Tag Archives: offal

Happy New Year

4 Jan

Well, December slid by didn’t it? My last month of offaltarianism morphed (mostly) into vegetarianism. I think I just got a bit tired of being inventive. I fell back to random tomato based curries and soups. I did invent a new soup to get around the fact I couldn’t use bacon in a brussel sprouts soup – Brussel and Anchovy Soup. Much more delicious than I thought it would be!

I had two Christmas dinners: with my family in Norfolk we had a big chicken, so I had a wing (thanks Anissa); then in Leeds with my partner and his son we had sausages. Getting others to agree to an offal Christmas dinner was harder than I had anticipated! I introduced a friend to the joys of chicken liver curry (the livers marinated in pomegranate juice … mmmm mmmm), but mostly I made the most of my veg box and as it got closer to the festive season, tried to make toblerone the major component of every meal.

So what now? To be honest, I don’t really know. I have eaten only offal for a year. I have relieved my offal debt. I can return to how I was eating before?

I won’t. My whole year of experiences has made me think much much more about what I put in my body. In this flush of eating what I like, I’ve scoffed a lot of bacon and am planning KFC VERY SOON. I’m excited to roast a chicken one weekend. Once this flush is over – what then?

I did have the idea of trying to only eat meat where I knew exactly where it came from. In a way, that is so much harder than just eating offal. Questioning people? Conversing, rather than mumbling “I’ll have two kidneys please” – not sure about that. When we’ve got our shed sorted and a chest freezer purchased I do want to buy a whole/half animal and eat it across a year. Not yet though …

So Happy New Year! I’m still cogitating on my offal journey and how it will impact on the rest of my life. Please look through the archives – I’ll be adding some outstanding ones including Homemade Haggis over the coming months. Enjoy offal. It is delicious. Respect the animals by eating it too. I would be well pissed off if I was killed for my meat and then my heart was passed over – wouldn’t you?

Venison Liver and Holistic Cauliflower

15 Sep

Less of a post, more of  a handy hint: did you know that venison liver is awesome? Try it. I got mine from Round Green Farm at the Kirkstall Farmers Market and it is SUPER TASTY. I’ve eaten it before and always look out for it. The simplest way to cook it is to flour it all over and then fry for 2-3 minutes on each side.

Did you know that you can eat the leaves of cauliflowers as well as the florets? I didn’t and I come from the Land of the Brassica (tip courtesy of the lovely lady a B Whiteleys Vegetables). Don’t eat the woody tough bit that runs down the middle of the leaf, but the floppity leaf bits at either side. I snipped them away with scissors and them steamed them briefly. Lovely, cabbage but not, if you will. I’m sure this is old hat to some people, but it was flash of enlightenment for me! What other overlooked leaves can you eat?

I also made a cauliflower cheese. What a nice dinner! I do like going to the Kirkstall Market …

I *heart* the John Penny Abattoir

2 Sep

I went to visit an abattoir. Then I went and got a new tyre for my car and then volunteered at the museum. Then I went home and had spleen for tea and watched Clash of the Titans (original) and then went to bed. The important bit was the word ABATTOIR.

Basically, since I’m a massive celebrity now (*pinches salt and hopes that one man coming to work to say he’d heard me on the radio counts*), the lovely Kate at John Penny invited me to come and look at their processes. So lovely are John Penny Meats that they invited me long before my celebrity stardom, when I was just a lonely carnivore searching West Yorkshire for some udder.

So first of all I should say THANK YOU to them for being really kind and showing me all around the site. I should also say – if you have a feeling of trepidation about reading further – don’t because my experience was overwhelming positive.

John Penny is a family-run farm, abattoir and meat wholesaler. Not only do they raise their own animals, but all the animals they do kill spend time on their pasture around in and around the Aire valley. They are dedicated to producing ethically-sourced and expertly processed meat. They are a very open business (hence the invitation) and take pride in the fact that there is a clear transparency in what they do. In my opinion they appear to be setting an amazing benchmark – not just for other meat producers to follow – but we can all learn from their standards of quality and sourcing. They run a campaign to get people to return to shopping at a local butcher. Do, please, devote some time to their website.

I said to my boyfriend the night before “I hope it doesn’t make me vegan” – not because I am against veganism (I am definitely pro) – but because I hoped it would be a positive experience. I pulled into the car park at 7.20 am and crossed my fingers.

The tour of the abattoir took place in reverse. I was shown around by a lovely man called Clive, who was in charge of the abattoir. This means that you’ll see what I saw, which was from the packaged product through to the babes in their mangers.

The first task I had to do was to suit up – cover my hair, my clothes, get some white wellies on and remove all my jewellery. I also had to pass my own ‘health inspection’ to make sure I hadn’t suffered from any recent illnesses. I passed. All would be well.

The first area Clive took me to was the chilled storage area where the packaged meat is kept until it shipped out.

By the time I got there, most had been loaded to lorries and taken away. Open your mind’s eye and imagine just how much meat they could be in there. Lots. More than is in the offal drawer in my freezer. In here, Clive explained how the labelling system they have works: each animal has its personal passport number which is fed into the system when they go into the abattoir. Checked and double-checked, this system not only keeps track of individual animal as they are slaughtered and butchered, but reams of other information as well. This code is transferred to the meat packs, so that a butcher anywhere in the country can then access the information themselves. As we’ll see there are lots of stages, so keeping provenance attached to the animal needs a lot of care.

The next room we saw was where carcasses were being turned into the large joints that get sent to butchers (which then become our steaks and chops). Here the men wore chain-mail and had very sharp knives. The pace of work appeared incredibly fast to me.

The next few rooms were where the half carcasses wait, hanging, until the butchers are ready for them. The scale is monumental. Beef cattle are massive.

What was interesting, was that to continue to ensure that the provenance of each animal is kept, each of these sides has seven labels put on it with the same information, so each section retains the information through to the end processes. Doesn’t the meat look beautiful too?

Another interesting thing is that you can still tell whether they are male (steer) or female (heifer) long after all the reproductive organs are removed. If you look at the one above on the left, there is a bulge of fat next to the hind leg (they are hung up by their hind legs). This fat means it is a heifer. (On a personal note, having been called a fat heifer at primary school, the still-slightly-sensitive-nine-year-old prefers the much less professional term of lady-cow.)

In this picture you can use a bone in the middle of the carcass that looks a bit like an elongated and bent butternut squash. This is the *snigger* willy bone. That’s how you tell the difference. The caracass above is a steer. I’ve deliberately not used the word ‘boner’ at any point. Deliberately.

From these cathedrals of meat we headed along to the production line, where the animals are slaughtered, skinned, disembowelled and health-checked. There’s a lot of action going on. It appeared to me that each person had their role in the process and it was a well-oiled machine. I tried to stay out of the way as much as I could.

This is just part of the line of slaughtermen that do all the things to the animals. The gentleman in the middle is Glen. He was very deft at getting the intestines out of these lambs. He also gave me a lovely smile.

I shouldn’t have been surprised at how well-organised and defined all the roles were, but I was a little. I think that’s because a lot of the information that is popularly received puts the word ‘slaughter’ in a very negative way and depicts abattoirs as chaotic places. To be honest, all the premises were far, far cleaner than my house, people were constantly sweeping, tidying and sharpening knives.

Two vets are at work at the abattoir all the time as well. One inspects the chest organs of every animal, whilst the other ensure the animals are looked after to the highest standards.

Here, the vet is inspecting the organs for disease. John Penny require such high standards in the stock that they buy, that finding any sign of disease in one of their animals is extremely rare. Apparently, the farmers that do sell stock animals to them work very hard to make sure the animals are to a standard that John Penny will accept.

When I tried to take the picture, the vet stepped backwards. Photography has never been my strong point. However I do like the disembodied blue gloves feeling some lights up in a bit of carcass steam. Atmospheric.

Clive was at pains to stress to me that certainly at John Penny, nothing is wasted from the carcasses. Someone buys the hides to make shoes with. The bovine penises are shipped to the Far East. A lot of offal goes to the other side of the Pennines (apparently Lancashire is an offal hotspot). Everything, from every animal goes somewhere.

And then we get to the killing.

I’m not squeamish, so I hoped I wouldn’t be squeamish about this. I wasn’t. The anatomist in me found it fascinating. The carnivore in me wasn’t bothered (I’ve known all my life where meat comes from). The animal-lover (who once owned 16 animals at one time in a bizarre post-heartbreak petting zoo) thought that the respect shown to each animal was really very beautiful.

First I saw some sheep die. A few at a time are led into a pen and then they are stunned individually, hung up by a back leg and then their throat is cut. It’s a very calm process. So concerned was Clive that I might upset and stress the sheep that I had to stand behind a plastic curtain, peering through. (I’m not that alarming surely?) In spite of the fact, other sheep were being stunned in front of them, the others really didn’t seem concerned. (I imagine they were too busy puzzling over the peeping Tom in the corner.) The kill happens so fast that it is seconds between the stun and the throat-cutting and death. I can think of far worse ways to go. (I am not advocating cannibalism.)

The scale of the deaths of the cattle is greater. Cattle are huge. Again, all I saw was respect, a swift death for each animal and an extremely efficient butchering process. The slaughtermen are raised up on platforms to work, because cows are so big. It was amazing to see. Then Clive and I journeyed round to see the living animals.

Stress makes animals unhappy. Pre-death stress makes meat taste sour due to hormone releases. For both of these reasons, great pains have been taken to ensure that the animals are kept as calm as possible before they die. I saw the guys checking ear-tags as gently as they could to minimise upset. It is also the reason that stock animals have months if not years in the Penny fields before being slaughtered, so that they can recover from quite long journeys from the farms they were born on. I also saw the cattle truck John Penny has. It is plush. I wouldn’t mind a ride in it.

I choose to eat meat. I choose not to shy away from where it comes from. To me, it is a case of being honest with myself and thinking about the factors behind what I eat that I find it important. I think sustainability is important and animal welfare. The journey of this year has been about trying to renege my ‘offal debt’ and make up for a lifetime of not eating animals in a holistic manner. If you asked yourself the honest question of ‘do you trust where your meat comes from?’ can you say yes?

I’m not perfect, so my answer would be No. Sometimes I eat sausages from the ‘Spoon at the end of the road. They probably contain more mechanically recovered meat than anything else. I am trying though. What is great to see is that at the other end of the food chain, much greater efforts are being made to look after animals to a high standard and deliver a quality product.

I said to Kate (slightly dazed at the end of a long morning): “That was really beautiful”. It is. From the rhythms of the slaughtermen amongst the machinery to the cows chewing cud in the fields behind, there is a lot to be said for visiting where food you eat is produced and seeing that other people put as much care and respect into it, as you would  like to imagine.

Sour Lamb Neck (deliciousness, but could be sourer)

8 Feb

Neck of lamb isn’t strictly speaking an offal, but it is definitely an underused cut of meat with bone in it, so I picked some up from my Mum’s butcher in Pinchbeck, Lincolnshire, and froze it until a occassion where I was skint. That occasion came and haunted by a delicious dish of lime lamb neck at a Lebanese restaurant in Leeds called Fairuz, I wanted to make something similarly SOUR. So the other name for this dish would be Lamb and Grapefruit Casserole.

There are no pictures of this gem, because it was another brown dish and you’ve probably seen lots of brown casseroles in your time. So, PAUSE, and IMAGINE a dish of brown …. like a nice dark brown, the colour of chesnuts exposed to the air for about an hour and a half*.

This recipe is different to my others, in that it seems to me to have an inordinate amount of ingredients, but essentially was made from what Daz and I had on the kitchen side. I’m not sure either if I’m writing the recipes out in a way that you can follow, so if it doesn’t make any sense, please let me know.

The ingredients fall into four groups:

  1. 4 tablespoons plain flour, 1 teaspoon chilli flakes, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, 1 neck of a lamb cut into four by your butcher
  2. half a large aubergine, half a very large courgette, 1 whole turnip
  3. zest and juice of 2 limes, zest and juice of one yellow grapefruit, 2 teaspoon dried rosemary, 1 teaspoon hot paprika, half teaspoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon ground allspice, 1 and a half teaspoon ground cumin
  4. 2 vegetable stock cubes, enough hot water to cover all ingredients, 4 dashes Magi liquid seasoning

What I did was to mix on a teaplate all the dry ingredients from 1, then coat lamb neck in mixture and fry off till browned. I put the neck in the slow cooker with the rest of the flour-spice mix. Then add 2 to the slow cooker and jumble them all together with your (washed) hands. Add all of 3, jumble once more. Add 4, stirring to melt the cubes of stock. If of course, you make/use real veg stock then reduce the additional water, please.

I left everything to marinate over night in the slow cooker and then switched it to high at about 8am the following morning. We ate at 7 that night. (If you don’t have a slow cooker a) buy one because they are ace and b) you can just do a normal casserole at 180 for 3 hours or so, the gravy might not be as thick but you can always add cornflour.) It was scrumblelicious, but didn’t have the sour sour tang that I’d been after. I blame the Asda grapefruit. Maybe it had lost its sour by sitting in my kitchen when it was already reduced to sell-by-fresh for two weeks.

Ideas for different things to make it sour are welcome – tamarind might work? preserved lemons? those gobstoppers I remember from being 7 which had SKULL GROWLING on them? I found this blog which is all about Cambodian food and how they love it sour. The rest of the blog is pretty good too. My friend Paul lives in Cambodia and he hasn’t mentioned the sour factor but has mentioned how they love to eat all the bits of the animals, perhaps a Cambodian special one week, prehaps I’ll cook some brains in a Pol Pot? *comedy trombone noise and muttered apologies*

*At primary school we did a day where we got a conker, broke it out and drew the changing shapes and colours of the darkening brown pigment. There are only so many times you can draw the same conker in one day.

Shake your Tailfeather (Tailmeat, rather)

1 Feb

Here you can see a picture of me holding some Oxtail in the area approximate to where I reckon my coccyx is. Let me know if I’m right or wrong. I was imagining, if you will, what it might be like to have a massive meaty tail. It hurt my arms a bit.

This is a post about the most accessible of the offal cuts. The one that has no challenging texture, needs no funny preparation and has a delicious beefy taste. If you’ve not cooked oxtail in your life, get on it like a bonnet, because a) it is delicious and b) the price has definitely risen in the last year. I think oxtail is the new pork belly and pretty soon we’ll be talking about it all the time.

Oxtail is available in a lot of supermarkets – I got mine from Morrisons – and is basically cow tail. So you could make a pie from it and then you’d get Cow Pie. But you could do that with any beef. I’m not much of a Beano reader as you may have guessed.

I find oxtail works best if you make it in a slow cooker. Not only are slow cookers dead easy to use, but a cut like oxtail needs a long slow braise to tenderise the meat and to make darned sure that all the deliciousness of marrow comes out of the bones.

I’ve cooked oxtail several times –  from Oxtail tomato something to Jamaican oxtail (No, it didn’t include Lilt) – this time because Daz hadn’t made oxtail before we used a very nice Jamie Oliver recipe which junipered up the oxtail. A few weeks on, I’ve lost the recipe, but found it on this blog! I’ve made my own changes though.

1 jointed oxtail; 1 de-stringed and chopped celery stick; 1 chopped onion; 1 peeled and chopped carrot; 1 leek chopped; 1/2 bottle cheap red wine; 1 tablespoon crushed fennel seeds; 1 tablespoon crushed juniper berries; 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon; 1 teaspoon crushed chillies; 1 tablespoon tomato puree; 2 x 400g tins of tomatoes; 1 teaspoon dried sage; 1 teaspoon dried oregano; salt and pepper

The procedure for cooking is pretty simple and can be done pretty much the same if you’re slow cookering or casseroling in the oven.

Heat a bit of oil in a pan, brown the oxtail. Add all the vegetables to the pot and sweat them down with the browning oxtail. Get a pestle and mortar and crush all the herbs, berries and seeds together. Add that flavour mix to the vege-tail (*boom boom*). Add the wine, tomatoes and tomato puree. Mix it all together – or as Jamie would say “whack it all about” and then cover and either slow-cook for 4 hours on High or cook in the oven in a Heat-Proof casserole at 160C for 3 hours. It will go all lovely and melty and delicious. 

We decided to make dumplings to accompany the stew. Parsley dumplings at that, but I made the fatal error of not topping up the liquid in the casserole so it got a bit too sticky and maybe a little burnt. If you do add dumplings, make sure you add a tomato can of extra water to the mix, so that the dumplings have something to puff them up – you could use stock too I guess. I followed the instructions on the side of the suet packet and added 2 teaspoons dried parsley to the flour. Bob’s your uncle!



Dipping my toe …

7 Jan

My first full week of being offaltarian began in earnest. Well ish. Some. A bit. It began with a visit to Little Tokyo in Leeds. It has a lot to offer the vegan/vegetarian, but what did it have to offer the offaltarian (I really like that term)? Well, unsurprisingly not a huge amount. All the meat things were out. The fish was in of course, but after my previous post about being a responsible fish eater, I wanted to well do that. But then I got over-excited and saw that eel was on the menu. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeel.I had an eel bento … It was delicious, but …

I’ve plagued myself with half-remembered articles that I’ve read about eels and how people still don’t know where they spawn and what happens to adult eels after they’ve had a reproductive time and how long it takes them to reach sexual maturity and I’m not sure I made the right choice. A bit of the old google has shown me that I should be asked if the eel was sustainbably sourced as there is a new EU eel labelling standard (here). Each EU member state has had to come up with an Eel Management Plan that reflects the eels unique lifestyle. In England it is the Sustainable Eel Group who are responsible for its implementation.

However, at present, the eel is still on the Marine Stewardship Council’s red list (here) of species that are unsustainably caught. They also run the good fish guide so you can work out which fishes are most responsibly fished. This is excellent and I would downlaod the iphone app if I had one.

So, what you should take away from this lesson: DO NOT GET OVER-EXCITED IF YOU SEE EEL ON A MENU. IT IS NAUGHTY TO EAT IT AND THE (surviving) EELS WILL PUNISH YOU.

Eat Tilapia.