Dining on kidneys, liver, heart or tripe may seem more gag-worthy than gourmet, unless you talk to today’s “new carnivore.” Spawned from the relatively recent farm-to-table movement, this group of chefs and foodies are taking oft-overlooked cuts from the chopping-block floor and dressing them up on the dinner table. Perfectly aligned with today’s conscious consumer, head-to-tail dining follows the motto: If you’re going to kill the animal, you better use the entire thing. I jumped on board at Atlanta-based Holeman & Finch during a surprisingly delicious dinner of sweetbreads (thymus gland or pancreas of pig or lamb). You’ll find pig’s ear on the menu at New Orleans-based Cochon and calves brain at New York-based Per Se—two of the top-rated restaurants in America.
What does any of this mean for the home cook or what people are looking for in a naturals store? Amazingly, a lot.
Though it’s nearly impossible to find U.S. purchasing stats for organ meats, the evidence that America is jumping in whole hog is clear. Check the online forums at egullet.org, epicurious.com or chowhound.com and you’ll find users questioning the best ways to prepare meats from brain to kidney and everything in between—and all comments have been posted within the last two years. Even the less-edgy Food Network is in on the game with Emeril Lagasse’s bam-worthy sweetbread-wild mushroom ragout. Note, the recipe received a 5 out of 5-star rating from users.
Offal is the term used for these meats which “all fall” to the floor when the animal is slaughtered. What these websites also reveal is that finding quality cuts of offal is well, awfully hard.
San Francisco-based chef Chris Consentino, “the offal evangelist” describes on his website, Offal Good, the difficulty in finding “guts.” “Where do I get these meats? That’s the question I’m asked most often,” he writes. “It’s amazing that what used to be available in every butcher shop are now considered hard-to-find specialty items, but that’s another story.” He suggests new carnivores either cultivate relationships with various ranchers or take their chances with meats from ethnic markets where age and quality are harder to determine. A far better option, that I’ve yet to see, is a natural products store that sells offal alongside options higher on the hog.
By nature, a lot of the organs that are considered offal are the animal’s “filters.” Conventional kidneys, livers and spleens are rife with antibiotics and pesticides so finding organic cuts is paramount, yet virtually impossible at most stores. I suspect as naturals customers are more apt than the typical consumer to tap into sustainability efforts and the meat morality of eating the entire animal, they’ll be less likely to turn their noses up at a more colorful meat case. Additionally, providing these cuts offers opportunity for retailers to discuss the amazing nutritional benefits of organ meats.
Liver is packed with vitamins A, B, folic acid and iron and is the number one food source of copper. Kidney offers essential fatty acids, zinc and fat soluble forms of vitamins A, D, E and K. In addition to thiamin, folate, selenium, phosphorus, zinc, CoQ10 and several of the B vitamins, beef heart contains amino acids which improve metabolism, and promote the production of collagen and elastin. Tripe, the stomach lining of an animal used in the popular Mexican soup menudo, offers enzymes, omega- 3 and 6 fatty acids, probiotics and phytonutrients. In fact, it’s been called by some, “the finest of natural foods.”
Because of their significant nutrient punch, many multivitamins contain dried, ground animal organs—so even if your customers haven’t eaten an organ, they likely actually have swallowed a portion of one. Still, I understand, such information may not be enough to entice the average consumer. My crowd-pleasing solution is to stock offal for the new carnivore while at the same time appealing to another meat eater all-to-happy to offer support. Tell weary customers to consider the cuts as healthier alternatives to prepared pet food.