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sheep-heads

Offal

[aw-fuhl, of-uhl]

Offal is the entrails and internal organs of a butchered animal. The word does not refer to a particular list of organs, but includes most internal organs other than muscles or bones. Depending on the cultural context, offal may be considered as waste material that is thrown away, or as delicacies that command a high price. Offal not used directly for human or animal food is often processed in a rendering plant, producing material that is used for animal feed, fertilizer, or fuel.

Offal as food, by region

Europe

In some parts of Europe, scrotum, brain, chitterlings (pig's large intestine), trotters (feet), heart, head (of pigs, calves, sheep and lamb), kidney, liver, "lights" (lung), sweetbreads (thymus), tongue, snout (nose), and tripe (stomach) from various mammals are common menu items.

The traditional Scottish haggis consists of sheep stomach stuffed with a boiled mix of liver, heart, lungs, rolled oats and other ingredients. In the UK Midlands faggots are made from ground or minced pig offal (mainly liver and cheek), bread, herbs and onion wrapped in pig's caul. Steak and kidney pie (typically featuring veal or beef kidneys) is widely known and enjoyed in Britain. Brawn is an English term for "head cheese" or the collection of meat and tissue found on an animal's skull (typically a pig) that is chilled and set in gelatin.

Iceland has its own version of both haggis and brawn. The Icelandic haggis called "slátur" (Slaughter) is made in two versions "Blóðmör" (Bloodlard); a sheep's stomach stuffed with a mixture of sheep's blood, rolled oats and cut up bits of sheep's fat, and "lifrarpylsa" (liver sausage) which consists of sheep stomach stuffed with a mixture of ground lamb's liver, rolled oats and cut up bits of sheep. The Icelandic brawn "Svið" is made from singed sheep heads and it is eaten either hot or cold off the bone or set in gelatin.

In Denmark a dish similar to haggis is called Blodpølse (blood sausage) and head cheese in Denmark is called "Sylte" and is made from pigs heads.

In Romania there is a dish similar to haggis called drob, which is served on Easter. Also, Romanian peasants make a kind of traditional sausages from pork offal, called caltabos. Also, a popular dish called ciorba de burta is similar to Shkembe chorba (from Turkish işkembe çorbası).

In Greece (and similarly in Turkey and Republic of Macedonia), splinantero consists of liver, spleen, and small intestine, roasted over an open fire. A festive variety is kokoretsi (from Turkish kokoreç, Macedonian kukurek): pieces of lamb offal (liver, heart, lungs, spleen, kidney and fat) are pierced on a spit and covered by washed small intestine wound around in a tube-like fashion. The kokoretsi is then roasted over coal fire. It is a traditional dish for Easter. Another traditional Easter food is mageiritsa: a soup made with lamb offal and lettuce in a white sauce. Tzigerosarmas (from Turkish ciğer sarması, meaning "liver wrap") and gardoumba are two varieties of splinantero and kokoretsi made in different sizes and with extra spices to improve the taste.

In Bulgaria, Republic of Macedonia and Turkey, Shkembe chorba is a widespread soup variety made from tripe.

In Italy consumption of entrails and internal organs is quite widespread, among the most popular preparations are fried or stewed brain, boiled intestines (Trippa), often served with tomato sauce, lampredotto (the fourth stomach of the cow), boiled in broth and seasoned with parsley sauce and chili, liver (stir-fried with onions, roasted), kidneys, heart and coronaries (coratella or animelle), head, eyes, testicles of pig, several preparations are based on chicken entrails. In Sicily, many enjoy a type of sandwich called "pani ca meusa", or bread with spleen and caciocavallo cheese. In Brooklyn, New York, where it is also commonly eaten, it goes by the name of Vastedda.

In Spain the visceral organs are used in many traditional dishes but their use is falling out of favor with the younger generations. Among traditional dishes are callos (cow tripe, very traditional in Madrid and Asturias), liver (often prepared with onion), kidneys (often prepared with Sherry wine), brains,criadillas (bull's testicles) and cow's tongue.

In the French city of Marseille lamb's trotters and a package of lamb tripe are a traditional food under the name "pieds et paquets". In France chitterlings sausage is regarded as a delicacy called andouillette.

Latin America

In some Latin American countries, tripe is used to make menudo and mondongo; in others, like Peru, cow heart is used for anticuchos - a sort of brochettes.

In Brazil, churrasco often includes chicken hearts, roasted in a big skewer. The typical feijoada sometimes contains pork trimmings (ears, feet and tail). Gizzard stews, fried beef liver and beef stomach stews used to be more popular dishes in the past, but are nonetheless still consumed.

In Argentina and Uruguay, the traditional Asado is often made along with several offal types (called "Achuras"), like chinchulines and tripa gorda (chitterlings), mollejas (sweetbread) and riñón (cow's kidney). Also, cow's brains ("sesos") are used to make ravioli stuffing, and the tongue is usually boiled, sliced and marinated with a mixture of oil, vinegar, salt, chopped peppers and garlic.

Asia

In China, many organs and animal-parts are used for food or traditional Chinese medicine. Since pork is the most consumed meat in China, popular pork offal dishes include stir-fried cleaned pork kidneys with oyster sauce, ginger and scallions, "Wu Gen Chang Wang" a spicy stew with preserved mustard, tofu, pork intestine slices and congealed pork blood cubes. Deep fried pork intestine "Zha Fei Chang" slices and dipped in a tianmianjiang sauce is popular as street hawker food. Pork tongue slices with salt and sesame oil is also a common dish, especially in Sichuan province. Braised pork ear strips in soy sauce, Wu Xiang spices and sugar is a common "cold plate" appetizer available as hawker food or in major Asian Supermarkets, such as Dahua 99 Ranch. Cleaned pork stomach roasted primarily in sugar and soy sauce then sliced is a popular "Hong Kong BBQ" style food, or "Cha Shao". Pork liver slices served stir fried with onions or in soups is another hawker food (as Chinese regard offal as blue collar food). Pork blood soup is at least 1000 years old during the Northern Song Dynasty, when the quintessential Chinese restaurant and eateries became popular. Pork blood soup and dumplings, jiaozi, were recorded as food for night labourers in Kaifeng. As well as pork, the offal of other animals is used in traditional Chinese cooking, most commonly cattle, duck, and chicken. The Cantonese dish lou mei is made by simmering the organs and off-cuts of these animals in a soy-based sauce. Despite a common Westerners' disgust for these dishes due to cultural unfamiliarity and sanitary concerns, these offal items are very well cleaned. The pork intestines' tough inner skin (which is exposed to bolus and pre-fecal materials) is completely removed. Then, the intestine is exhaustively soaked, cleaned and rinsed. The nephrons (urine carrying and extracting vessels) of pork kidneys are skillfully scissored out, and the kidneys are soaked for several hours and cleaned.

There is sometimes a perception of strange offal usages in traditional Chinese items. The roots of traditional Chinese medicine are a combination of Taoist and rural folk beliefs. The idea of essences and energy, heat and cold, are key. Snake blood wine with a live heart is thought to promote stamina due to the "essences of energy and heat", which is derived from a snake's attributes, such as aggressive behavior (fiery) and venom (energy). When bears were more common in the Chinese northeast, bears claw and dried bear offal were used as medicines, seen as a source of vitality. Dry deer antlers is still a common medicine, thought to provide "the essences of heat energy" to cure illnesses such as influenza and coughing. Peculiar items, such as eyes, brains and penises (especially the latter) are not popular in mainstream Chinese consumption. Pork brains were consumed and thought to promote intelligence (the folk belief that consumption of an organ enhanced the corresponding human organ or part), and Chinese often consume the fish's eyes in the famous Jiangnan dish called fish head stew or in other fish dishes, such as braised or steamed fish.

The Cantonese and Vietnamese consumed monkey brains, but this is now rare to non-existent, and primarily offered to rich, Western tourists. Strange items are more associated in the Chinese southeast, Vietnam and Southeast Asia, where the tropical diversity and use of exotic items captured the Westerner's imagination during the era of colonialism up to the Vietnam War and is still a target of interest for adventure-seeking Western tourists.

The Chinese mainland contains primarily more basic use of offal that is comparable to European usage. Beef tripe, for example is used as a cold appetizer mixed with soy sauce, sesame oil, chilies and other spices. Spanish, Portuguese (tripa à moda of Porto) and Eastern Europeans are some examples of European cultures where offal consumption is more common.

In Korea, offal usage is very similar to mainland China but less frequent. Grilled intestine slices and pork blood are both consumed. Medicinal usages are also similar to mainland China and less common with offal uses. Korea traditional medicine focuses more on simpler, herbaceous materials and plants, such as ginseng, jujube and ginger.

In Singapore, pig's organ soup is a common feature of hawker centres.

In Indonesia, goat's organs are very popular for soups. Almost all of the parts are eaten.

In Japan chicken offal is often skewered and grilled over charcoal as yakitori, to be served alongside drinks in an izakaya (Japanese food-pub). Offal originating from cattle is also an ingredient in certain dishes (see yakiniku). However, Japanese culture mostly disdains offal use from large animals due to the traditional Japanese preference for cleanliness, derived from Shinto purity beliefs. During the Sino-Japanese War, Japanese troops took pigs from Chinese farmers and slaughtered the animals only for the major muscles (no head, feet and fully disemboweled). Japanese do prefer to consume seafood offal, since seafood is considered to be much more sanitary and pure since salt and water are considered pure.

In the Philippines, people eat practically every part of the pig, including snout, intestines, ears, and innards. Dinuguan is a particular type of blood sausage or blood-stew (depending on region) made using pig intestines and sometimes ears, usually with a vinegar base, and green chili peppers. Bopis (bópiz in Spanish) is a spicy Filipino dish made out of pork lungs and heart sautéed in tomatoes, chilies and onions.

In India and Pakistan, the goat's brain (maghaz), feet (paeyr), head (siri), stomach (ojhari or but), tongue (zabaan), liver (kalayji), kidney (gurda), udder (kheeri) and testicles (kapooray) as well as chickens' heart and liver are enjoyed. One popular dish, Kata-Kat, is a combination of spices, brains, liver, kidneys and other organs.

In the state of Karnataka in southern India, a strong-smelling dish called rakhti, made of heavily spiced porcine offal and cartilaginous tissue, is considered a homely indulgence by the local Christian community (observant Muslims avoid pork products).

In Bangladesh, a goat's brain (magoze), feet (paya), head (matha), stomach skin (bhuri), tongue (zihba), liver (kalija), kidney and testicles are delicacies. Chickens' heart and liver are also enjoyed.

In Nepal, a goat's brain (gidi), feet (khutta), head (tauko), stomach skin (bhudri), tongue (jibro), liver (kalejo), kidney, lungs(phokso), fried intestines (aandra), fried solidified blood (ragati) and to a lesser extent testicles are considered delicacies and are in very high demand in Dashain when families congregate and enjoy them with whiskey and beer. Chickens' heart and liver are also enjoyed but it is chicken's gizzards that are truly prized.

In Lebanon, lamb brain is used in nikhaat dishes and sometimes as a sandwich filling. A tradition practiced less often today would be to eat fish eyes either raw, boiled, or fried. Another popular dish in the region surrounding is korouch which is rice-stuffed sheep intestine.

In Iran, sheep liver, heart and kidneys are used as certain types of kebab and have a high popularity among people, as well as sheep intestines and stomach, though the latter is boiled. Sheep brains and tongue, along side shins, as a type of breakfast, are boiled in water and eaten with traditional bread.

USA

In the United States, the giblets of chickens, turkeys and ducks are much more commonly consumed than the organs of mammals, except for the liver, which is quite commonly eaten by people. Ground chicken livers, mixed with chicken fat and onions, called chopped liver, is a popular staple with American Jews. In some parts of the country the euphemism "variety meats" is used for mammal organ meat. It is illegal to sell lungs or lights for food in the United States, although some ethnic groups have traditional dishes made from them (such as lungen stew among American Jews). Mammal offal is somewhat more popular in the American South, where some recipes include chitterlings, chicken gizzards and livers, and hog maw. Scrapple, sometimes made from pork offal, is somewhat common in the Northeast US. Fried-brain sandwiches are a specialty in the Ohio River Valley. Traditional recipes for turkey gravy typically include the bird's giblets. Rocky Mountain oysters are a delicacy eaten in some cattle-raising parts of the western US and Canada.

Australia

In Australia offal is most commonly consumed in meat pies, or in ethnic dishes. Food regulations since 2003 have lifted the prohibition of offal in the meat standard, which had previously specifically banned things such as snout, genital organs, lips, lungs and scalp. These may now be added to foods, but must be named specifically in the ingredients list (not just as "offal"). The food standard also allows meat pies to contain snouts, ears, tongue roots, tendons and blood vessels without specific labelling.

Food safety issues

The offal of certain animals is unsafe to consume:

  • The liver of the polar bear is unsafe to eat because it is very high in vitamin A and can cause hypervitaminosis A, a dangerous disorder. This has been recognized since at least 1597 when Gerrit de Veer wrote in his diary that, while taking refuge in the winter in Nova Zemlya, he and his men became gravely ill after eating polar-bear liver.
  • The internal organs of the Fugu pufferfish are highly toxic — in Japan, fugu can only be prepared by trained master chefs, working under extremely strict regulations, sanitary conditions, and licensing. Even a residual portion of fugu toxin can be fatal.
  • Some animal intestines are very high in coliform bacteria and need to be washed and cooked thoroughly to be safe for eating.
  • Nervous system tissue can be contaminated with TSE prions, which cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, “mad cow disease”); in some jurisdictions these offal are classified as specified risk materials and are subject to special regulations.
  • Offal very high in purines can precipitate an acute attack of gout in someone with the condition.
  • The practice of feeding raw offal to dogs on farms and ranches can spread echinococcosis, a potentially fatal parasitic disease of animals and humans.

Health Issues

Some offal, especially brain and liver, can be very high in cholesterol.

References

External links

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