Is it Time to Bring Back Kosher Offal (Organ Meats)? A. Kerstein
Originally the word offal applied principally to the internal organs and non-muscle meats, but today offal refers to those parts of the carcass that are edible such as the livers, kidneys and tongue. In the USA the expressions "organ meats" or "variety meats" are used instead.
Jane Kinderlehrer's Confessions of a Sneaky Organic Cook (a wonderful book from the Seventies and so now out of print) has two chapters devoted to organ meats; liver, kidney, brain, spleen, thymus (sweetbreads), heart and lung. According to her they are far cheaper, have less calories and are more nutritious than the normal flesh meats.
Nowadays people in the English speaking world turn their noses up at the thought of eating these meats which used to be called offal. Older people at the Brenner Centre in Stamford Hill tell me that they did use to eat them and enjoy them as the quotes further on will confirm. An elderly friend who sadly recently passed away told me that she called them 'lights" and her son remembers eating sliced fried brains on toast (sometimes with scrambled eggs) and regarding it as a special treat. Jane Kinderlehrer devotes a whole to brains 'Get Smart - Use Brains". The following is a quote from this chapter:
'I have never seen "brains" in any restaurant. Have you? Perhaps they call them sweetbreads. The two are similar in appearance and texture and are interchangeable in recipes. But they are different-nutritionally. While sweetbreads (thymus) is a good food, brains are far superior in some nutrients and give fewer calories measure for measure.
Besides being a wonderful source of protein, of the most superior quality, brains are one of the richest sources of the B vitamin, choline, which plays an important role in the utilization of cholesterol in the body. …The smart thing to do is to use brains- they"re good for your heart.
This is easier said than done. Is there anyone who does not recoil emotionally at the very thought of eating brains? How does the sneaky cook meet this challenge?"
She than goes on to explain exactly how she did do it in various recipes, always first removing its membrane. She disguises organ meats within a 'hamburger" mix, to include two pounds of chuck steak with one pound heart and one pound lung all ground up together. Her own butcher was converted and used the same mix for his own family and everybody apparently found it delicious.
The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden has an entire 10 page chapter devoted to offal (362-372). This book I believe is still in print.
She writes that even though offal was poor food, these morsels were considered a delicacy and every community had its favourites, but only the Yemenites and North Africans have kept up their dishes. Her grandfather once caught his kosher butcher buying offal from an Arab at the market in Cairo. The butcher excused himself saying 'You all want offal. How many animals do you think I would have to kill to have enough for all of you? The offal everyone was after included liver, brains, sheep"s head, tongue, spleen, stomach, heart, tripe, testicles, cow"s udder, feet and intestines.
She further writes 'Though the Anglo-Saxon environment has not been propitious for this kind of cuisine, French kosher butchers display a marvellous array of beautifully cut, cleaned and sometimes ready cooked-pieces. What is conspicuous by its absence is kidney, to the extent that many Jews do not believe that they are kosher, although I have been assured by kosher butchers and shomers that they are.
She is right about 'Anglo-Saxons" (English speaking Ashkenazis). They will probably feel sick just reading about offal, but if they ate it without knowing what it was, say disguised in a hamburger a la Jane Kinderlehrer, or in one of Claudia Roden"s recipes, I"m sure that they would love it.
No so long ago chickens, at least kosher ones, came with innards, called giblets, which included the liver. Now both are taken out repackaged and sold at exorbitant prices.
Offal (including brains) is easily available in many Halal butchers. In Queen"s Market and Green Street, organ meats, including brains, are on sale and on show, so I suspect that it is simply the 'yuck factor" that prevents them from being more generally sold. Queen"s Market is just down the road from the West Ham football club, so if the players were to take advantage of this local source of healthy meat, they might improve their performance on the field.
Offal is undergoing a renaissance amongst the trendy foodies . My non-Jewish colleague in the Stamford Hill Jewish Care Centre told me that he was able to purchase devilled kidneys from the Holborn Waitrose, and he found them both delicious and cheap. It is being promoted by Farmers" Guardian and the English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX). According to them UK offal sales have risen over the past three years and set to continue rising as restaurants, butchers and consumers increasingly see the benefits of the 'fifth quarter". They have enlisted celebrity chef Sophie Grigson in a bid to accelerate the 'offal renaissance", which it believes could bring about a significant boost to farm incomes. Carcasses will be worth more to abattoirs and private butchers if parts that are currently disposed of, sometimes at a cost, can be sold into the food chain in quantity at a profit, EBLEX chief executive Richard Ali said 'EBLEX has created a free guide, 'It"s all about offal", with information and tips on buying and cooking offal, including a number of recipes, which is being widely distributed in butchers" shops.
There is no halachic reason why kosher butchers in this country can"t make kosher offal available here. In These straitened times this would be a great boon for traditional and Orthodox Jews, especially those with large families whose kosher meat bills must be a major expense. The sooner there is a kosher offal renaissance in the UK, the better. Perhaps an innovative kosher butcher could arrange a demonstration and start the ball rolling.