Re-Entering the World of the ‘Odd Bits’

Growing up on a farm where we relied on own own livestock, poultry, and garden for most of our food, my family ate a lot of things that would likely give my own children nightmares. Liver of course was common, but tongue, cheeks, giblets, feet (both chicken and pig), heart and tripe were also on the menu. My favourite was head cheese, more often called potted meat by my mom, perhaps in an effort to make it more palatable to my middle brother who absolutely hated it. It’s a dish that took several days to make and that used the meat from the heads of the pigs we slaughtered.

I’ve recently become interested in cooking these dishes myself, in part because of a cookbook Joe bought called “Odd Bits” by Jennifer McLagan.

I think what really intrigues me as I start to re-explore offal is how, as North Americans, we have become so squeamish that pretty much the only cuts of meat we are prepared to eat are roasts, chops, steaks and ground meat. How boring. And how wasteful.

First Nations people are taught from a young age that if they kill an animal, they must make use of it all. In Old Crow ‘bum guts’ are considered a special treat; on Baffin Island, seals’ eyes are a delicacy.

Europeans don’t seem to have an offal hang-up to the same degree that we do in North America. When I was in Northwestern Spain, pig ear soup was regularly on the menu. And of course oxtails are very commonly served throughout that country. In Greece, skewered lamb offal wrapped with intestines is a popular dish. In France, the ‘odd bits’ are known as les parties nobles, meaning the “prized parts”.

Today I bought a piece of tripe from the grocery store. It is now stewing in the oven on very low heat with a variety of vegetables and some chick peas. I’ll let you know how this recipe, called Beginner’s Tripe, turns out.

What do you think? Is offal awful or awesome?

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