Variety meats, or ‘offal’, are the internal organs and external parts of the animal that are edible. Variety meats is the term commonly used in the US; the term offal is used in the UK.
The Larousse Gastronomique, 1988 edition, uses two categories for variety meats: white offal or abat blanc (marrow, brain, feet, stomach, sweetbreads and testicles) and red offal or abat rouge (heart, liver, kidneys, spleen, tongue and lungs). Two professional cooking books, The New Professional Chef and Professional Cooking, divide offal by glandular or organ meats, and muscle meats. Terms and definitions for variety meats or offal may have different names depending on where you are; animelles are testicles in France, but they are known as ‘fries’ or ‘oysters’ in the US.
Modern cookbooks have relatively little information and recipes for these animal parts, but a look back to older books will provide lots of tips and recipes for these under-utilized parts of the animal. Two examples are The Epicurean, the cookbook from the venerable Delmonico’s restaurant, and the 1960′s edition of Larousse Gastronomique.
Depending on the culture and animal, the offal parts of the animal used in culinary applications include: the whole head, cock’s combs, brains, ears, eyes, the muzzle, snout and palates, cheeks, tongue, sweetbreads and other glands, belly (including stomachs, intestines, and mesentery), blood, bone and spinal marrow, heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, spleen, testicles, tails, and feet. Many of these terms are described below.
Variety Meat and Offal Terminology
Below are terms, foreign words used, and definitions for many variety meats. All terminology listed in alphabetical order. Visit All Qd Up to see what the chicken variety meats look like.
- Amourette: Spinal marrow (usually in the case of beef or veal).
- Animelles: Testicles.
- Bath Chaps: Pig’s cheek (smoked). This is used like smoked bacon.
- Caul Fat: Membrane from intestines (pig or sheep) with a netting look to it.
- Chap: Cheek or lower jaw, usually in the case of pork, see ‘bath chaps’.
- Chitterlings: Pig’s large intestines.
- Cock’s Comb (Cockscomb): Fleshy part of the tops of heads of gallinaceans (birds including turkey, chicken, quails, pheasants).
- Crow: See ‘mesentery’.
- Fry or “Fries”: Testicles—beef, veal, pork, lamb.
- Foie Gras: Enlarged livers from force-fed geese.
- Giblets: Poultry innards: gizzards, heart and liver.
- Gizzards: Stomach of a bird.
- Hog’s Maw: Stomach of a pig.
- Kernels: Fat covered gland, found in veal shoulder.
- Lights: Lungs.
- Marrow: The soft center of animal bones, mostly in beef legs, as ‘marrowbone’.
- Melt: spleen—pig or calf.
- Mesentery: Membrane holding together the intestines, usually in the case of calves.
- Miltz: Beef spleen from Kosher butchers.
- Museau de Boeuf: Beef muzzle (French).
- Oreilles: Ears (French).
- Ox: Not to be confused with the actual ox animal, ox is a term given to less choice cuts or parts of beef; for example ‘oxtail’ comes from beef, not from an actual ox.
- Oxtails: Beef tails, also ‘ox-tails’.
- Palais de Boeuf: Beef Palate (French).
- Prairie Oysters: Testicles—beef or veal.
- Rocky Mountain Oysters: Testicles—beef or veal.
- Sow’s Maw: Stomach of a pig.
- Sweetbreads: Thymus gland of lamb or calf (veal), (disappears when animals mature).
- Tripe: Stomach: Cow, calf or lamb.
- Blanket Tripe: first stomach of beef or lamb, has smooth appearance.
- Honeycomb Tripe: second stomach of beef or lamb, has honeycomb appearance.
- Trotters: Feet.
- Vessie: Animal’s bladder (French).
How to Cook Variety Meats or Offal
Certain varieties of offal require a little planning ahead combined with long and slow cooking methods while others are to be handled and cooked á la minute. One variety meat coming from different animals will sometimes yield very different results in taste but the cooking methods are similar. For example, veal heart is milder in flavor than a lamb’s, but lamb and calves feet are prepared in much the same way.
Here are some basics for preparing the popular types of variety meats:
Liver: If whole, remove outer the skin. Fresh poultry livers with gall bladders must be carefully removed to avoid puncture before preparing. Liver should not be prepared in advance. Liver can be cooked and served alone or as a main dish, or chopped and used in recipes.
Heart: Remove the veins along with any attached tissues. Wipe any clots away. This meat is lean and tough. Hearts can be chopped and added to other chopped meats, or left whole and prepared that way.
Kidneys: Remove the fat, and membranes and veins that are present. Animal kidneys can be sautéed, grilled, or broiled.
Sweetbreads: Soak overnight in the refrigerator submerged in water, or in several changes of fresh cold water, to remove the blood which can darken the meat. Sweetbread are ready when the water is clear. Blanch in water, lightly simmering for up to 10 minutes depending on the animal or the size of the offal. Place in cold water and peel off the membranes and fat that surround the meat. Place the sweetbreads on a sheet pan lined with cheesecloth, and set a weight over it (like another sheet pan with weights set on top, like cans of food). Doing this helps to firm the sweetbreads. They will firm up after a couple of hours. They are often served sautéed or pan fried.
Brains: Brains are very fragile in nature. As with sweetbreads, soak in several changes of fresh, cold water until the water is clear. Remove membranes. Most recipes require them to be poached in court bouillon before preparation.
Tongue: Available fresh or cured, and also smoked. Simmer fresh tongue in water with onions, carrots and desired flavorings. Cool completely, then trim any gristle and bones if attached, and excess fat. Lastly peel off the skin.
Fries: When fresh, look for ones that are plump and firm. Remove the skin, and as with sweetbreads, soak in several changes of water until the water is clear. Simmer softly in lightly salted water to firm them and to remove excess scum.
Gizzards: Trim surrounding fat and connective tissues. Fresh poultry gizzards may contain a gravel sac that needs to be removed.
Oxtails: Remove excess fat. If disjointing is need, be careful to cut at the sections as the bones can splinter.
Renee’s Notes: Bibliography and More Info
- My culinary and previous preparation notes. I’ve tasted and prepared a lot of variety meats, not all have been memorable.
- Conway, Linda Glick, ed. The New Professional Chef. New York: Van Nostrand, 1991.
- Gisslen, Wayne. Professional Cooking. New York: John Wiley, 1985.
- Ranhofer, Charles. The Epicurean. Evanston: Willy, 1920.
- Time Life, eds. Variety Meats. The Good Cook Series. Alexandra: Time-Life, 1982.
- Turgeon, Charlotte and Fround, Nina, ed. Larousse Gastronomique. New York: Crown, 1965. Sixth Printing.