from the animal. They are mild in flavour and have a delicate texture. Calves brains are most commonly used. They can be prepared much the same as sweetbreads. Brain is extremely high in cholesterol.
  • Oxtail: Oxtail is classified as offal even though it is not an internal organ. Oxtail is mainly used for making soup to extract its rich flavours. It is more bone than meat, but the meat from the oxtail, once properly braised, is very rich in flavour.
  • Cheeks and head: These are not technically offal, but increasingly popular are beef and veal cheeks, while pork heads are used to make headcheese, a type of sausage consisting of the meat from the head set in a gelatin base made from the cooking liquid.
  • Caul fat: Fine membrane of fat which covers the stomach of hogs, Caul fat is used for barding (wrapping or covering) lean cuts of meat, ground fillings and sausage meat.