OFFAL those parts of a meat animal which are used as food but which are not skeletal muscle. The term literally means “off fall”, or the pieces which fall from a carcase when it is butchered. Originally the word applied principally to the entrails. It now covers insides including the HEART, LIVER, and LUNGS (collectively known as the pluck), all abdominal organs and extremities: TAILS, FEET, and HEAD including BRAINS and TONGUE. In the USA the expressions “organ meats” or “variety meats” are used instead.
Offal from birds is usually referred to as GIBLETS.
Another, archaic, English word for insides, especially those of deer, was “umbles”, a term which survives in the expression “to eat humble pie”, meaning to be apologetic or submissive.
The taste and texture of offal depends on the particular organ, and on the species and age of animal from which it came. Generally speaking, offal from calves is held to be the best, providing large organs of fine flavour and texture. Lamb offal is also good, but sheep, pig, and ox offal tends to be coarse in flavour and texture.
Offal does not keep well so must either be prepared and cooked quite soon after slaughter or turned into a product which does keep (BRAUN, HASLET, PATE, some kinds of SAUSAGE).
The type of offal used in any given culture depends on the favoured meat animal, which may in turn depend on religious dietary laws. Muslim countries use much lamb offal. The Chinese have numerous ways of dealing with organs from pigs.
Offal is a good source of protein, and some organs, notably the liver and kidneys, are very valuable nutritionally. In most parts of the world, especially the less developed countries, it is valued accordingly. In the English-speaking world, however, the pattern is different. In North America, there has been and still exists a squeamish attitude which prompted the title Unmentionable Cuisine for the book by Schwabe (1979). In Britain, where there used to be no, or anyway few, qualms about eating offal, overt consumption has declined in the last half of the 20th century, although the offal is in fact still eaten in processed foods where it is not “visible”.
Squeamish attitudes may be explained on various grounds. Heads and feet remind consumers too directly that the food is of animal origin. Ambivalence about eating certain bits of an animal’s anatomy, such as TESTICLES, is expressed through the used of euphemistic names. Some internal offal has surreal shapes and strong flavours, which are not to everyone’s taste. The meat of feet and ears is characterized by textures which are gelatinous and crunchy at the same time, a combination which is generally disliked in the western world, although appreciated in the Orient.
Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press, 1999. pp. 548-49
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