Odd Ingredients

My first culinary adventure in life involved mud pies, insects and leaves in the backyard at the age of six. So it should come as no surprise that now, at 25, I’m finding myself playing with odd ingredients again.

Our current apprentice, Noah, and I were talking one day about all the peculiar bits of meat that the average Joe doesn’t consume…we’re talking organs, offal, and other leftovers after the meat is fully processed. We began to formulate a lofty goal of trying to make these odd bits taste good – and what has ensued has been a sometimes successful, sometimes disappointing, yet always memorable escapade into unfamiliar recipes. Relying heavily on Sally Fallon’s masterpiece, Nourishing Traditions, we began our first attempts last month.

First, we slow-cooked beef tendons in a soy sauce blend; all our tasters gave that a hearty two-thumbs-down, mostly based on texture. Next came beef heart, which was a considerable step in the right direction. We then learned how to de-bone a pig’s head, getting by with a little help from our friends in the form of a YouTube video. We slow-cooked beef tongue in jalapenos and onions for tacos, and this has been our greatest success yet. Most recently we went through the extended process of prepping, poaching, breading, and frying beef sweetbreads. These were hard for me to get down, based on a very distinct aftertaste. Up next are chicken hearts and livers, which we’re finding to be endlessly inspiring.

These odd bits have incredible nutrition, no question – and I’m sure there are some readers out there shaking their heads at how I am just now learning to appreciate these pieces and parts. So I am curious:

What meats have you cooked that are a little unusual? Did you grow up eating these or learn to appreciate them later?

Why do you think some of these pieces have fallen out of “fashion” with the modern American home cook?

Do you have any tips for us?

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About Brie Aronson

Brie Aronson came to Polyface from southern California. During college, she was diagnosed with food allergies and had to begin asking about the source of every single thing she put in her mouth. This led to an interest in all things food and she sought out a way to learn how it can be produced ethically and sustainably. Her desire is to help people shift their focus from counting calories, being intimidated by their kitchens, and being disconnected from the land to one that experiences the life-giving enjoyment of food. Having completed the internship in summer 2010, she now assists with the buying clubs and sales building, leads school tours of the farm, and will be the summer 2012 farm cook.

12 Responses to Odd Ingredients

  1. Alison says:

    What a fun challenge! If you hit on anything really good, please share recipes!

    I’ve always wanted to cook a steak and kidney pie– I guess you could call it something of a lifelong ambition. We’ll see if it ever happens. 😉 Meanwhile, I’ve been dying to try this one for beef heart.


  2. michael says:

    Pig heart is the best- just frying it up with garlic and onions- friends of mine have a really good recipe for chicken hearts and livers- I’ll see if I can find it and pass it along..

  3. Mandy says:

    I’d love to see a good recipe for chicken hearts, livers and gizzards too! I hope you publish more articles like this one along with your recipes!

  4. Donna says:

    Liver and onions was always a must in my home growing up. I even liked it as a kid. It was beef liver. Mom would flour it up and then fry it in grease with onions. I don’t have her recipe but I’m sure there are plenty out there.

  5. Amy Swiney says:

    I’ve cooked beef tongue and it was pretty good. I think the secret is lots of spices! My mom and I love chicken livers, just breaded and fried, and I like the chicken hearts too but can’t stand gizzards. The last steer we butchered we kept the shanks, and we always get the oxtail as well. I like to braise the shanks and the oxtail and make Osso Bucco.

  6. Rich Nassa says:

    I want to remind you that many ethnic meals that contain “remnants” of animals were developed as a result of poor imigrants picking the basics from the trash at a slaughter house. I recall my father telling these stories.
    they had little else to eat, they made do. That pre-dated the government teaching people to be helpless.
    My 94 YO mother can prepared veal lungs that are delicious.

  7. Tina says:

    That all sounds very interesting! Well, besides the battered, black crickets we fried up once (yes, they were VERY good, crunchy, garlicy tid bits…..I just need a way to raise them efficiently…hehe) Our favorite is definitely rabbit liver!!! Just chop it up (scissors or a very sharp knife to make sure you don’t damage the tender liver) in smaller pieces so it fries evenly and doesn’t get tough. Saute onions first (til nearly done) in butter or coconut oil and then add the liver pieces (make sure frying pan is very hot before adding the liver). Saute with a bit of salt til liver is just done (do NOT over cook!) and serve while still hot. Boy, oh boy! Sometimes we each eat a whole plateful of that tender goodness for lunch. Even people who “don’t like liver at all” or should we say “hate liver,” find this very nutritious part of the rabbit to be quite edible.

  8. Valerie Franks says:

    Several years ago and as a young bride, my mother-in-law shared with me a Norwegian recipe passed down in her family. It was called Liver Dumplings. I have used that recipe repeatedly throughout the years. The dumplings are made from ground liver, flour, and seasonings, then boiled to perfection in a beef or pork broth for an hour (or so). Delicious!

  9. Kate S. says:

    Hubby cooked me venison heart before and it was good. The texture was a little different, but it tasted good. I’ve used lamb tongue in my homemade haggis, although I’ve never used a stomach for haggis. I either use a muslin bag, or stuff into sausage casings. I will not eat kidneys, though. The thought churns my stomach. I can only imagine the urine-esque stink and taste to it. I’ve eaten liver twice. The first time I liked it. The second time I was pregnant and it didn’t settle well. Never tried brains. Hubby says pig snout is good.

  10. Melissa N says:

    I don’t see it offered on your sight or have I overlooked a post pork processing product that I love, Scrapple. I always heard in incorporated everything but the squeal. I love it dusted with corn meal and lighted browned in a little oil or butter.

  11. Nancy O says:

    After we process our families favorite is chicken hearts and turkey hearts. We chop onions, garlic and ginger, generous amounts or each! Carmelize in butter then add hearts. I didnt used to be a fan, but this is yummy!

  12. Rodney H. says:

    Chicken and turkey hearts, livers and gizzards need to be boiled and chopped up fine to be put into oyster stuffing. That’ s the best way and my grandmother is the one who taught us boys how to cook for ourselves. Nothing beats a good oyster stuffing for any type of bird!!!!