One part of eating a healthier, ethical, and more sustainable diet that is often overlooked is offal, especially organ meats. Organ meats are not only delicious, but healthy, inexpensive, and prevent food waste. In the US, a lot of offal is thrown out or turned into animal feed, which is a shame because with the right preparations, it can be very delectable. In this post, we will be talking about three common organ meats: beef tongue, heart and liver. Make sure to source your organs from healthy, pastured animals to maximize both flavor and nutritional benefits.
Tongue. In my opinion, beef tongue is one of the tastiest parts of the animal. I prefer to braise it for tongue tacos or add it to chili. You will notice a big difference in flavor and texture when you use tongue as opposed to conventional meat. Another common way of preparing it is corning, which is brining the tongue in a salt and spice mixture (bay, peppercorns, coriander, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice, mustard, red pepper flakes) for several days then braising until tender. Corned beef tongue is delicious when thinly sliced for sandwiches or served with vegetables, and will easily impress your friends at the next dinner party. One thing worth mentioning is the tongue's thick, sandpapery skin which must be removed after cooking when it can easily be peeled away. In addition to being flavorful and tender, beef tongue also provides some desirable nutrients, including iron, zinc, vitamin B12, and potassium.
Raw beef tongue from Burns Angus Beef Farm.
This is a standard spice mix used for corning: bay, peppercorns, coriander, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice, mustard, red pepper flakes. This constituted part of the brine, which I used to corn the tongue for 5 days before braising it and slicing thin for sandwiches. You can find the full recipe I used here.
Heart. Heart is just another muscle and could be prepared just like most other muscle meat, keeping in mind that its leanness also makes it tough. Being tough and very large, the best ways to prepare heart is ground up with other ground meats, to ensure you have a good fat ratio, or sliced and braised. Adding heart to burger, meatloaf or meatballs recipes add great flavor and extra nutrition. To prepare heart, cut away any connective tissue, valves, papillary muscles, and tendinous cords. It may sound difficult, but it will be apparent what you should and should not eat, and if you miss anything it’s not a big deal. Heart has similar nutrient content to other muscle meats, but is higher in protein, thiamine, folate, selenium, phosphorus, zinc, several B vitamins, and most notably CoQ10, an antioxidant that helps prevent heart disease.
Youtube channel offalchris has a great video tutorial on cleaning a beef heart.
Liver. Unlike tongue and heart, the liver is a glandular organ and therefore is very different in both taste and texture. Many people detest the thought of eating liver, but whether it’s the thought of eating an organ or from bad past experiences, the liver deserves a chance due to its very high nutrient content and potential to be delicious. If you’ve never tried liver, I'd suggest this simple, yet tasty recipe that helps disguise the strong taste and texture, without completely masking it:
First, slice the liver thin (it’s often sold this way) and soak it in milk for 30 minutes – this helps get rid of the metallic taste of liver. Fry some bacon, draining the bacon on paper towels, and caramelize some sliced onions in the bacon fat. Wipe the liver dry, lightly dredge in seasoned flour (salt, pepper, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, thyme, cayenne), then fry 3-5 minutes per side in remaining bacon fat. Plate the liver, onions and bacon together and enjoy immediately. If you don’t like it at first, don’t give up! Try different recipes or have someone more experienced with liver cook it for you-–it may be an acquired taste, but it is well worth it. Liver is like a natural multivitamin, containing calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, copper, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, folic acid, biotin, and vitamin B12.
These three cuts are just an introduction into the wonderful world of offal. If you feel like diving head first into cooking offal, I'd suggest reading The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating by Fergus Henderson and The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Even if you're not an adventurous eater, these underrated ingredients are a great addition to a nutritious, tasty and more sustainable diet.