Last year, my parents and I tried out direct marketing beef to local customers. We took them to Wolf Pack Meats, the University of Nevada, Reno USDA slaughterhouse. We worked with Facility Manager Mike Holcomb on the orders and it was a wonderful experience. We had a group of happy customers–owners of new freezers filled with grassfed and finished beef.
Some of our customers were into “nose to tail” eating. They requested that Mike and his team save the livers, kidneys, hearts, tounges, sweetbreads and spleens of the beef they bought. Not all of our new whole-beef buyers were into this. The slaughterhouse crew did a great job saving all the offal from the seven head we had processed at their facility. When I went to pick up my boxes of beef (my parents were kind enough to pay me partly in wholesome grass finished beef for our new joint marketing experiment), Mike loaded the back of my truck up with boxes of offal. At that time, exactly one year ago, I was just beginning to dabble in cooking organ meats. I had a nice liver pate down and have always loved heart, but that is about as far as it went. And I only ate offal occasionally. Never had I eaten tongue, kidney, sweetbreads or spleen. Now I had boxes of them from five or six head of cattle. It was time to get trendy and get my offal cooking on.
Why we need to eat the whole animal
I know that offal is good for me. I know it. But cooking it and consuming it regularly takes dedication, a significant adaptation on the part of the taste buds and some serious digging through Pinterest and the Paleo blogosphere to find good organ meat recipes. Ben Greenfield and Chris Kresser are two of my favorite Paleo researchers and writers. I listen to Ben Greenfield’s podcast regularly and I am a patient at Chris Kresser’s California Center for Functional Medicine Dr. Amy Nett, who is so awesome, is guiding me through solving hormonal and immune disregulation issues through a holistic, functional approach, and we are making significant progress. But that whole story is another blog post–or series–entirely. Let me briefly say though, thank you, Dr. Nett! Both Ben and Chris explain that we were designed to eat the entire animal. In fact, eating only muscle meats can have negative impacts on intestinal health. We need gelatin from connective tissues to restore the health of our gut lining, we need the vitamins and minerals found in liver and other organ meats. Listening to this Ben Greenfield podcast, I learned that there is an important phospholipid that is found in the mitochondrial membrane within all cells of our bodies called cardiolipins. If we are deficient in cardiolipins, this membrane can become inflamed and thus ATP (energy) cannot successfully pass out of the mitochondria and into the cell. This is why people with this deficiency (warning vegans!) can feel exhausted. They literally are not getting enough energy. What is the best source of cardiolipins…?
Heart meat from grassfed beef.
The best tongue recipe
My mother-in-law, Pati, is my Paleo partner. She and I have improved our health and lifestyle through a shared passion for discovering and mastering Paleo cooking. We are always looking for the next adventure. From brewing kombucha in the ranch kitchen to harvesting elk from the mountains, my mother-in-law is pretty much a Paleo queen. Our gifts to each other tend to be Paleo-cooking related. Other family members just roll their eyes when we talk for hours about the latest cookbook or new kitchen gadget. It isn’t surprising then, that the best heart and tongue recipes I’ve discovered came from a book Pati gave me called Digestive Health with Real Food.In this cookbook is a recipe for tongue tacos, or properly called “Fajitas de Lengua.” Amazing! We put our own spin on these, mainly due to my many food intolerances, but honestly, we now look forward to the chance to eat tongue tacos. They are better than hamburger tacos or any other taco meat. Another great recipe comes from an excellent Paleo blogger at Beyond the Bite. It is a recipe for tongue with chimichurri sauce. We usually make the tongue with chimichurri sauce and then the next night have tongue tacos with the left over meat. I never expected to burn through the box of beef tongues as fast as we did.
The best heart recipe
Digestive Health with Real Food provided our favorite heart recipe too. It is a Peruvian dish called Antichuchos. The version we make is basically a marinade with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper. Other versions are more bold and diverse, but again, due to my food intolerances, we have to eliminate ingredients like garlic, which I can imagine adds a lot to the profile of the dish. I grew up eating, and loving heart meat. Whenever a beef was butchered on the ranch, or someone in the family filled a deer tag in the Fall, we would gather at my grandparent’s house and eat “doughnut” meat. This was heart, thinly sliced, breaded and fried with mashed potatoes and gravy. It was a hit with my brother, me, and all our cousins. If you are just beginning to venture into the world of offal cuisine, start with heart. It is the most like muscle meat. Tongue is too, but it is a bit more time intensive to prepare.
The best sweetbreads recipe
Northern Nevada has a rich Basque history. Many Basque sheepherders came to Nevada to tend to the large flocks of sheep that once populated the high desert. It is appropriate then that the best (according to my husband) Basque restaurant is Louis Basque Corner in Reno, Nevada. If given the chance, Spencer will always choose this restaurant for a date night, a boys night out, a business meeting–whatever. Why? The sweetbreads. No, they are not actually bread, or sweet or in any way related to the famous Picon Punch served at “Louie’s.” They are the thymus and pancreas gland. No wonder they are called sweetbreads–sounds much better than “eating thymus glands.” The sweetbreads at Louie’s are sauteed with garlic, onions and green bell peppers and served with the rest of the family-style dining courses. I’ve never actually tried them because of my garlic intolerance, but Spencer says he could “founder” on them. He enjoys, rich, diverse, deeply flavorful food–so if that sounds like you, a sweetbreads adventure must make your bucket list.
Kidneys? Spleen? Grind ’em!
A year into my offal eating adventure, I tried kidneys and then spleen. Following advice from my friend over at Nourished Kitchen (who I met at the Artisans of the Grasslands conference and at another Savory Institute gathering in 2013), I soaked the kidneys in apple cider vinegar overnight before cooking (soaking in milk works too, but I cannot eat dairy). I then sliced the kidney into tiny bits and sauteed them with bacon, herbs and salt. It was very flavorful and I found the soaking took out the “organ meat akkk!” after taste. However the texture was still odd. It’s not meat. It’s offal. It’s good for you. Still, I expected it to have the texture of meat. Here’s a good kidney prep tutorial for the brave.
And spleen? I’d never heard of eating spleen before I found myself the proud owner of about six beef spleen. Recently, I found out that a spleen sandwich is an Italian tradition (that reportedly tastes awful but makes you feel alive). I found this after I’d already ground the spleens and remaining kidneys into an organ meat sausage.
The idea for organ meat sausage came from our friend Frank who is a grassfed beef producer in Southern California. He sells direct market beef to many Weston A. Price Foundation chapter members. They wanted to incorporate more offal into their diets but didn’t know how to cook it, so he came up with the idea of creating an organ meat sausage. He worked with his butcher and the put together a winning recipe (which he did not share, by the way). He said he sells out of organ meat sausage now before other meat cuts. After this conversation with Frank, I finally knew the destiny of that huge, frozen package of beef spleen in our freezer. I found this recipe for organ meat sausage, Spencer and I modified it, got the big Cabela’s meat grinder from the ranch and set to work making organ meat sausage. We couldn’t find casings locally so we made patty sausage. Next time, I’d prefer link, I think. I found the flavor of the organ meat sausage to be a delightful surprise–if you like the spices mace and nutmeg. They cover the offal aftertaste and add spice overtones to the rich, deep flavor of organ meat. We mixed coconut flour in instead of grain flour (because I don’t eat grains) and used stew meat from Spencer’s antelope he got this summer instead of beef. Now, I have 33 pounds of organ meat sausage to get me through the cold winter months in Modoc County–and likely into the spring! Again, organ meats are packed with vitamins and minerals–it’s a superfood sausage!
Spencer’s Organ Meat Sausage Recipe
- We used 33 lbs of meat grind with this ratio: 45 percent spleen, 30 percent antelope stew meat, 25 percent kidneys
- 2 lbs. organic coconut flour
- 2 tablespoons mace
- 2 tablespoons nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons coriander
- 3 tablespoons sea salt
- 1 tablespoon thyme
- Grind meat and organs
- Mix with flour and spices in large (large!) pot
- Let sit in cold room or refrigerator over night
- Mix again, wrap in freezer wrap and butcher paper in one or two pound packages