Sweetbreads and Black Pudding


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©2009  Shanna Lea (formerly Shanna Ohmes)

What is one essential food held sacred by our ancestors of all cultures that today we tend to disregard and throw away?  Why did they value it so highly? And how can we get it back into our diet today?

Primitive and traditional cultures prized the organs because they gave their bodies strength and vitality.  After seeing the rich source of nutrients in the organs, perhaps we can understand why this particular part of the animal was held sacred.

Today we are talking about organ meats or “offal”.  Most of us are familiar with giblet gravy or liver and onions, and many of you may be familiar with more of the organ meat dishes that have been around for thousands of years.

Even though my family raised some of our animals for meat, life happened, and I did not get a chance to really experiment with this aspect of our food.  We did eat the liver and I had the heart ground up with our hamburger meat.  The liver from our grassfed cattle was firm and tasted delicious.  The liver I see in the store is limp and tears apart when handled.  So, if you are going to be adventurous and try these new foods, try to get the organ meats from grassfed animals or wild animals like deer, moose or elk if you can.

Giblets Most are familiar with giblets as part of the Thanksgiving meal.  The giblets are the liver, heart and gizzard of the turkey, chicken, duck or other game birds.  The neck is not considered a giblet but is included in the package with the whole birds.  The giblets are simmered for a couple of hours and added to stuffing, casseroles, gravies and soups.  In other parts of the world they are grilled, fried, stewed and pickled.  In Nigeria the gizzard is reserved for the man at the table who is most respected.

Liver comes from poultry, calf, pig, lamb and goose.  Liver is rich in iron and vitamins A, C and D.  It’s also a rich source of B vitamins like B1, B2, B6 and B12.  High in protein, zinc, copper, selenium and niacin we can see why cultures around the world valued the liver and other organs as part of their diet.  Liver is fried, stir-fried, baked, stewed, boiled, broiled and even eaten raw.  It is made into sausages like liverwurst and spreads like pate and chopped liver.  In Africa, the first solid food a baby is introduced to is raw liver.  The mother chews it first and gives it to her baby.  The Neurs tribe of Africa held the liver so sacred it could not be touched with human hands.  They used a spear or specially prepared forked stick to handle the liver prior to consumption.

Kidneys are rich in protein, iron, phosphorus, and vitamins A, B1 and B2.  Braised, grilled, sautéed, broiled and stewed, they are put in dishes like steak and kidney pie and stews.  A British dish is the steak and kidney pie which is a mixture of chopped kidneys, beef, onion, mushrooms and beef stock topped with a pastry crust and baked.  The Spanish stew the kidneys with a sherry sauce, the French stew them with a mustard sauce and the Swedish eat a pork and kidney stew.

Adrenal Glands sit on top of the kidneys.  They are the richest source of vitamin C of all the plant or animal sources.  When the Native Indians of Canada and Alaska would hunt moose, the adrenal glands were cut into however many pieces they needed for each person in the tribe and were eaten fresh.  This was how they prevented scurvy.  That sounds like its pretty rich in vitamin C!

Sweetbreads are the thymus glands and the pancreas of a calf, lamb or young pig.  They are poached, sautéed, braised, and sometimes used in pates and soufflés.  They are soaked in salt water then poached in milk to remove the outer membrane. Then they are breaded and fried.  They taste sweeter and richer than muscle meat, if it comes from a young animal.  In Latin American dishes sweetbreads are grilled and in Turkish dishes they are served in bread.

Tripe is the stomach lining of cows, sheep and pigs that is used for soups, stews and casseroles in various cultures.  It is stewed, boiled, baked, fried, broiled and grilled.  The Scottish stuff a sheep stomach with a mixture of boiled liver, lungs, heart and rolled oats before cooking it.  Others like the Pennsylvania Dutch stuff the stomach with pork sausage, potatoes, cabbage, onions and spices.  The Chinese stir fry the stomach with veggies.  Mexican dishes deep fry it with the rest of the pig meat.  A French dish is braised tripe with carrots, onions and cider.  Spanish cultures make menudo, a tripe soup with hominy.  Many other cultures around the world make different kinds of tripe soups.

Chitterlings or chitlins are the cooked small intestine of the pig.  It has been roasted, stewed or fried.  Chitterlings have been used all over the world wherever pig is a part of the diet.   Depending on where in the world you are and what time period you are in, chitterlings are either a poor man’s food or a rich man’s delicacy.  The intestines are carefully cleaned, go through several rinses and then boiled for several hours.  Then they are cooked again by being battered and fried.  Other times they are used for sausage casings.

There’s more:

More organs I haven’t included in this newsletter are the brains, lungs, testicles and other parts like the cheeks, tongue, ears, nose and feet!  I may have stretched some of you to the limits with today’s newsletter, and others may know far more and should be here teaching me!  So, if there is an interest in continuing our adventure down this trail, please email me and let me know!

Oh, and the Black Pudding?  Well, that’s not really a pudding, but a blood sausage.  The blood is mixed with other fillers like meat, oatmeal, fat or barley and made into a sausage.  It is part of a healthy traditional breakfast in Ireland, the U.K. and Canada.

My Favorite Liver and Onions Recipe

1 package beef liver (or bison, venison…), cut in strips

1 lb natural bacon

1 large onion, sliced

1 package portabella mushrooms, sliced

bacon grease

In one skillet, stir fry the sliced onions and mushrooms.

In the other skillet fry the liver and bacon together until done.

Serve the liver and bacon with the onions and mushrooms on top.  I like to douse this recipe with ketchup and sea salt!   And I love the greasy taste of the bacon with the dryness of the liver.

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