Foie gras. Sweetbreads. Pudding.
All sound delicious, even if they’re made of goose liver, calf pancreas and pork blood – parts known collectively as offal, or the entrails and internal organs of animals used as food.
After years of neglect in the United States, these less-appreciated proteins are making a comeback.
On Sunday, Sacramento will be host to Have Another Offal Day, a festival that celebrates offal and sets out to reverse any taste aversion by serving elegant dishes prepared by 12 top-rated Sacramento chefs, according to the event’s organizer, Catherine Enfield, who is known in the food blogging world as “Ms. Munchie” of www.munchiemusings.net.
Enfield’s interest in offal was sparked by an early memory of eating haggis, a Scottish dish traditionally made with sheep’s heart, liver and lungs that’s mixed with spices and oatmeal and encased in the animal’s stomach.
“When I had haggis as a child, I was very unimpressed,” she explained, “and I was thinking if there was such a thing as good-tasting haggis.”
As last year’s inaugural Have an Offal Day proved, innards, organs and other previously eschewed parts can be delicious. Guests at the sold-out event feasted on beef tongue and beef heart skewers; sturgeon skin and chicharrón with monk fish liver and uni; pastrami-style duck gizzards and pickled duck hearts; and deep-fried duck testicles.
To dispel any preconceived ideas, Enfield said, the chefs revealed unusual ingredients as they were being eaten. The announcements were received with both bewilderment and approval.
To her own surprise, one of Enfield’s favorites was the lamb brain samosas.
In addition to haggis, this year’s event will offer a special delicacy – Filipino balut, or boiled fertilized duck embryo (guests need to indicate they want to try the dish when they purchase tickets).
If not, diners can stick to the diverse menu from six new and six returning chefs. The 2014 roster includes well-known culinary talents such as Patrick Mulvaney, Billy Ngo, Aimal Formoli and Michael Thiemann.
“For (the chefs), Offal Day is an opportunity for them to play and experiment and have an open audience to consume offal,” Enfield said. “That’s why I never have a hard time finding chefs to participate.”
Dishes from the chefs will be served about 10 to 15 minutes apart, Enfield said. There will also be a no-host bar for guests.
Offal was once a familiar dinner-table resident, before consumers began limiting themselves to cuts like breasts and fillets. People ate what was affordable and available.
Then “everyone became convenience-oriented,” said Michael Tuohy, executive chef at Block Butcher Bar and LowBrau Sausage & Beer Hall. “Offal Day gives us the opportunity to shed a bigger spotlight on a less commonly used part that should be used more.”
According to Enfield, Offal Day is one of the first of its kind. She said it made sense that it would happen in Sacramento.
“With the whole farm-to-fork movement and the way we live in the middle of livestock producers, more people are interested in nose-to-tail dining,” she said.
Karin Sinclair of Sinclair Family Farms, which will provide the offal (along with five other meat producers), said she has noticed that sales of offal have gone up in the past few years.
“We should try to use as much of the animal as we can,” Sinclair said.
While more foodies are attracted to the notion of zero-waste dining and eating these “foreign” parts, the taste of offal is still an acquired one and may take a while before it really takes off, she said.
In other parts of the world, however, cooking with offal doesn’t merit a second glance.
Cooking alongside Tuohy in the elbow-to-elbow intimacy of Mulvaney’s B&L kitchen Sunday will be England native Oliver Ridgeway, executive chef at Grange.
“With my mother coming from a post-war family and that kind of environment, I grew up eating steak and liver pie,” he said. “Breast was a luxury.”
As he discovered growing up – and what other chefs may have learned during culinary training – the secret to good-tasting offal is in the preparation.
“You need to think about it as any piece of protein,” Ridgeway said. “You just need to cook it passion and heart ... and you’ll get something more rewarding than your pedestrian cuts out there. Don’t treat it as this random thing.”
Tuohy agreed. If done right, offal will “be the best meat you’ve ever eaten,” he said.