The vegan and vegetarian movements are without doubt increasing in pace and volume. But there is still a large proportion of us who include animals in our diet in some form or another. And whether you are a proud carnivore, morally conflicted, or an occasional steak dabbler, it’s time to broaden our approach and open our minds to eating some of the lesser-known cuts.
In the UK, we have become increasingly detached from what we eat, and often don’t make the connection between a nice, clean packet of meat, and the live animal it came from. Conversely, when we see animals in real life, it’s hard to imagine that living and breathing thing as something we’re going to have killed to cook and eat.
This is not the case for much of the world. For communities that are still heavily involved in farming, especially in poorer regions where choice is less of an option, animals are definitely seen as food, and not only the popular cuts – the entire animal.
Most meat eaters do eat offal, but in a disguised form such as sausages. We know this, and yet most of us are still very reluctant to buy and cook offal in its raw form. Maybe it’s because eating offal, which is hard to disguise as anything else, makes that link between animal and food a little too graphic for us to stomach. The simple fact is if we eat every bit of the animal, less will be wasted. And not only that, but buying all parts of an animal gives more value to it, which makes rearing them via slower, less-intensive methods more commercially viable.
Due to its relative unpopularity, offal is also a much more affordable way of eating meat. Creating meals out of offcuts and carcasses is a seriously efficient and economical way of managing your food budget. And it’s a brilliant chance to get to know your local butcher. You can ask questions directly about where the animals were raised and give your own feedback on what you buy – ask them for carcasses or recommendations for offal and they should be more than happy to help.
Eating the entire animal is a no-brainer (ironically also a yes-brainer). Not only are the cheaper cuts of meat delicious when cooked correctly, offal is also full of really good and healthy stuff. Liver in particular is full of vitamins and nutrients that can complement an otherwise plant-led diet excellently.
From nose to tail
Try cooking liver with onion and wild mushrooms, blitzing in a food processor and serving as homemade pâté on toast.
Kidney, as well as liver, can be simply fried and eaten exactly as it is. Kidneys are quite intense in flavour, so if this is a bit much for you, why not try sweetbreads (the thymus glands or occasionally the pancreas of young cattle or lamb). Cooked to be crispy on the outside, they are absolutely delicious.
Bone broths are super simple to make and are a brilliant way of extracting nutrients from carcasses. Next time you have a roast chicken, try boiling the carcass and bones with vegetable scraps and loads of dried herbs to make a delicious and low-cost soup. Get really creative and make a ramen broth, with pork bones and a few ingredients, such as miso pastes and spice blends, and you’ll have something that is ten times tastier than shop bought.
For some reason we don’t mind buying whole fish, but few of us actually use the whole thing. Make a simple fish stock with the heads and bones and use as the base for soups, chowders and sauces. Roasted crab and lobster shells make absolutely beautiful bisques – roast in the oven, then combine with gently sauteed onion, garlic and celery, tomatoes, white wine, tabasco and cream.
There is so much flavour and nutrition locked up in bones and offal that we would normally discard. By addressing this, we not only become better cooks and create less waste, but we also begin to become more thoughtful and conscientious consumers.
This article was initially published in the latest print issue of Wicked Leeks. You can read the full magazine online and for free via Issuu.