Category Archives: Offal

Pork Liver Pâté

Seared liver and ground pork

“What the hell is pâté?”

Pâté is fancy French meatloaf: it’s ground meat, bound with dairy, eggs, and bread.  The only difference is that pâté usually contains some liver, and it’s usually eaten cold.  If it’s baked in a special ceramic dish, it can be called a terrine.

Within that definition, there is a spectrum of pâtés that runs from rustic to refined. The two qualities that decide a pâté’s place on the spectrum are texture and ingredients. Rustic pâtés are coarser in texture and made with cheaper, heartier ingredients, like liver. They are often described by words like campagne (“country”), grandmère (“grandma”), and maison (“house”). Refined pâtés have a finer, creamier texture and feature meat more prominently than liver. They may also have fancy interior garnishes, like foie gras or pistachio nuts.  The following pâté is on the far rustic end of that spectrum, as it is coarsely ground and is half liver, half pork shoulder.

If you’re hesitant to work with liver, this is the dish for you.  You still get a clear idea of what liver tastes like, but it is somewhat tempered.  The slightly grainy, pasty texture is smoothed out by the presence of pork fat.  This dish is your gateway to liver enjoyment.

A heavy ceramic terrine
Special equipment.  Besides having some way to grind the meat and liver, the only special equipment required is a baking vessel.  I use a traditional a terrine.  You can make a terrine out of any cooking vessel, but the heavy, ceramic versions are best because they retain and evenly distribute heat.

Pâté has a delicate, almost spreadable texture.  There is a bit of egg, a bit of bread, and a brief mixing period, but the majority of the binding is going to be done by weighing down the pâté after baking.  For this I use a 2 kg brick wrapped in tin foil, and a piece of cardboard, roughly the size of the terrine, also wrapped in foil, to evenly distribute the weight of the brick.

Some things to keep in mind.  For the best texture, we want to absolutely minimize leaching fat.  As with sausages, or really any ground preparation, the meat, fat, liver, and grinder parts must be super-chilled.  Once ground, mixed, and packed into the mold, the terrine is baked to an internal temperature of 150°F, or medium-well.  There should be a faint blush of pink in the centre.  Overcooking will tighten up the meat and leach fat from the meat, yielding a dry meatloaf.  Finally, weigh the terrine heavily and chill for at least 24 hours before cutting.  Cutting with a serrated knife will help keep the terrine’s shape.

 

Pork Liver Pâté

Ingredients
  • 500 g pork liver, large dice, chilled thoroughly
  • 500 g pork shoulder, large dice
  • 25 g kosher salt
  • 4 g black pepper, finely ground
  • 30 mL canola oil
  • 60 g onion, fine dice
  • 60 mL apple brandy or schnapps
  • 2 stale white buns
  • 125 mL whole milk
  • 60 mL heavy cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • fresh thyme and summer savory to taste

Procedure

  1. Heat a heavy sauté pan over medium-high heat.  Add the canola oil.  Sear the liver aggressively, without cooking the interior.  Remove the liver from the pan.  Quickly sauté onions, then deglaze with the brandy.  Add onion mixture to liver then chill thoroughly.
  2. Preheat the oven to 300°F and put a pot of water on to simmer.
  3. Form the panada by combining the buns, milk, cream, and eggs.
  4. Grind the chilled pork shoulder through a small die.
  5. Combine the chilled liver mix, the ground pork, the panada, salt, and pepper.  Grind through small die.
  6. Add herbs and mix in stand mixer for about 1 minute.
  7. Line the terrine with plastic wrap and pack tightly with farce.  Avoid air pockets.
  8. Put a folded dishtowel in a high-sided roasting pan.  This will keep the terrine from resting on the bottom and help the pâté cook evenly.  Place terrine on the towel and fill the pan with the simmering water so that the water comes halfway up the sides of the terrine.  Bake in oven until centre of pâté is 150°F, maybe one hour.
  9. Remove from oven.  Remove terrine from water bath.  Press with 1 kg weight overnight in fridge.

Slices of pork liver pâté on a charcuterie board

Lamb Brain

In case the title didn’t tip you off, this post contains pictures of a lamb brain and details on its preparation for human consumption.  If that bothers you, there’ll be a new post tomorrow that you’ll like better.

 

I would say that I eat more offal than most.  I don’t really seek it out, but by buying whole animals, there’s always some available to me.  Most of the offal I eat is from lambs, which is weird, because most of the meat I eat is from pigs, cows, and chickens.  The main reason that I have so much lamb offal is that every year I make haggis for Burns night.  That has me buying enough lamb lung, heart, and liver to feed anywhere from ten to forty people, depending on the year.

The reason I can do this is because Vicky and Shayne Horn at Tangle Ridge are so amenable.  I remember the first time I made haggis, walking from booth to booth at the Strathcona market asking for sheep’s lung and stomach, and being treated like a freak by a couple of producers.  The first year I bought a lamb from Tangle Ridge, I asked in passing if there was any offal available.  They basically said you can have as much of whatever you want, and they went out of their way to get it for me.

This year, besides the usual haggis requirements, I got a lamb head from the Horns.  Since lambs aren’t split down the spine like pigs and cows, the head is in tact.  This means you have the brain of the animal.

I’d never eaten brains before this fall.  Honestly I had some reservations, mostly due to some comments in the most recent issue of Lucky Peach,[1] but then I figured: Thomas Keller serves calf brain, and Fergus Henderson devotes an entire chapter of The Whole Beast to lamb brain, so I probably shouldn’t worry too much about it.

The most difficult part of the operation was removing the brain from the skull in one piece. You can remove the jaw by cutting away the cheeks, opening the mouth, cutting away more connections, prying the mouth further, and so on.  To open up the skull I used a cleaver and a mallet.  Start by tapping the cleaver through the skull at the forehead.  Be careful not to go too deep or you’ll damage the brain.  Then use the mallet to drive the cleaver around the circumference of the skull.  Eventually you will be able to pull the skull apart and remove the brain.

The brain itself is much more delicate and squishy than I anticipated.  I though it might feel like plastic, or clay.  It’s closer to a sack of viscous fluid.  If you took high school biology, you’ll roll your eyes at the following (I didn’t, so it was new and fascinating information to me): besides the familiar left and right hemispheres, there is a third part of the brain, in the middle, at the back, called the cerebellum.  It connects to the brainstem.  You have to handle the brain very delicately or it will break along one of these three divisions.

A whole lamb brain

 

As a first go-around, I simmered the little brain in vegetable broth.  The only true recipe I have for lamb brain is in Henderson’s The Whole Beast, but in his characteristic, understated style, the only guidance for cooking is, “poach gently for eight minutes,” giving no indication of desired doneness.  In my brief experience, I can tell you that I don’t think eight minutes is nearly long enough.  Perhaps my lamb brain was larger than his, but I doubt it, because my lamb was only 35 lbs (are Canadian lambs smarter than British ones?)  I poached my lamb brain for ten minutes, and it was still quite pink in the middle, so I returned the wobbly lump to the pot for another two minutes.  It finished with a blush of pink in the middle, a “medium well,” if you will.  I hope that’s okay, because then I ate it.

A mostly-cooked lamb brain, with thyme

 

I let the brain cool to room temperature, then separated it into lobes, and sliced it to expose the beautiful, cauliflower cross-section.  The “stem” of the cauliflower print was the white matter of the brain, the “florets” were a pale grey.  Even cooked, the brain tissue had a creamy, yielding texture.  I shingled the slices on buttered toast, seasoned with fleur de sel and black pepper, and finished with some oregano leaves.

I would describe the flavour of brain as muted liver.  The texture was frankly incredibly: silky and smooth, like eating custard.

Rounds of lamb brain, with their characteristic cauliflower cross-section, shingled on buttered toast

 

1.  The comments are in the article, “American Cuisine: Whatever That Is”.  Jonathan Gold says he avoids brains for three reasons:

Firstly, cholesterol exists to be your brain.  There’s nothing in a brain that isn’t cholesterol.  So you’re eating pure cholesterol, which is something to consider.

Second, the shape of brains is so convoluted that bacteria can hide anywhere in there, and there’s nothing  that you can do about it.  It’s not like muscle meat, where the interior tissue is sterile.

The third thing is that there are all those brain-related diseases like scrape and mad cow, and they’re completely impervious to heat.

 

Beef Liver Dumplings

Liver!For me, the most shocking part of buying a side of beef was how much liver we got.

A lot.  I like liver more than most, and I thought it was too much.

If you have to get through a lot of liver, there’s no better way than to just sear it in a pan and tuck in.  When the distinct, glandular texture of liver wearies the palate, there are liver dumplings.

This was a staple when I was in Austria.  Lunch always consisted of soup, meat, and dessert, and the soup often contained some manner of offal.  Most notable were the soft, bready liver dumplings the size of a toddler’s fist, floating in beef broth.

The biggest problem with liver dumplings is their grey colour.  Since the dumplings are simmered, they don’t develop any appetizing golden-brown shades.  This can be alleviated somewhat by quickly and aggressively searing the liver before using it in the following recipe.

 

Beef Liver Dumplings

Ingredients

  • 10 oz beef liver (actually calf’s liver would be preferable…)
  • 4 oz unsalted butter
  • 2 oz onions, finely chopped
  • 10 oz worth of day-old rolls, cubed
  • 3 oz whole milk
  • 4 oz bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • parsley to taste

Procedure

  1. Soak the rolls in the milk.
  2. Sear the beef liver over high heat so that it develops a brown crust, but the interior is still rare.
  3. Let the pan cool slightly.  Add the butter.  Once the butter is foaming, sauté the onions.
  4. Combine the soak rolls and the beef liver.  Grind the mixture through a 1/4″ plate.
  5. Combine the ground mixture, the onions, and all remaining ingredients.
  6. Shape into round dumplings about 2 1/2″ across.
  7. Poach until the centre is cooked, about 25 minutes.
Serve in flavourful beef stock, garnished with chives:

Liver dumpling in beef broth

Braised Beef Heart

The raw beef heartThis was my first time cooking beef heart.  My logic was this:  “Heart, while offal, is a muscle, not a gland.  A hard working muscle, at that.  I guess I’ll braise it.”

In hindsight, probably not the best way to cook beef heart.  The final dish was okay: it was tender, but a bit dry.  This makes sense, as heart has no intramuscular fat, and I trimmed away what little fat there was on the outside.

The heart’s texture really surprised me.  Raw heart has no visible grain, almost as if it were a very firm, nebulous liver.  A few people had told me that heart is not a very “organy” meat.  Michael Ruhlman goes so far as to say that braised heart is similar to brisket, but I didn’t find this to be the case, not even remotely, brisket being extremely fatty and coarsely-grained.

Next time I’ll definitely try a quick, dry-heat cook to mid-rare.

Anyways: a quick description of the procedure.  I cleaned the heart thoroughly, removing all connective tissue and valves and whatnot, and cut the meat into large cubes.  I seared the meat aggressively in a pan, after which I cooked onions and garlic.  Finally I deglazed the pan with beer.  I usually use some form of “brown beer” to braise beef, either English brown ale or Belgian pale.  This time I tried a doppelbock.  The chocolate malt flavour worked well.  The pot simmered gently for two or three hours, until the heart was fork tender.  I added some herbs for the last fifteen minutes.

Served with bread and butter dumplings and some wilted beet greens:

 

Braised beef heart, beet greens, and dumplings

Haggis and Clapshot

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!

Address to a Haggis, Robert Burns

 

A lamb's pluck: liver, heart, and lungsHaggis: unquestionably the king of the Scots kitchen. Rarely eaten, much maligned, completely misunderstood.

Haggis is made of a sheep’s pluck, which is a tidy term for the lungs, heart, and liver. Traditionally these parts would be boiled, ground, mixed with oats and onions, then stuffed into a cleansed sheep’s stomach, making what is essentially a large, round sausage.

Sheep are rarely brought to maturity in North America, so all the offal I used was from a lamb. Lamb bits are smaller and milder in flavour than sheep bits.

Most of the ingredients are easier to obtain than you might expect. Four Whistle Farm routinely brings offal of all sorts to the Strathcona market, so all you have to do is send a quick e-mail to Marius to confirm that the required organs will be there on the required Saturday. (The lungs, discouragingly, are not held in the “Lamb” section of the display, but the “Dog Food” section…)  More recently I have been buying whole lambs from Tangle Ridge Ranch, and they have been providing me with the offal.

The only real trouble is the stomach. I have approached a few vendors. Most give excuses, citing, for instance, “regulations” or some such nonsense. Others say plainly that the abattoir doesn’t like to do weird things like that. Apparently harvesting the stomach requires extensive cleaning and blanching that most abattoirs aren’t set up for.

As such I use a beef bung instead of a sheep’s stomach. A beef bung is a long, dead-end portion of the cow’s intestinal tract. Once stuffed it is about five inches across and a few feet long. It is the traditional casing for mortadella and cappicola. I have a sneaking suspicion that many of the images of haggis I came across during my research were actually made with beef bung.

The details of the preparation follow.

Haggis
Adapted from The Scots Kitchen

Ingredients

  • 2 lamb lungs, roughly 300g
  • 2 lamb hearts, roughly 300g
  • 2 lamb livers, roughly 400g
  • 300g chopped onions, gently cooked in butter
  • 150g lamb suet
  • 150g honeyed, toasted, rolled oats (you can use this recipe for granola)
  • 27g salt
  • black pepper, nutmeg, and allspice to taste
  • 1 beef bung

Procedure

Traditionally the raw offal is thrown in a pot of boiling water, but searing in a hot pan first adds some extra colour and flavour.

The seared pluck
Put the seared offal in a large pot. If you are lucky and your lungs are still attached to their windpipe, drape the windpipe over the edge of the pot so that any fluid expelled by the lungs doesn’t end up in your water. If you don’t have a windpipe, don’t worry. Cover the offal with cold water, then bring the pot to a boil. The lungs, as you might expect, want to float, so you’ll have to weigh them down. I used a plate and a tin can because I’m classy.

Simmer for an hour and a half. All kinds of ungodly brown scum will form on the surface, especially if you don’t have the windpipe as a purge line. If you are very diligent with the skimming, you may still be able to use some of the flavourful cooking liquid later on.

The simmering pluck, weighed down with a tin can
Chill the cooked offal thoroughly. Mix with the fat, onions, salt, and spices.

The cooked pluck with onions and suet
Grind the mixture through a 3/16″ plate.

The ground mixture
Add the toasted oats to the ground offal. Mix on a low speed, slowly incorporating a bit of the boiling liquid. If your boiling liquid was deemed undesirable, use stock. The forcemeat should become somewhat paste-like.

Mixing the forcemeat with toasted oats
Soak the beef bung for about an hour. Rinse thoroughly inside and out.

A beef bung
Roll up your sleeves and stuff the forcemeat into the bung. Pack it tightly, ensuring there are no air pockets. Traditionally the sheep’s stomach would be sewn shut (hence the line “Your pin wad help to mend a mill / In time o’ need” in the Address to a Haggis.) Working with the beef bung, I simply tied the open end in a large knot.

The stuffed bung
Simmer the haggis until heated through, about two hours. The beef bung, just so you know, is not usually consumed; it’s just a vessel.

Simmering the haggis

Clapshot: Neeps and Tatties

Clapshot is mashed turnips (“neeps”) and potatoes (“tatties”). I have no idea where the term comes from. The classic recipe uses equal parts of each, but since turnips are so much moister than potatoes, I prefer one part turnip to two parts potato.

Peel the potatoes and turnips and cut them into large chunks. Boil them in separate pots, as they take different lengths of time to cook. Simmer each until very tender, but not falling apart. Pass the vegetables through a food mill while still warm. Combine, then spread on a tray to cool thoroughly. This can be done the night before the meal.

To serve, heat the milled vegetables with a bit of lamb stock. Beat in cubes of butter, and season with salt and pepper.

This really is the perfect accompaniment to the haggis. The sweetness of the turnips compliments the savoury offal. The slightly fluid nature of the mash allows it to mingle with the haggis.The finished plate: haggis and clapshot
You would expect offal boiled for hours to be tough and dry, but the grinding tenderizes the meat and glands, and the onions and stock-drenched oats give moisture. The final mix looks a lot like ground beef, but it’s much lighter and moister than hamburger.

The Boar’s Head

The boar’s head in hand bear I,
Bedeck’d with bays and rosemary.
And I pray you my masters, be merry
Quot estis in convivio
(As many as are in the feast)

-English Traditional

 

Has it ever taken you years to understand the lyrics to a certain song?

I grew up listening to a carol that I thought was in a different language. While a few lines are in Latin, the rest is in plain English. Even so, I only deciphered the meaning of the song last year. The carol is The Boar’s Head, and it refers to the English custom, dating back to Anglo-Saxon times, of serving a boar’s head at Christmastime. The head was placed on a silver platter and marched into the hall with music. When I first read about the custom last year, I resolved that this Christmas I would roast a boar’s head, bedeck’d with bays and rosemary.

I rested the head on a bed of onions, celery, apples, bays, rosemary, and thyme, and cooked it in a very low oven for several hours. The jowls release a lot (a lot!) of fat, which is good for frying bread as an accompaniment. The head finishes with very tender flesh and very hard crackling, and the whole mess is liberally salted and peppered. Good food for the longest night of the year, which we usually observe with heavy drinking.

Caput apri defero (The boar’s head I offer)
Reddens laudes Domino (Giving praises to the Lord)

The boar’s head I understand
Is the rarest dish in all the land
And thus bedeck’d with a gay garland
Let us servire cantico (serve with a song).

Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino

Our steward hath provided this
In honour of the King of Bliss;
Which on this day to be served is
In Reginensi atrio (in the hall of the Queen)

A roasted pig head
An apple in the pig's mouth

A phenomenon that occasionally accompanies heavy drinking:
Snow angels: a solstice tradition

Buffalo Liver Dumplings

Grinding buffalo liver on an old hand-cranked grinderLiver’s robust flavour is perfect in dumplings, that humble but satisfying dish that was once made with left-over bread, milk, and eggs.  I was able to pick up some buffalo liver from First Nature Farms last week.

First I cut the liver into pieces and seared them on high heat. I set the liver aside, sweated onions in the same pan, then deglazed with vinegar and water.

For moisture and body, I added leftover bread heels soaked in milk. I used eggs to bind the mixture, dried bread to tune the consistency, and finsihed with salt, pepper, and thyme.

The ingredients were then forced through the hand-cranked meat grinder above, at left, which used to belong to my grandmother. This was the first time I’ve used it. It has a plate on it that redefines what I consider a “coarse grind.” You can see in the photo that it doesn’t even have holes like a typical die, but rather annular slits. It was perfect for the dumplings.

Once ground, I shaped the paste into balls. They can be poached, but I prefer frying them in a pan. I ate them with broth. Buffalo broth, of course.

Buffalo liver dumpling in broth

A Weird Digression on Bison Milk

Working with buffalo liver and milk got me asking questions. What does buffalo milk taste like? My understanding is that bison are related more closely to dairy cows than to the dairy buffalo of Europe, so I would wager that their milk is similar to our household milk in fat, protein, lactose, et c. How difficult would it be to milk a buffalo?

Duck Liver Pâté

This week I made a duck liver pâté and served it with sour cherries.  Both the livers and the cherries came from Greens, Eggs, and Ham.

The recipe was adapted from that for pâté grand mère in Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie. Duck livers can generally stand in for chicken livers.

1: Season the pork and liver (separately), with salt, pepper, bay, and thyme. Leave the mixtures overnight in the fridge.

The pork and duck liver, seasoned and left to marinate

2: The next day, chill the meat grinder and mixer parts. Ice water is particularly effective. You can also preheat your oven to 300°F.

Chilling the grinder parts in ice-water

3: After removing the bay leaf and thyme, sear the livers quickly over high heat. This is done strictly to enhance flavour and colour. Remove the livers from the pan and add minced shallots. Sauté briefly, then deglaze the pan with brandy to capture the sweet, sweet fond. Add the shallots and brandy to the livers and chill the mixture thoroughly.

Mise en place for browning the livers
Searing the livers
Deglazing the liver pan with brandy
The finished mixture of shallots and browned livers

4: Searing the livers reduces the meats’ willingness to bind and form a cohesive pâté. To help the liver and pork bind properly, a “panada” is added. This is exactly equivalent to the egg and bread crumbs our moms add to meatloaf or hamburgers. This panada is made of milk, cream, egg, and crustless white bread. Simply mix all the ingredients together with a fork.

Mise en place for the panada
The panada

5: Once the liver mixture is thoroughly chilled, combine the pork (bay and thyme removed), liver mixture, panada, and parsley, then pass through the meat grinder with a coarse plate. The plastic wrap in the picture below is draped over the grinder plate to prevent splatter (the livers are still bloody inside).

Grinding the meat and livers

6: Mix the pâté. This develops a protein called myosin that gives the pâté a firm texture. Mix until the pâté develops a slightly sticky feel.

Mixing the forcemeat to develop myosin

7: Quenelle test. Fry a small sample of the pâté to make sure it’s properly seasoned. Since the pâté will be served at room temperature, the seasoning of the fried meat should be aggressive, but not overpowering (seasoning is easier to detect in hot food…)

Cooking a small portion of the forcemeat to make sure it is seasoned properly

8: Shape and bake. A pâté like this would traditionally be packed into a terrine lined with plastic wrap, like the one below:

A ceramic terrine, lined with plastic wrap

At the last minute I decided to bake my pâté in individual ramekins. Regardless of your cooking vessel, pack the meat tightly so that there are no air bubbles. Cracks and pocks mar the presentation, especially in smaller molds.

Place your ceramic vessel in a high-sided roasting tray. Fill the tray with hot water, up to the the level of the meat. I covered my pâté with plastic wrap with the idea of inhibiting browning and moisture loss, though I’m not sure it did anything.

The ramekins in their hot water bath

Cook in a low oven. For standard terrines, 300°F is ideal. Since my pâtés were so small, I lowered my oven to 250°F so that they would cook gently, and slowly enough that I could monitor them and pull them out at just the right time.

The internal finishing temperature should be about 150°F. With a standard terrine this is easily measured by a digital thermometer. Unfortunately a thermometer would not work with these small pâtés. Most digital thermometers detect heat more or less along the whole length of their probe (or atleast the first couple inches). My pâtés, being only an inch deep, would not offer reliable measurements. I judged the doneness the old fashioned way: gently poking the surface of the pâté to test the firmness of the meat. Also, the pâté will be just, just starting to pull away from the sides of the ramekin once the meat is cooked.

9: Serving. I popped the duck liver pâtés out of their ramekins and seared them in a hot pan. This is emphatically not traditional, but the liver takes well to the browning flavour, and the crust is a good contrast to the creamy interior. Plus the sear reminds me of Mom’s meatloaf.

The sauce was just sour cherries and simple syrup. Serve with toast.

The finished pâté, served with toast and sour cherry sauce

A plate of turkey giblets: neck, liver, and heart.

Turkey Giblets

A plate of turkey giblets: neck, liver, and heart.This was the first year that I had a hand in preparing the Thanksgiving turkey. Subsequently it was also the first time that I came in contact with the infamous giblets: the neck, heart, liver, and gizzard of the turkey, stored together in a bag in the cavity of the bird.

First things first: I needed to know what I was dealing with. I was familiar with the general shape and function of the first three items on that list. The gizzard, however, I embarrassingly thought was the flap of skin hanging between a turkey’s beak and neck. Turns out this is the wattle, “an organ of sexual dimorphism” (Wikipedia), whatever that means. The gizzard is actually a stomach with strong muscles that break down food.

On inspection of my own turkey giblets, and comparison with pictures on the internet, I decided that I was not given a gizzard, and that my turkey’s liver had been broken in two. In the picture at left, clockwise from the top left is the neck (obviously), the heart, and two pieces of liver.

A quick Google search suggested that the giblets are most often simmered with the gravy to add extra offally good (pun) flavour. I also looked for preparations dealing just with the liver. People online were divided as to whether turkey livers make for good eats. You can only read so many blogs and forums that waffle back and forth before just trying it out yourself.

I basically followed Julia Childs’ recipe for sautéed chicken livers: salt, pepper, and flour the livers, then sauté them in butter and oil with mushrooms and ham (homemade bacon in my case). I spread the mixture on lightly toasted baguette rounds, then had them as an appetizer to left-over turkey and mashed potatoes.

The neck and heart are great additions to turkey stock.