Will offal ever be a menu favourite?

Can offal make the leap from a second-class cut asks Daniel G. During

Daniel During
Daniel During

 In favour of offal: as culinary innovation comes full circle, can offal make the leap from second-class cut to mainstream menu favourite?

The mere mention of offal evokes strong opinion from both culinary experts and the man on the street. Even the term, coined by the British to collectively refer to the edible organs and innards of livestock, has a gritty and somewhat unpalatable sound.

There are a rash of reasons and cultural influences driving our love or loathing of heart, brain, kidney, tongue and stomach, and while it may no longer feature on the weekly shopping list, it props up the national menu on virtually every continent.

But, here at least, butcher’s shops and supermarket meat counters are becoming increasingly focused on favouring the prime cuts of meat; a direct result of an increasingly affluent lifestyle that sees social status being linked directly to the contents of our shopping carts.

There’s nothing like a rich oxtail stew on a cold English winter’s day, while ris de veau (sweetbreads) in a chive cream sauce grace menus across France, and Norwegians celebrate the festive season with smalahove, a salted, smoked and boiled sheep’s head that is shared.

The sheer diversity and ingenuity of recipes can turn the most unappealing of organs into something really rather extraordinary. There’s Peruvian anticuchos (beef heart brochettes), sopa de médula (Mexican brain soup)and Indonesian gulai sumsum (bone marrow curry).

Still not convinced? Well here’s a thought for carbon footprint-conscious Generation-Y carnivores unwilling to swap their rib eye for duck livers: with 10 kilos of cereal needed to produce just one kilo of beef, using all edible parts of the animal is ultimately a much more environmentally friendly approach to rearing animals for meat.

A revival
In the Middle East and North Africa, offal is a staple of many cuisines. Pick up any Lebanese restaurant menu and you’ll find brain, liver and heart served in a variety of ways, while in Egypt liver especially is priced on a par with the best cuts of beef, and the spicy Libyan liver dish, known as galiya, is prized for its flavour and nutritional value.

Innovative chefs in Europe and North America are also heralding a return to basics with offal dishes jostling for space at some of the best restaurants from London to Los Angeles – with prices to match. London has a number of offal-friendly venues including the perennially popular St. John Bar & Restaurant, as well as relative newcomer Hereford Road.

Over in California, there is also renewed interest in ‘variety meats’ – the North American euphemism for offal – with chefs such as Chris Cosentino pushing the off-cuts to a newly appreciative audience through his website, www.offalgood.com.

LA’s Animal restaurant is another trendsetter on the offal appreciation circuit, with dishes including coconut sweetbreads served with raita, mango and tamarind. In Pittsburgh, there’s even a 40-member strong ‘liver and onions club’, dedicated to hunting down the best organ dishes around the city.

If the repackaging and repositioning of offal is tempting squeamish North Americans to pick up their forks, then surely there is potential here in the heart of the trend-centric Gulf, where the cost of importing products negates the original affordability argument.

La Petite Maison and Rivington Grill in Dubai are two venues that have embraced edible organs as mainstream menu items. With their status as current dining hotspots for the social cognoscenti, could this tip the scales in favour of the offal food movement as the regional restaurant scene looks for the next big thing?

Daniel G. During is the principal and managing director at Thomas Klein International, a design, consulting and management company for investors and operators in the hospitality, entertainment and leisure sectors throughout The Middle East and beyond.

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