They’re uncommon in American cooking, generally speaking, though in some regions of the United States, a few of these are used in ethnic or regional specialties. Nonetheless, they’re cheaper than typical beef for their lack of interest by the general public and often only found in ethnic stores. Some are no longer available for sale in the United States.
They’re proper, collective name is “offal” pronounced similarly to “awful”. While many people consider them to be awful, in truth, some of these beef innards are quite delicious and tasty. It’s all a matter of taste and preference.
Other Names: Innards, offal, organ meats. Brains: Cervelle (French), cervello (Italian), sesos (Spanish). Heart: Coeur (French), corazón (Spanish), cuore (Italian). Kidneys: Riñones (Spanish), rognon (French), rognoni (Italian). Liver: Fegato (Italian), foie (French), hígado (Spanish). Testicles: Coglion_e or _animelle (Italian), creadillas (Spanish), frivolities, Rocky Mountain oysters, ranch fry, testicules (French). Tongue: Langue (French), lengua (Spanish), lingua (Italian), Swiss cut beef tongue. Tripe: Gras-double or tripes (French), panal, panza, or cacariso (Spanish), trippa (Italian).
General Description: Variety meats are organ meats that lie inside the body; fats lie both within and outside the muscles. Beef brains are located in the front of the skull and are compact and circular in shape, delicate in flavor, and soft and yielding in texture. Brains should be a bright pinkish-white color, plump, and firm. Due to fear of BSE, brains of cows and veal are not often sold; it is illegal for them to be sold in the United States. They are the key to the traditional creamy, rich meat filling used for Bolognese tortellini.
The heart is a large muscular organ found in the thorax region that is rather tough but quite flavorful. Hearts may be purchased with or without the cap. Cap-on hearts are surrounded by semihard white-colored fat; cap-off hearts are trimmed of visible fat and have the cap meat and bone removed. Beef heart has a strong flavor and is not for the faint of heart, but there are those who love its robust taste and chewy texture. Grilled beef heart, seasoned with rocoto chiles, cumin, oregano, red vinegar, and garlic, is popular for Peruvian anticuchos, or kabobs.
Beef kidneys are multiple-lobed organs that are more pronounced in flavor than veal kidneys and may have a lingering aroma of ammonia. The kidneys should be trimmed of all blood vessels and excess fat by the butcher. Kidneys have a firm, creamy texture when cooked. Steak-and-kidney pie is a British pub favorite.
The liver consists of two lobes of substantially different sizes, which are smooth, rounded, and somewhat rectangular in shape and covered with a thin membrane. Beef liver is large, weighing up to 16 pounds, and dark red to purplish in color. Beef liver is sold in slices or by the pound and is stronger tasting than veal liver, with a somewhat mealy texture when cooked, often by broiling.
Suet is fresh, hard white fat obtained from the kidney region. Melted and strained, it yields tallow, once used to create fanciful table sculptures that were not meant to be eaten, and also to make strong-smelling candles. Melted and strained suet is commonly used in Britain to make mincemeat pies, suet puddings, and suet pastry–the high melting point of suet makes this pastry light and flaky.
Testicles, typically referred to as fries, are usually pan-fried, especially on ranches in the American West. Testicles have a soft, creamy texture when cooked, which works well with a crispy coating.
The tongue is the long, flattened organ at the back of the mouth and weighs 2 to 5 pounds. It is covered with a tough outer skin that must be removed after boiling. Tongue is usually well trimmed before sale and is also available corned or smoked. Tongue, which needs long, moist cooking to make it tender, may be eaten hot or cold. Beef tongue has a chewy texture with a distinctive graininess. As shown, it is a favorite sandwich meat in better quality Jewish delicatessens, being served usually on rye bread with mustard, and a side of Kosher dill pickle and coleslaw.
Tripe is the lining of any of the animal’s four stomachs. Blanket, or flat, tripe comes from the rumen (or paunch), the first and largest stomach. It is also known as double tripe because its outside and inside are quite distinct. Honeycomb tripe comes from the reticulum, the second stomach, and is considered to be of better quality. It gets its name from the honeycomb appearance created by numerous ridges in its walls. The third stomach, or omasum, provides leaf, book, or Bible tripe; the fourth stomach, or abomasum, is rarely used by cooks. Philadelphia pepper pot is a tripe stew of Caribbean origin generously seasoned with crushed peppercorns. Menudo, a spicy Mexican tripe soup, is recommended for hangovers. Tripe has a soft, creamy yet chewy texture when slow-cooked.
Amount to Buy: All beef variety meats are inexpensive. Allow 6 to 8 ounces per person for variety meats including brains, heart, kidneys, liver, and testicles. Allow 1 pound of tripe per person. Allow 6 ounces (170 g) of suet to make pastry for one pie to feed 8 people. Allow 8 to 10 ounces of tongue per person.
Variety meats are especially perishable and must be refrigerated and used within 1 or 2 days of purchase or frozen for later use.
- Wash well, then blanch in acidulated water (water with lemon or vinegar).
- Poach, set on a plate under a weight until firm, and cut into slices for pan-frying, breading and frying, baking, or broiling.
- Wash and cut away any fat and arteries. Slice in half, then slice it into slices 1/2 inch thick.
- Season and flour, then brown in oil over medium heat on both sides. Stir in aromatic vegetables, beef broth, and wine.
- Simmer, covered, for 1 hour or until relatively tender.
- Halve the kidney and cut out the tubes. Rinse in cold water and peel off the skin.
- Cut a little of the kidney fat into small pieces and put it in a frying pan. Slice the kidney, sprinkle with chopped parsley and shallots, season with salt and pepper, and fry it until nicely browned.
- Add a little flour, stir to absorb the fat, and then pour in beef stock and sherry. Simmer but do not boil (or the kidney will harden). Serve very hot.
- To prepare the classic dish of liver and onions, cut liver into slices less than 1/2 inch thick.
- Brown sliced onions in butter with bay leaf, salt, pepper, and a pinch of ground cloves. Remove from the pan and reserve.
- Add the liver and brown quickly in butter, 2 to 4 minutes. Add the reserved onions and a few drops of red wine vinegar and serve immediately.
- To make suet pastry, mix 3 cups (3/4 pound) self-rising flour with a pinch of salt.
- Cut in 1 cup cold, shredded beef suet. When evenly blended, add ice cold water a few drops at a time until the dough comes together.
- Knead lightly till the dough is smooth. Chill before rolling out thinly and evenly. Use as pastry for British steak-and-kidney pie or American beef, chicken, or turkey pot pie.
- Use a sharp knife to split the tough skin-like muscle that surrounds the testicles. Cover with cold salt water and soak for 1 hour to remove some of the blood. Drain, then parboil in vinegared water, drain, and rinse.
- Let cool and slice each “oyster” 1/4 inch thick. Season with salt and pepper.
- Dip in flour, then milk, and then flour again or breadcrumbs. Pan-fry in oil or lard till golden brown.
- Soak the tongue in cold water for 12 hours, changing the water several times.
- Trim, remove any fatty parts, and dip into boiling water. Remove from the water, cut slits into the skin at the base of the tongue, and peel off the skin. Sprinkle with salt and refrigerate for 24 hours.
- Wash again and then further cook by simmering in a broth or braising until tender, 2 to 3 hours.
- Tripe is always sold partially prepared by the butcher by soaking, brining, and boiling.
- Simmer in salted water for 2 hours in enough water to cover (flavor the water with herbs and vegetables if desired). Drain the tripe and reserve the liquid.
- Remove and discard fatty portions and cut into 1-inch pieces. At this point you may follow any tripe recipe.