Oh Offal!

There has been a lot of interest in “head to tail” eating in the recent years. Quite a few British cooks have been serving up dishes like baked marrow bones, buttered tripe, devilled kidneys, even liver and onions,  and making it all trendy again. I think it’s wonderful when the animal that has been killed for food is completely used rather than having the bits that offends the modern sensibility being turned into dog or cat food. Not that I have anything against Fido or Mittens getting the off cuts but why should we as consumers be so wasteful of what is sometimes up to 40% of the animal that could be used for food? I respect the wonderful creature that gave up its life in order for me to have a steak, so turning its ear into a pet chew toy seems a little, well, sad.

OK I will get off my soap box now.

My dad, when he was alive, was a great fan of offal soup, until his cholesterol level shot through the roof and he was told by his doctor to stop eating the stuff. Now that would sound gross to a lot of western diners, in fact my cousins’ reaction has always been quite colourful when presented with liver soup. However, when prepared properly it is a hearty, delicious way to start the day. Mum has a friend in Kota Kinabalu who made her fortune running a noodle shop selling ( yup you guessed it) offal soup. Whenever I use to go back to KK for a trip to visit the folks, I would drop in to have a bowl of soup with rice noodles and Auntie Mary’s homemade beef meat balls. The place would always be heaving with people trying to get their noodles in the morning. The soup would be a clear beef broth with a strong beefy flavour and secret spices – I think there were star anise, cinnamon, peppercorns, ginger, dried citrus peel and something else in there, but I never found out what that something else was…. The meat would be a jumble of offal, it would be the smooth, honeycomb and the funny looking fanned tripe, a few slivers of liver, spleen, tender flank steak, tendon, sometimes kidneys, a bit of heart, and, my favourite, ox tongue. These have all been cooked separately in a soy based sauce and simmered for hours until the tripe has softened to an almost buttery consistency. I will have to confess I am not a fan of the spleen, there is something about its texture and flavour which never sat well with me. Anyway, the finished dish, which is a mound of rice noodles, you get a choice of the kue teow, which is the ribbon rice noodles or mee foon, rice vermicelli, on top of that goes the mixed offal, a few meat balls, bean sprouts and then that wonderful soup. You then slurp all that down with gusto, and if you like heat, add some bird’s-eye chillies with soy sauce.

Mum use to cook offal at home too. I loved it when she used to cook ox tongue in a garlic, pepper and soy sauce. We would all go nuts when she made oxtail stew. One thing that never really caught on with the kids was her bitter gourd and liver soup, which is supposedly a blood cleansing soup. The only person who would eat all the liver slices would be dad, who covered them in chilli and eat it with rice. Mum would also stew tripe sometimes but she didn’t use to like preparing it at home because the tripe would be sold in a “natural” state. Not to say the butchers did not clean them out, these were emptied of their contents, however they will still retain the residual essence of its original utility, shall we say. So out would come the bi carb of soda and lemons. Mum and the maid would take turns massaging the tripe in the mix of bi carb and lemon juice until the whole thing is snow white. Then into the pot it went to be scalded by a few changes of hot water, and finally it was braised for the next 2 hours in a rich sauce of soy, pepper, onions, garlic, rice wine and oyster sauce.

When I was living with grandma in the 80s, there was not that availability of offal in the shops in Adelaide as people did not really eat it any more. There were a few English grannies who would still buy tripe from the butchers to make tripe in parsley and cream sauce, and some of them still had their tins of dripping saved from when they made the weekend roast. I don’t think these would have passed with the health inspectors nowadays but back then some of the older folks were still eating the dripping on bread like they did post World War II. Grandma had a few offal recipes as well, and the one I really wanted from her was the crispy deep fried large intestine in spiced salt. However, this was one of the recipes she would not share with me as she said they were too hard as a) you can’t get good large intestines in Adelaide b) if you do manage to find it, it is disgusting to clean c) if I did find cleaned ones, well, grandma wanted to keep that recipe all to herself. Hmm. Thanks grandma!

Spicy Crispy Large Intestines (reverse engineered)

  • 500 gms pigs’ large intestines, cleaned. You can find this sometimes in Asian butchers, especially Vietnamese, Chinese or Korean butchers.
  • salt
  • 5 spice powder
  • corn starch
  • fresh small chillies ( optional ) finely chopped. remove the membranes and the seeds if you don’t want it too spicy. You can get these from Asian green grocers.
  • light soy sauce
  • Chinese rice wine – Zhao Xing wine is fine.
  • oil for deep frying
  1. Slice the intestines into 1 inch lengths and marinate for 30 minutes in a mixture of 1 teaspoon of cornstarch, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of rice wine.
  2. Drain and dry on some kitchen paper.
  3. Mix together 1 tablespoon of corn starch, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of 5 spice powder, and, if using, the chilli in a bag. Add the meat pieces and shake to coat. ( anyone remember shake and bake chicken? )
  4.  Heat the oil in a deep fryer or a wok until hot. Drop the meat a few pieces at a time into the oil and deep fry until golden brown and crunchy. Drain on kitchen paper. Serve while hot with beers.


Mum’s braised ox-tongue

  •  1 large ox tongue ( around 1 kg ) cleaned.
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 1 head of garlic, peeled and bashed
  • 1 large piece ginger, around 1-2 inch, peeled and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, cracked
  • dark soy sauce
  • oyster sauce
  • rice wine
  • sugar
  • vegetable oil
  1. Heat about 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan large enough to accommodate the tongue, on high heat.
  2.  When hot add the onion, garlic, ginger, cook until fragrant and the garlic starts to colour 
  3. Add the tongue and the pepper, turn to coat in the herbs and spices.
  4. Now this next bit is an approximate. Pour in enough dark soy to coat the meat, around 2 tablespoons. Add 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce and a generous splash ( around 1 tablespoon ) of rice wine. Sprinkle over 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt.
  5. Check the level of the liquid, there should be about 1/2 inch of liquid at the bottom of the pan, if not then add some water. Bring to the boil and cover. Turn the heat down to low and leave to simmer for an hour and a half. Turn the meat half way through so the other side gets a coating of the sauce also. The sauce will get stickier as the meat cooks. Add more water if getting too dry. Check the seasoning – this dish should be quite peppery, salty and sweet-ish.
  6.  When ready, the meat should be very tender with a knife easily piercing the thickest part of the meat. Remove from the heat and pour the sauce into a bowl or a sauce boat. When cool enough to handle, slice the meat to thin slices and pour some sauce over. Serve with steamed rice and some greens.
  7.  The sauce will turn into jelly in the fridge. The meat is great as sandwich filler in crusty bread rolls the next day with cucumber ribbons and some of the jellied sauce.

 Note: If you know of a recipe for Persian sheep’s head soup or any such exotic offal recipe, please let me know!


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