Animal organs and entrails hardly sound mouth-watering but it was not all that long ago that offal was considered a staple ingredient in the kitchens of households looking to cook nutritious meals on tight budgets.
Tastes may have changed with the passing generations but a North Yorkshire butcher believes offal may be on the cusp of a comeback - and he showed just how versatile the likes of pig heart and ears are, not to mention beef testicles, by cooking up some iconic offal recipes for his customers to try.
Such ingredients may have been snubbed by younger generations who perceive offal as undesirable off cuts, but second generation butcher Anthony Sterne of Appleton’s in Ripon wants to challenge those views.
To do so he enlisted the expertise of former Castle Howard trainee butcher Gareth Barlow and the pair rustled up the finest dishes they could using an iconic offal cookbook published in the 1970s called ‘Unmentionable Cuisine’, written by American food writer Calvin W. Schwabe.
Mr Sterne believes offal has lost its appeal because of how our food products have become so slickly packaged over the decades. Getting stuck into livers, hearts and testicles with his butchers knife, he reflected on how our perceptions have altered.
“Anything related to a living being like this tends to make people squeamish these days. Our van driver is an older gentleman and said when he was a kid, he would pick up a pig’s trotter from the shop to nibble on at the cinema. I think this squeamishness is a modern thing.”
While he is not expecting to win over vast swathes of shoppers he does think opting for offal has plenty of benefits.
“We try to give people what they want, we’re not preaching to people what they should be eating, but liver, for example, is a delicious cut of meat and extremely cheap. You can feed four people liver and onions for a couple of quid. People are trying to watch what they spend and eating offal is a great way to do it.
“I love bits of offal. Devil’s Kidney’s are a favourite served with chili, and liver and bacon with mushroom and onion gravy; a beef tongue sandwich even.”
There is remains a run of more senior customers who order their favourite animal organs for dinner but the butcher has noticed it is appealing to others too.
“It tends to be a bit of a spread. It’s either older people who grew up eating it and there’s a resurgence of young people trying it who are interested in food and want to look into our culinary heritage - in that sense there’s a renaissance in more unusual cuts. These things come in and out of fashion.”
Mr Barlow believes offal will have its time again. “As we’ve got richer we have eaten what we class as better cuts of meat but as prices get more expensive, people will come back to cheaper options. There is a financial driver and people are looking at cheaper ways of eating.”
The ‘Father of Offal’
It is not just one Yorkshire butcher who believes in a renaissance of cooking with offal.
Self-taught chef Fergus Henderson, is commonly referred to as the ‘father of offal’. The London-based gastronome who co-runs up-market restaurant St. John in Soho, is considered a major influence on his contemporaries, chefs David Chang and Mario Batali.
“It’s only polite to eat the whole animal,” Mr Henderson is frequently quoted as saying.
He has written two books of his own on the art of cooking with offal, ‘Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking’ and ‘Beyond Nose to Tail’.