Authors: Nina Edwards
Tripe stew from Normandy, enriched with calf or ox foot and suet. Every year the society La Triperie d’Or holds a competition to find the best maker of
tripes à la mode de Caen
Though French gastronomy draws on traditional cooking, it is often perceived as aristocratic, invested with a sense of opulence and technical expertise. Taillevent (1310–1395), chef to French royalty in the fourteenth century, draws on an abundance of offal parts in his recipes in
, a book of medieval courtly cuisine. Harking back to
and classical Roman food, he takes an interest in whether dishes are healthy or not. From the nineteenth century on French cooking showed an increasing tendency to disguise offal.
A great chef of the early nineteenth century, Antonin Carême – who cooked for the diplomat and gourmet Talleyrand, Louis
, Napoleon, Tsar Alexander
, the Prince Regent to the English throne and the financier James Mayer de Rothschild – brought a sense of grandeur to cooking. In the Russian manner, he served one dish at a time rather than
all together (
service à la Russe
); in consequence a particular offal part could be savoured in its own right. He was against using offal innards and parts such as cockscombs as mere garnishes in the Renaissance manner, though he was responsible for the development of classic sauces that were often invested with offal. The French chef Auguste Escoffier (1846–1935) did not approve of sauces that masked the flavour of the basic ingredients of a dish. His
sole à la Normande
was a subtle play of fish, truffles and herbs: ‘And now the veiling sauce . . . must have calf’s kidney and salt pork for foundation.’
Alexander Dumas includes in his
Dictionary of Cuisine
an anecdote in which Charles
, after fighting the English, feasts on a plate of pigs’ trotters, the soft gelatinous meat coated with breadcrumbs. The dish was assembled by women in the town of St Ménehould, hence
à la Sainte Menehould
. Another recipe, for turkey giblets with turnips, appears to be traditional offal fare, yet the preparation and presentation suggest a move away from peasant food. Since the latter part of the twentieth century there has been a tendency in France to eat less offal, given its sometimes high calorie and cholesterol content.
The regional variations in French cuisine have survived to some extent, based on what ingredients are available and on local culture. Thus areas which border Germany and have been historically strongly contested tend to favour German gastronomy, with robust dishes like blood-pudding soup. In Alsace-Lorraine, despite its highly productive agricultural land, German settlers from less fertile lands brought with them a frugality that has continued to affect the food culture, and has fostered the use of offal.
A few years ago in France, November was designated the official month of offal (
le mois des abats
) across the country. There has been an association for lovers of andouillette sausages, Association Amicale des Amateurs d’Andouillette Authentique, since the 1970s. Yet such tastes seem to be increasingly for the minority, or survive because they satisfy foreign tourists’ idea of French cuisine.
A soup with liver dumplings made from ground beef liver, breadcrumbs, onion and garlic make a warming Austrian comfort food.
In Austria and Germany there is a tradition of meaty offal-infused broths and soups, liver dumplings, offal forcemeat stuffed in ravioli or encased in pancakes, and more simply slices of calf’s liver with onion and herbs in the Tyrol, calf’s tongue seasoned with crushed anchovies and lemon, and sautéed kidneys cooked in lard. The traditions of southern Bavarian cooking include lung stew. Liver dumplings are popular across central Europe, the most renowned being
is a beef-offal-rich soup or stew of veal liver, tongue, sweetbreads and heart, and there are many traditional dishes made from udder. A type of goulash that uses venison heart is known as
are dumplings made with beef bone marrow,
which are traditionally added to
, or wedding soup, in some regions.
, or blood sausage, is still widely eaten today, but mainly by the older generation, and finds a parallel with Polish
sausage, Belgian and French
and English black pudding.
The political history of the Jews has led to a cuisine that combines Russian, North African, Polish, Spanish, Romanian, Austrian, Middle Eastern and German tastes and more. The Sephardic Jewish tradition tends towards highly spiced, lightly cooked offal with a particular fondness for brain, whereas Ashkenazi dishes are more slowly cooked and simply seasoned; they include all types of offal, but especially liver, sweetbreads and tongue.
Sephardis have a long history of eating lamb and its offal, known as Ashkenazi beef. This is rustic fare, often springing from economic hardship: dishes include offal stuffed into mutton tripes and tied with string to enrich a thin broth. This might then be used again and again when times were hard.
The influence of the Romans on Jewish cuisine can be found in a preference for udder, now mainly seen as peasant food, but until the early twentieth century highly prized, roasted or stewed, and reserved for special occasions.
Spleen – made into German
, a spleen sausage – and lungs are an important part of this cuisine, such as veal lungs in Viennese
. Pickled herring milt or roes, the long pale organs filled with seminal matter, are a delicacy. Guided by dietary proscriptions, poultry offal dominates, with chopped chicken liver one of the mainstays of festive appetizers
. The German poet Hans Wilhelm Kirchof, in 1562, comments on the ability of the Jews to rear goose and their taste for its liver.
In the second decade of the twentieth century, James Joyce invests the Jewish protagonist of
(1922) with a love of offal:
Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crust-crumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.
Lately offal has become less sought-after in more affluent Jewish communities, certainly in America, though Israel maintains the tradition with contemporary dishes such as
(Jerusalem mixed grill) with chopped chicken gizzards and offal parts.
The Normans introduced greater sophistication to the British diet, of a standard not seen since the Romans 800 years before.
A typical royal first course was pig or calf brawn served with mustard and fashioned into elaborate shapes, such as castles with battlements and keeps, and often accompanied by baked fruit, reminding one of the Piedmontese
il gran bollito misto
, which combines meats, including tongue, with candied fruits. In King John’s time a dish of chicken might have been made with newly available spices in a black sauce thickened with liver.
The Good Housewives’ Closet
, published in 1591, includes forcemeat made with liver and giblet stock. Henry
’s court food contained marrow in both savoury and sweet dishes, one recipe involving a beef marrow-stuffed steak rolled up like a pancake and sweetened with honey.
In medieval times deer offal had become so little valued by some noblemen that at the end of a hunt the innards would be cast aside for their servants. Such parts were known as ‘umbles’, and so came about the expression ‘to eat humble pie’, meaning to behave or be forced to behave humbly or to apologize. This connotation contributes to a sometime sense of shame in enjoying offal, though the poor continued to eat it. In 1826 William Cobbett, discussing some fine oxen on his journey through the British countryside, decried the fashion able spa town Cheltenham for its pimps and charlatans ‘who, if suffered to live at all, ought to partake of nothing but the offal, and ought to come but one cut before the dogs and cats!’
They should have to eat offal because it was for the lowest of the low. Cobbett also expressed anger over land-owners who had appropriated the meat of 3,000 hogs in Mullin avat, Ireland, without leaving any for the farm workers who had reared them: ‘the far greater part of those who had bred and fatted these hogs were never to taste one morsel of them, no
Butchering a Boar
, Ludwigsburg porcelain figure,
1765. The woman is holding a bowl for the smaller parts and a jug to collect the blood to pour into the copper furnace beside her, for making blood pudding.
The diarist Samuel Pepys valued tripe and haslet, or hog’s entrails, above all meats, even though they brought on his gout. Rabelais (
. 1483–1553), though treating it as something to be avoided, nevertheless lends tripe a certain potency in describing it as so indigestible that only after feasting
(ox tripe) would his monster creation Gargamelle be capable of giving birth to his Gargantua. Fergus Henderson recently suggested that ‘tripe stirs fear in people’.
Pepys, however, was an enthusiast, recording another serving of his favourite meal in his diary on 24 October 1662:
So home and dined there with my wife upon a most excellent dish of tripes of my own directing, covered with mustard, as I have hereto seen them done at my Lord Crew’s, of which I made a very great meal.
Here we encounter Pepys as the middle-class man of letters, aspiring to the aristocratic table. His appetites feed his social ambition.
Mrs Beeton, in the second half of the nineteenth century, includes a large number of offal dishes with descriptions of how each part should be chosen, warning against anything but young calf sweetbreads, for example, before they shrink and toughen. Sometimes she employs euphemisms: faggots are variously described as goose or savoury duck. She comments that lungs ‘though edible are usually set aside for consumption by domestic pets’, and that tripe and cow-heel are no longer fashionable: ‘Pig’s feet or pettitoes are a delicacy but it is perhaps now considered indelicate to eat them; the only method is with the teeth and fingers.’
Pig’s ear and pork chop pie. A pig’s ear must be simmered for at least an hour until the meat, skin and cartilage become soft and palatable.