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Moroccan Stuffed Spleen

9 Sep

Have you ever eaten spleen? I hadn’t until my recent visit to John Penny where I got given a fresh beef spleen to cook with. Prior research from the Offal Club’s page suggested from their experience that spleen was gross. Anissa Helou has a few recipes in The Fifth Quarter for it, which all sound very amazing, so I was excited again. Then I read in Jennifer McLagan’s Odd Bits that she expected that “if you like liver you’ll probably like spleen”. Damned by faint praise indeed. Never one to be deterred I got my spleen out and looked at it. The spleen looked back.

More disturbingly – how filthy was my cooker that day? What a slut! And look how long a spleen is. Long. So what does a spleen do? I always find that thinking about how the organ works can help you get to know how it might be nicely cooked. A spleen:

“… is an organ found virtually all vertebrate mammals. Similar in structure to a large lymph node, the spleen acts primarily as a blood filter. It is a non-vital organ, with a healthy life possible after removal (splenectomy). The spleen plays important roles in regard to red blood cells and the immune system. It also acts as a store of blood in case large amounts are lost. The word comes from the Greek ‘splen’ which is the rough equivalnet of heart – so to be good-spleened in Greek means to be good-hearted. In French, ‘splenetique’ refers to a state of pensive sadness or melancholy.”

Of course that infomation is from wikipedia. Importantly it tells us two things: the first is that as a filter, the texture will be spongy; secondly that if you eat it Greece you’ll be happy, while if you eat it in France you’ll be sad.

Taking the Mediterranean as a theme I used Anissa Helou’s recipe for Moroccan Stuffed Spleen as a guideline to work from, but incorporated EXTRA OFFAL into the recipe. That’s right. Offal stuffed with other offal. Just like a cheap sausage. Or not.

Beef spleens are huge, so I only used half of this one. Due to the nature of stuffing as a premise, I chose to use the fat end. So if you’re cooking along with this, cut your spleen in half, freeze the thin end and then we’ll peel the membrane off the fat end.

Removing membrane from spleen is not very easy. In fact, it’s quite hard for a novice like me to do. There was some fruity language and I cut my fingers a few times. There is an outer one and an inner one (or so it seemed to me). The outer one peels away using your fingers OK.

I tried a few different ways of getting rid of the inner membrane, but the one that worked best for me, was to pinch a bit of it up and to use a knife between the membrane and the flesh to almost chip away at it in small, frequent movements. (There was meant to be a video, but I deleted the wrong file from my phone, so you actually have five second shot of the inner spleen and it’s stupid clinging membrane.)

Once you’ve removed it – or if you’re clever – ask your butcher to do it for you (if you have one), but once it is removed you make a horizontal cut most of the way through (but not the whole way) parallel to the top and bottom of it. Your stuffing will go in this pouch.

Yup, TRIPLE OFFAL STUFFING WITH PORCINI. You can of course see some chopped lamb heart, some chopped lamb sweetbreads and some rehydrated chopped porcini. The porcini had arrived that very day in my foodie penpals package. I mixed these all together with 5 crushed garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon ground cumin and 2 teaspoons of paprika. Then I shoved it in the spleen pocket, rubbed the pocket with oil and baked it in the oven at gas mark 4 for 40 minutes.

This is pre-cooking – looks pretty nice doesn’t it?

Well, by this point, after all this effort, I was very hungry indeed. And how was the spleen. To me, inedible. That was the saddest part, despite loving liver I just couldn’t cope with the texture of the spleen – think liver but with lots of fibres running the wrong way through it. I couldn’t eat mine – I was clearly in France. Daz said it was OK – so he’s in Switzerland (is that half way between France and Greece? I’m thinking diagonally). The stuffing was amazeballs though. If you take one things away from this – heart, thyroid and porcini is a GRRRRRRRRREAT combination.

If I’d got the spleen from a butcher I might have thought that it had been hanging around a while. But since I SAW THE SPLEEN COME OUT THE BEAST THAT MORNING, it can’t be that. I’m plumping for spleen being better slow cooked (so the fibres can melt down some) – I’m thinking maybe some spleen and kidney pudding? Would that be nice? Spleen, kidney and porcini pudding? I have a feeling a slow-cooked spleen has fabulous gravy potential.

But despite the loveoly ingredients, I had to perform a splenectomy on my meal (LOLZ). Have you cooked spleen? I’ll have a little poll of the suet pudding …

And I promise to attempt to cook what you decide!

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Sweets for my Sweet, Breads for my Bready?

1 Jul

Yup, it was 1994 in our house last week and C J Lewis was brapping around (Shaggy was busy). In his honour we decided to cook Sweetbreads! Yup a NEW OFFAL. One that didn’t even get touched in NosetoTail Fortnight …

This is an offal that we cannot now go and bulk buy. Then there would be many, many, many spare carcasses hanging around. Demand cannot out-strip supply. That is unsustainable. Sustainability is the name of the game!

Sweetbreads are glands. They can either be thyroid or pancreatic ones. I think these were thyroidy ones because they were plumper and roundish, rather than longer and thinner. I do know they came from a lamb. I also know I got them from the website Farmers Choice. Their website is very good, AND postage is reasonable AND you can choose your delivery day. Trufax! I also bought some pig’s ears.

The buying of the sweetbreads coincided with my Mum giving me Mark Hix’s new recipe book. It lists recipes month by month and is good at pointing out what is native and when it is best. There is a bit too much talk about foraging and fishing/hunting/poaching your own meat, not because I don’t find it fascinating, but because the reality of pretty much everyone I know is that doesn’t happen due to location restraints, I think, rather than time. I say this because a few years ago we were all told that there was no point in growing vegetables in cities because you just ended up with really polluted vegetables. It was in the papers – do you remember? I raised this point again on my herbs course at Dilston Physic Garden, as to how much benefit you lost by using herbs that grew in and around the city. Or if by using plants that breathed the same gases you did, whether that made them have a better synergy with you. All that aside, the Mark Hix book is good and should you wish to see what I’m talking about, you can find it here.

He suggests that sweetbreads be eaten in July. This is different to the “Spring” that I’ve read elsewhere. I guess June falls between the two nicely anyhow. Apparently you can do the same treatment with testicles. FYI.

The end bit of this recipe is a bit of a rat-race and you have to do things simultaneously. Just saying. I was a bit shocked in the change of pace from ‘lalalalala just change and soak lalalalalala’ to ‘BOIL, FRY, SIMMER, REDUCE, WATCH ALL THE PANS LIKE A HAWK AS NOTHING NEEDS COOKING FOR VERY LONG AT ALL’. Like you arrived at the Parochial Church Ramble and it turned out to be bleep-tests for ultra-runners.

Just do like a boy scout …

I had 250g of sweetbreads, so had to adjust the recipe, and it fed two people comfortably.

1 medium onion, 150ml lamb stock, 150g podded peas, 100ml double cream (I used extra thick), 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

  1. Soak the sweetbreads in repeated changes of water until the water is pretty clear. This could take up to an hour (it took us about twenty minutes).
  2. Cover them with water and boil them for two minutes. Then drain and run COLD water over them. You will want to now peel away the outer membrane. It’s very fine (like the layer of cells between onion layers), but is definitely manageable:
  3. Now heat a knob of butter in a pan and fry the onion gently until soft. Add the stock and let it reduce til there is only a few tablespoons left mingled in with the onion.
  4. While the stock is reducing boil your peas for 3-4 and then cool them under running cold water.
  5. Add the cream to the onion/stock mix and let it reduce by a third.
  6. While the cream is reducing, heat a tablespoon oil in a frying pan, season the sweetbreads and fry them on a high heat until each side is crisp.
  7. Remove them from the pan (drain on kitchen towell if you feel the need), then add them to the cream mix along with the peas. Simmer it all together for a couple of minutes.
  8. Serve.

It is lovely and refreshing. VERY SWEET. Who knew meat could be this sweet? Almost like marshmallows, but a bit sweeter. Amazing. Nutty. Sweeter than testicles actually.

Would I make them again? Maybe. Would I order them in a restaurant? Yes. What do I think about the recipe? The peas added too much sweetness, but I’m not sure what you’d match with soemthing sweet, nutty and meaty. Any ideas? I was thinking maybe grapefruit? And lovage? As like a side salad?

Have you eaten sweetbreads? Are you too attached to your thyroid to eat that of another creature?