How to cook the 'odd bits'

A chef pan-fries pork tripe

First aired on Fresh Air (27/11/11)

mclagan_jennifer.jpgFor many people, a weekly trip to the grocery store involves stopping by the meat section and picking up sealed packages of chicken breasts, ground beef and all the other familiar cuts of meat.

But chef and author Jennifer McLagan wants to steer you away from those popular choices and towards other delicacies featured less prominently in the meat section: cheap, flavourful parts of animals she calls the "odd bits."

"I chose the term very carefully because I didn't want to write an offal cookbook because I knew everyone would call it the 'awful' offal book, and plus it's a pretty hard sell to a publisher, right?" McLagan told Fresh Air's Mary Ito during a recent interview.

"Odd bits is really just those bits we've forgotten. There is offal in there like liver, and kidneys and brain — but there's also shank and pork belly, cuts that are now becoming pretty current in restaurants."

Some may be squeamish to try something like braised tripe or sautéed brains, and McLagan herself has less than fond memories of eating her mother's culinary experiments with organ meats. But when cooked with proper technique and seasonings, they can be a delicious gastronomic delight, which McLagan learned later in her life. And dishes utilizing offal have been around for centuries, enjoyed by both commoners and the well-to-do.

"They were on the tables of kings, the aristocracy, they would take these bits for themselves, the intestines on Roman tables, birds' tongues, boar's head was a classic, English Elizabethan dish where they'd serve the whole roasted boar's head decorated. So they've come in and out of fashion and they kind of went out of fashion."

McLagan believes that the use of offal declined once factory farms arrived on the scene and starting producing more affordable meat. Prime cuts like steak became available for mass consumption, and not just the wealthy. Many people opted for these fancier cuts because of the prestige associated with them, not the flavour, McLagan argues.

"I think they were kind of mistaken because, for me, odd bits are much more interesting. The difference between a New York steak and a rib-eye steak there's not much difference, right? But between a liver or a kidney or tongue you've got fabulous textures, fabulous tastes."

You can listen to the complete interview in the audio clip below.

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Odd Bits

by Jennifer McLagan

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From the publisher:

"Food & Wine Magazine has declared cooking odd bits the must-try trend for 2011. What are the odd bits? They are cuts of meat that North Americans used to know very well indeed: cheaper, tougher, longer cooking, utterly delicious things like shank, cheek, brisket, chuck, kidney and ribs. When the prime cuts, such as tenderloins, breasts and chops, became more available and more affordable, we forgot all about the wonders of the odd bits. Jennifer McLagan is bringing it all back to us with this wonderfully inventive, informative, humorous and beautiful cookbook. Cooking the odd bits is no more stressful or involved than cooking a good steak, and it's also quite a lot more fun. Other cuisines have long valued the odd bits, and recipes from Europe to the Middle East to Africa and Asia are featured, along with your favourite liver and bacon.

Rediscover your taste for the rest of the animal with Odd Bits, and you will soon be cooking with confidence and economy in your own kitchen."

Read more at HarperCollins.

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