Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Today, August 8th ...

Offal is not as popular as it used to be – or perhaps ‘popular’ is the wrong word to use when talking about times when people did not have the luxury of being able to be choosy. Funnily enough, it must always have had some vague connotations of ‘rubbish’ as the word ‘offal’ also applies to ‘that which falls or is thrown off from some process, as husks from milling grain, chips from dressing wood, etc.; residue or waste products’.

Historically speaking, people were once much less finicky about the exact nature of edible animal protein – it was always valuable - and it is difficult to understand how the word as it applies to certain bits of animals came to have such a negative connotation. The OED calls these bits ‘the edible parts collectively which are cut off in preparing the carcass of an animal for food. In early use applied mainly to the entrails; later extended to include the head, tail, and internal organs such as the heart, liver, etc.’ Which is an odd definition, really. Although the parts are defined as ‘edible’ it is the rest of the carcass which is really being prepared for food. The sense of something less than appealing is confirmed in the next explanation of the use of the word in the OED – ‘The parts of a slaughtered or dead animal considered unfit for human consumption; decomposing flesh, carrion. Also (in extended use): slain bodies or mutilated limbs.’ Perhaps this is the nub of it – the recognition that offal ‘goes off’ more quickly than ‘real’ meat.

On the principle that a rose by another name just might taste very different, humans have gotten around the decomposing flesh connotations of offal by calling it something less scary. On this day in 1801, good old Parson James Woodforde had for his dinner “Calfs Fry & Heart rosted &c.” Calf’s fry is Calf’s liver, called ‘fry’ presumably because this is how it is usually cooked. ‘Fry’ can also refer to the testicles, which have many alternative names from the downright misleading (prairie oysters or mountain oysters) to the very prosaic (stones). In the following late eighteenth century recipe it seems that both lamb’s liver and lamb’s testicles are used. It is a sort of fry-up of two sorts of ‘fry’.

Lamb’s Fry.
Cut your fry into pieces about two inches long, the liver into thin slices, pepper, salt, and flour it well, take the skin off the stones: have a pan of hogs lard or beef dripping boiling hot, put the fry in, and when you think it is half-done, put in the liver, keep it turning, fry it quick of a fine brown, and then put it on a sieve to drain; fry a handful of parsley crisp, put a fish-drainer in the dish, put the fry on that, and garnish with the fried parsley, with plain butter in a boat; or you may give it a scald first, but not theliver, rub it over with the yolk of an egg, sprinkle bread crumbs over it, and fry it as before.
[The new art of cookery, according to the present practice … Richard Briggs; 1792.]

Tomorrow’s Story …

The Zen of Fishing

Quotation for the Day ….

The best thing about liver is how virtuous it makes you feel after you've eaten some. Bruce Jay Friedman.


Anonymous said...

Over here fry can mean a mixture of offal. Say, liver, kidneys, and sweetbreads.

I remember this from when I was a kid and our local butcher still has it up on their price list, though not in their shop :(

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

We are quite finicky in the States about offal and organs, but I have tried items like sweetbreads and kidneys that were excellent. It's all in the preparation!

Anonymous said...

I'm asian, so I love kidneys, liver and hearts....have never tried stones before though... - Prongs