Dave Jones’ Cafe Beat

Food & Drink Opinions - September 18th, 1987
Eatin’ Innards

I have just come across an interesting statistic: there is more steak on beef cattle than tongue. Yet, the author of the book I was reading wonders, why does steak cost so much more.

He answers his own ques­tion. The demand for steak is greater hence, the relative supply of steak is less. I am forced to agree.

That brings up the subject of offal, pronounced “awful” by some and euphemized into “variety meats,” those parts of an animal rejected by many people, but considered deli­cacies by the French.

The Americans, it seems, agree that they are delicacies, but delicacies fit for their pets if disguised in their special foods. A poll of American col­lege students rated offal (the heart, tripe or inside of a calf’s or pig’s stomach, kidneys, liver, pancreas or sweetbreads, brain, tongue, eyes, ears, male and female organs, intestines) as the “most disliked” foods.

Having been brought up in the United States, my tastebuds have not accommodated them­selves to most of those pieces of animal anatomy. I do like tripe, if fixed a la mode de Caen or the Mediterranean way, with tomato sauce. I like its rubbery texture. I guess it’s my answer to chewing tobacco. I also like liver and kidneys, if they are prepared properly; and do enjoy tongue.

The French, however, look upon offal as a challenge to their culinary skill and try to concoct something edible out of the inedible. In Escoffier I counted eight recipes for brains alone. I find brain espe­cially repugnant, mainly be­cause of a story I heard from a medical student in my youth. He told of a colleague who had brought home a human brain en route to the medical laboratory. He laid it on the kitchen table while he went up­stairs to get something. His mother, who was French and delighted in lamb brains, saw it — well, you know the rest of the story. Apocryphal or not, it turned me away from brains for the rest of my life.

Publisher Millard (Corky) Alexander, who hails from Texas, believes his state and the rest of the American south have a delicacy to challenge French culinary wizardry in their chitterlings, another name for pig’s intestines. Served with black-eyed peas, it’s the piece de resistance of many a meal served south of the Mason-Dixon, called Dixie for short. But I have news for him. Chitterlings, cleaned and wash­ed, are sold in English butcher shops, and is almost a staple food in the Russian diet.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: I do believe that Mr. Jones is dis­cussing what at home is more popularly known as “chittlins” or — in the vernacular of down-home soul brothers of mine—”wrinkles.”)

Moreover, in Normandy a sausage called andouilles and its little brother, andouillettes, are composed of pig’s intestines (the large one for the first and the small for the second) filled with strips of chitterlings and part of the stomach of the animal. They say that an­douilles will last a long time in the refrigerator. They can keep it as long as they want, as far as I’m concerned.

Even though I eat liver and kidneys when prepared proper­ly, I cannot count them among my favorite dishes. I suppose that knocks me out of the gourmet class. I have an elder brother, however, who is a gourmet born. For as long as I can remember, he loved kidney, heart, liver, sweet­breads and even the part of the turkey that went over the fence last, something I always shunned at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

When it comes to inventing revolting dishes, though, the Chinese take the gold cup. Who but they could have thought of such a dish as new­born mice dipped in boiling honey?

Speaking of the inedible, I am reminded of a dish which the first-century roman emper­or Vitellius offered to the goddess Minerva. Here I should point out that all members of the Roman pan­theon were considered gour­mets of godlike proportions.

Romans did not offer them peanuts, and it was incumbent upon emperors to prepare only the finest foods for them. What Vitellius offered Minerva was a melange of pike liver, phea­sant brains, peacock brains, flamingo tongues and lamprey roe. In making his offering, he told the goddess that he had garnered the ingredients from the far corners of his empire. I hope she enjoyed it.

I left lungs off the list of offal, because I could not finer a recipe for them in a modern cookbook. But lest you think that they have been ignored in the kitchen, think again.

In the court of Francois I of France, 1515-1547, lungs were known to have been par­ticularly favored, cooked ac­cording to a recipe by the great Taillevent, who wore his toque during the 14th century. So lungs had a fairly long life in the kitchen.

My nomination for the most inedible of dishes though is the “Hillary Special.” It is a soup reportedly invented by Sir Edmund Hillary of Mount Everest fame and consists of tea, dried milk, sugar, tsampa (a Himalayan breakfast cereal) and a can of sardines in their oil, all mixed together. It i« supposed to provide a balanc diet. That’s just the kind Or-dish that anyone who climbs mountains just because they’re there would devise.

Well, you can take your sardines canned in oil, dried milk, et al. and head up the nearest cliff. As for me, I’m going to Maxim’s. . .