Slumming Around the Carcass

As a meat-cutter trying to save money to travel, I took full advantage of my special position to make sure I could get my steak at least once a week. What kind of meat cutter doesn’t get his steak? For example, I could cut the flatirons out of the shoulder and wrap them up priced as ten percent grind, since that’s what the shop would do with them anyway. Eventually though, flatirons got popular, and management figured they were too valuable to grind, even though none of the other cutters could actually clean them up well enough to be worth grilling (except you, Kent). I don’t mean to be a braggart, that’s just a fact.

It was like having a decent little one-bedroom in the bad part of town, and they jack the rent. Now I’m eating pot roast and potatoes instead of rare beef and tomatoes. The price of off-cuts and what they used to call butcher’s cuts soared compared to the rest of the cow. Meanwhile, over in the poultry section, wings climbed to over three a pound, while management was falling all over itself to keep the price of boneless, skinless breast down. It’s the definition of gentrification, which is really just a dysphemism for trendy.

This “food gentrification” briefly became a hash tag a year ago after Whole Foods—in their stilted, white-people’s-overbite style of awe-shucks marketing—starting saying “Collards are the New Kale.” The mille feuille of absurdity inherent in this claim went largely unremarked upon, but collards seemed to strike a nerve with social media activists, probably due to their their race class connotations. Now, I know it sucks to see your old neighborhood—the place where you got your ass kicked on a regular basis growing up, where you learned to watch your back out of the corners of your eyes in the shop windows—being overrun first by a bunch of earnest and unafraid hipsters, and eventually by a bunch of Toyota yuppies, but you can’t gentrify a hardy, weedy, widely distributed green leaf. You can’t even gentrify pot (well, I suppose we’ll put that to the test here soon). But you can gentrify meat.

A cow only has two hanger steaks, two flanks, two outside skirts, two tri-tips, and four flatirons—and let’s be generous and say all that weighs twenty pounds trimmed—and you can’t just harvest cows like lettuce, on a cut-and-come-again basis, to get more trendy butcher’s cuts. The real tragedy though, has been for people who used to eat near the bottom of the price floor. Oxtails are like eight dollars a pound at the natural foods store now. Short ribs, six-fifty. Even beef bones, which I used to buy on the regular to fill up the freezer with stock, have been sucked up into the maws of pampered yuppy dogs and paleo dieters, to over three a pound. Never mind, I just use shank nowadays (three-fifty or so), while I still can. The boneless and trimmed rounds meanwhile, languishing from unpopularity, weigh about eighty pounds total. They don’t even stock half the cuts anymore.

I watched an old woman come into the store every other week or so for a couple of years, who always bought nearly all the wings we had for a buck-sixty-nine a pound. Expensive to her already, but she really liked our chicken—Petaluma Poultry free range at the time. She came in once after the price broke two a pound, got mad then laughed it off, bought some drumsticks for one-fifty-something I believe, and never came back. What I don’t think she noticed was that the boneless skinless breasts had stayed the same price: $5.99/pound.

Technology Can Take Care of Itself!

For an assignment in college, I wrote a review of Rowan Jacobsen’s American Terroir, a readable and informative, if stylistically flawed, argument for the application of the eponymous French notion to American soil. Borrowing from the format of Pollan’s Botany of Desire, Jacobsen walks us through a selection of American foods and agricultural products (Avocados from Michoacan, Yakima Valley apples, Puget sound oysters…Puget Sound?! Get the fuck out of here with that polluted backwater; Willapa bay or die!) and explains the geological, meteorological, hydrological, ecological, and whatever other logical contributes to the product’s individual distinction. It really is a good piece of pop-scientific nonfiction, kind of my favorite genre.

Anyway, this professor, a published writer of some popular nonfiction in the science vein, took exception to this passage in my piece:

The facts, concepts and philosophies woven throughout the book defend Jacobsen’s baldly staked positions on various contemporary culinary controversies. Jacobsen states his distaste for “molecular gastronomy,” the branch of contemporary culinary culture that employs the methods of the laboratory in the kitchen, early in the book: “I have no interest in this food” (15). It’s a popular position to take, but Jacobsen illuminates his position with a visit to Les Jardins Sauvages outside of Montreal where the focus is on Cuisine Sauvage: cooking with the produce of forest and fallow. The proprietor, Francois Brouillard would, “when he was five dehydrate grasshoppers on the woodstove, steal his mother’s rolling pin, and crush them to make a crust for the fish he’d caught in the river” (119). The techniques are inventive, creative, totally original, but low-tech and therefore, accessible. Jacobsen takes a swipe at Hervé This, the “father of molecular gastronomy” for “taking paint sprayers to innocent pieces of goat cheese” (124). Perhaps Jacobsen would find more to love about This if he’d read chapter 59 of Molecular Gastonomy in which he explains the empirical truths behind le terroir in cheese-making (203).

Regardless, Jacobsen’s culinary worldview is more aligned with that of Nancy Hinton, Brouillard’s wife and chef de cuisine, who has been creating a new type of cuisine completely outside of the conventional paradigm using not high-tech gadgetry or food-as-theatre pyrotechnics, but an artist’s intuition. Specifically, she and Brouillard forage their own ingredients to create such oddities as Cattail stock, desert courses seasoned with dried mushrooms, and pureés enriched with pigweed.

This is not to say that Jacobsen sees no place for manipulation or scientific inquiry in the realm of culinary arts, indeed his introductory explanation of the chemistry of taste makes clear that he appreciates an empirical approach, but that the “molecular gastronomic” approach to cooking follows in a certain tradition. Jacobsen traces that tradition to Antoine Carême “France’s ‘King of Chefs and Chef of Kings’” (14). The problem with this type of cooking, not to suggest that the world would be richer or more equal without it, is that it relies on a heavy battery of specialized equipment to produce highly manipulated and deconstructed food whose object is not necessarily to be satisfying or even delicious, but rarified. It takes power away from the ingredients themselves, and the common people who might be inspired by them, and invests it wholly in the engineer, or chef, or technician.

Now aside from noting how much better of a writer I was in college, you can see where I take Jacobsen’s side in the molecular gastronomy vs. traditional technique “debate,” while still granting that these molecular gastronomists might have something to teach us about the raw ingredient. Actually, I added that little sentence defending Hervé This after I got back the first draft from my professor on which he had scrawled “anti-intellectual” (in the context of a sentence) in regards to this passage. Yes, my professor suggested that criticism of techno-cuisine is tantamount to a thoughtless, knuckle-dragging, celebration of ignorance.

Obviously, this sticks in my craw (and a craw is not a claw, or a paw, or the space between your cat’s paw and claw like it sounds— it’s a bird’s esophageal digestive organ, the crop, the throat) and informs a lot of what I write and think about today. From my piece on letterpress, to my interviews with woodworkers using traditional techniques and materials to build restaurant wood surfaces, to my crazed ranting about Soylent, I’m fascinated with the tension between the traditional and the technological, the hand-crafted vs. the computer engineered, the analog and the binary. This isn’t to suggest that there’s a clear “choice” to be made between these “poles”, or even that there is a polar dichotomy to choose between. But I’m sure you can intuit what I’m getting at here, if you really want to, that is.

My professor, like a lot of modern people, conflates a slew of independent concepts into a monolith called Intellect, or Science, or Progress, or something like that, and it pisses me the fuck off. First, if we can’t decouple science from technology, then to criticize a technology is to criticize the science that makes the technology possible. Case in point: Genetically modified crops. Scientific American and other scientific publications have been on a hot tear in defense of GMO’s. And I understand their concern since a lot of people who are critical of GMO’s see the entire technology as not just fundamentally flawed, but actually evil. These opponents throw the technology and the science together into the same large bag and set it ideologically aflame, while the science and technology establishment stand at the top of the mount and thunder down: “You Fools! I give you fire, and you drown it as thoughtlessly as you would a kitten!” This is unproductive since, in my opinion, the technology has primarily been deployed as a wealth generation machine for agribusiness, but holds promise for medicine and agriculture on a warming planet (disease resistance, drought resistance, etc….) However, we can’t really control what the technology is used for once it’s deployed; the market (and to a lesser extent the unelected bureaucracy) makes those decisions for us. So I say, label it. If the genetics are sufficiently novel to get market protection in the form of a patent, then they are sufficiently novel to handle market scrutiny. These are big kid genetics. Not because I think BT soybeans are poisonous or something, but because that’s the only control any of us can hope to have over the deployment of new technologies which purportedly exist to serve us, but which are actually deployed to make us serve their real masters: the people with the capital to build and own them. (And yes, I realize that these technologies are older than cell phones at this point, but agribusiness has been fighting these efforts tooth and nail for decades now.)

See what I did there? I used principals derived from a wide body of human study and interest to make a decision regarding the regulation of a technology, without attacking the science behind the technology. Nifty huh?

But what about that molecular gastronomy? That stuff, by definition, exists to serve people tasty food, right? Sure, it’s just harmless experimentation, “playing with food” as it were. But what much of it really does is to trade skills for equipment. For example: Water circulators (and this is not a knock on you guys who have them. I love you guys! Thanks for reading!) pretty much cook the food for you. Seal the food in an airtight pouch with a vacuum-sealing machine, set the circulator for the temperature of optimal doneness, drop it in, and forgettaboutit. Sure beats spending years sweating over the stove learning to cook the product at the exact right temperature (as determined by how quickly it burns your hand), how long to rest after cooking and in what medium, and how to determine doneness by sight and touch. All that skill, all that accumulated intuition, gets reduced to a button. I feel the same way about Traegers. Still, your Traeger brisket generally looks like a pasty white-boy approximation of what a Kansas City pitmaster moving meat around on pikes in a room-size brick oven turns out. It tastes good, sure. But, (and this is where I digress into all sorts of squishy, subjective feelings and stuff) it lacks soul. And soul, as far as I’m concerned, resides entirely in the burnt ends.  

As for the rest of it, it confounds criticism. It stands so far apart from what we recognize as food that it becomes impossible to place value judgements on it. I cannot say whether this lichen-smoke puff or nitro-frozen olive oil slick is well executed because, what the fuck am I going to judge it against? And that’s fine, because if these foods stick around long enough to become established parts of mainstream cuisine, we’ll eventually establish benchmarks to judge them by. (“Oh, this seaweed and uni foam has way too much…mass. It coats the palate almost like… sustenance.”) And when these foams and nitro-freezes and vapors and ethers become as common as french fries, were all gonna need some new cooking equipment. And bigger kitchens. Because nearly every new technology comes on as a harmless little amusement or a productivity-enhancing tool, quickly progresses to indispensable for the responsible worker-citizen, and eventually slays everyone who doesn’t adopt it. Technology is an insinuating little bully like that, so stop treating it like a sacrosanct institution: Technology will smite all it’s enemies in due time. Technology can take care of itself.



Gangster Of Food had to attend a conference in Ohio, “How to not be an asshole” put on by the Association of Snarky Bloggers of America (ASBA). Meantime the garden has come and gone, mushrooms have started sprouting, a handful of squirrels have mysteriously died in the backyard, looks like they were shot, and you all quit paying any attention to me.

We are getting some pigs. Big pigs. Anyone who is interested in this endeavour should comment on the post. The pigs will be from Lance’s Farm Vittles in Bay City, Oregon. They are advertised as “milk fed” although they obviously eat other things too. The pigs are raised in a pen/ barn structure and someone expressed concern that the pigs were confined in some way. Apologies, sir for reprinting my thoughts on the matter here, but it was good of you to give me an opportunity to express my feelings on the subject of animal confinement:

If you got someone that you are going through then by all means do that, I’ll easily have enough people to get two or three pigs and I’m sure the PMC has more resources and a nicer space than I got. I’m trying to get into one of their fall pork classes as well.
Concerning the raising the pigs indoors vs. outdoors I’ve talked to a few of different pig producers about the subject and I’ve gotten two main responses. One response is: “They’re pigs, given the choice they stay inside” from Sweetbriar Farms whom I believe the PMC has gone through in the past and the other, from the rancher at Crooked Gate which primarily raises beef using MIG practices is: “you can have pigs or you can have pasture”, basically meaning that pigs tear up pasture through their digging and rooting. From an environmental perspective, tearing up pasture is bad for soil retention, biological diversity, and soil carbon sequestration which is why feral swine are considered a noxious invasive species wherever they are found in the US and many states (including Oregon) have open season on them year round.
From an animal welfare perspective I find it illogical to argue that an animal should be allowed to do something that it is not naturally inclined to do. Free will seems to be more a preoccupation of human than animal endeavor. More importantly, if the animal is destructive to its immediate environment, allowing unfettered access to destroy its environment does little for the long- term happiness or health of the beast (witness my neighbor’s chickens, which have totally destroyed their range, and the human race).
That being said I realize that there are some farmers like Joel Salatin who make a conscious effort to move their pigs to different areas on the farm in order to utilize the pigs rooting and turning behavior to kill weeds and “rototill” the area. If I found such a farm in the area then I would at some point definitely try some of their pork. Even in this circumstance however, the pigs are usually confined to some extent so that they actually turn the area the farmer would like them to turn rather than, say, attack the nearest row of grapevines.
I see that this fall PMC will be getting their pork from Tails and Trotters which prides itself on finishing their pigs on acorns. I don’t know for sure, but from the photos on the T&T website it seems as though the pigs are confined to a pen.

In other words, freedom is of limited usefulness.

So these pigs, they gonna be good eh?

Charlotte Allen Is a Crazy Screamer

I read this article the other day by a real nice sounding lady named Charlotte Allen. She wrote a piece in the LA Times called: “Keep Your Self Righteous Fingers Off My Processed Food”, which is a real mouthful of a title. Maybe she could have said something like: “Please Refrain From Your Gastronomic Sanctimony”. That mightn’t have meant anything to her readership.

Anyway, the article was basically about how all the social critics are a bunch of assholes who should really stop saying bad things about our society. Specifically, she feels that when people say, “cheap mass produced goods are bad for people and the environment and the world in general”, what they are really saying is, “pony up, poor people, for yours is a life of sloth and greed.” She then goes on to liken Alice Waters to Marie Antoinette, which makes Michael Pollan, I don’t know, Mao Tse-tung maybe.

People like this thrive on a bad economic climate because then they get to start screaming from the podium “You SEE! You see what all these high-fallutin, college- educated, liberal elites want from you. They want to take away what littles you still got!”. They never put two and two together to come to the understanding that the consumer economy, the economy obsessed with collecting more stuff at the lowest possible price, is hastening the annihilation of the domestic manufacturing sector. The result being a downward spiral in the quality and compensation of jobs available for regular people and massive consumer and the government debts which helped cause the economic downfall in the first place.

If you love this country then you should be willing to put more of your money into it. Every dollar you send to southeast Asia for an unnecessary gadget, every penny that you send to South America for out- of- season fruit, says to the American producer of quality goods: “Why don’t you take a fucking job at Walmart?”.

What you pay is directly correlated not only to what you get but also to what the people who make the stuff get paid. If you pay more for food, the farmer makes more. If you pay next to nothing for huge gobfuls of garbage to shove in your face, then the producer is making very little on the pound and must produce many more pounds in order to stay afloat. When what you pay for is heavily processed, the primary producer gets even less, the processor takes the lion’s share.

I gotta write one more about gadgets before all my gadget- happy friends disown me. Then I promise we’ll get back to eats and pictures of good eats. I just gotta get this craziness outta me first.

Monsanto is the bad guys

So I finally saw that movie “Food Inc.” and I really wasn’t expecting much. So Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin get interviewed by some foodie neophyte and then they all sit around and talk about local food and organics and how bad The Man is and stuff. Like the food movement for people who are too lazy to read popular nonfiction. But you know what, It was actually pretty good. I learned a few little factoids about The Man, like well I really can’t remember right now, but Wal Mart has organics stuffs ya’al so get on in there and get you some organic Totino’s Pizza rolls. Also I learned about some more Monsanto intellectual property rights cases that I hadn’t heard of. See I had only heard of this Percy Schleimer fellow who was a canola farmer in Canadia and who had his crop of canola invaded by the Monsanto roundup- ready canola pollen which fearsomely injected its little frankenetic information into Percie’s crops naturale little ovule’s and then they had these little crazy baby canola plants that were also “Roundup Ready!”. That is true. Well, this movie talks about another guy named Maurice Parr.

This guy apparently crossed Monsanto by not only helping, but encouraging farmers to save seeds from Monsanto’s patented “Roundup Ready!” (that sounds a Ronald Reagan movie title) with his little seed cleaning machine. Well, this little seed cleaning machine was a patent infringing criminal and the guy had to settle out of court with Monsanto and he went broke in the process. But you see according to Monsanto, this Maurice is a lying sack of spit- stained cow shit as a matter of fact, all these dirty farmers are liars.

So what does this mean to the gangster? That white shirt corporate nice guys are the side of truth and right? That commodity farmers are not just a bunch of painfully innocent, slack- jawed yokels spraying agricultural chemicals at each other through fire hoses, naught a care in the world? No. My world view has not changed. If Monsanto developed a cow that shit gold turds, I might try to get my hands on some of that gold, but they would still fundamentally be a bunch of sub- organismal jerk- off geeks with a real flair for marketing.

What defies my logic is why these people continue to work with this company, the economics must be brutal. Either that or they’re just lazy.

Offal and yuppie waste.

Another thing that’s real hip is offal. Well, hip in the “I had some at Babbo” sense.  Not hip in the, “come on over, I got some kidneys on the Webber and some Valpolicella in the cellar,” sort of sense. That is to say that, for the very, very intrepid foodie, offal is okay if it’s been given a good going over by a professional kitchen, sanctified by the hand of a culinary deity, served in the minutest of portions and cloaked with some other, more benign foodstuff. This is a crying shame.

Not that I’m a great offal cook myself, I do a few things right and I’m a little scared of say, chicken intestines. But that’s just cultural conditioning and that’s just what needs to be undone. Especially if we want to call ourselves cooks, or conscientious omnivores, or logically consistent people.

As far as cooking is concerned, offal is the only group of ingredients that consistently and inherently requires thought and consideration in it’s preparation. As Thomas Keller proclaims in The French Laundry Cookbook:

It’s easy to cook a fillet mignon, or to sauté a piece of trout, serve it with browned butter à la meunière,  and call yourself a chef. But that’s not really cooking. That’s heating. Preparing tripe however, is a transcendental act: to take what is normally thrown away and, with skill and knowledge, turn it into something exquisite.

…in his customarily prosaic fashion.

But only in recent times, in this country, has offal had the distinction of being an amuse bouche for the jaded palate of the highly sophisticated diner. In nearly every other meat- eating society on earth, offal is regularly on the table. Even Jews and Muslims, with their squeamishness’ about blood and bottom feeding, eat offal. So what is the fucking hang up?

In my short career as a meat- cutter/ manager, I got an unrestrained, firsthand and unwelcome view of American’s relationship with meat: “Can you pull the skin off that and cut it into 67 one quarter by five eighth inch cubes? That’s what it says in my recipe”; “Um, I’ll have one boneless, skinless chicken breast. Can you put that in a plastic bag and wrap it?”.

Or one of my very favorites:

“Hi, do you sell rabbit?”

“Well yes we do mam, it’s right over here.”

“Oh my god, it’s true, you do sell rabbit.”

Me smiling, oblivious: “Yep, we sure do. How many would you like?”

“I don’t want any. Rabbits aren’t food. They’re pets and that is inhumane and disgusting. I can’t believe you people sell this. You need to take those off the shelf. I belong to an organization….”

“I’ll go get the manager.”

This conversation took place before I was the manager, thank the good lord for something. I could go on and on but that isn’t the point. The point is, oh wait, I have one more that needs telling.

When my brother and I were catering, we scored a demonstration at the local farmers’ market. We had been making pies for the local wine bar and I had rendered out a 25-pound case of leaf lard and canned it for the purpose of making real, traditional pie crust. So we decided to make strawberry-rhubarb pie. We made two: one all butter, one butter and lard. My brother bravely solicited the crowd, “So who likes lard?” You would have had to be there to imagine all the “ewe!”‘s and “no way!”‘s. It seriously sounded like a classroom of kindergartners being asked to eat a pile of dead rats. If this is at the farmer’s market, you can see what an uphill battle we’re into.

So we have established that modern (or are they post-modern? or “after-modern”) Americans, especially in Portland, really hate every part of the animal except the loins and breasts, since avian dark meat and mammalian shoulders are quickly being relegated to the category of “variety cuts” as well. And even these lilly-white extravagances are regarded with suspicion, like an envelope, lacking a return mailing address, full of a mysterious white powder. And Portlanders think of themselves as environmentalists.

The energy inefficiency of raising animals for food is well documented. And although there are arguments to be made for an alternative system of animal husbandry as an ethical, aesthetically pleasing, and efficient way to feed the burgeoning population of increasingly affluent top tier heterotrophs, waste is inexcusable. And waste is precisely what we do when we disregard about 25% of every pig we slaughter and maybe %30 of every cow (those figures are approximate educated guesses, it’s unreal how many greyhounds one must consume before any useful information can be pried from the internet). A pig apparently yields, on average, about 73% muscle meat. Maybe 5% of the rest is digestive contents, and the rest is edible. Seriously, most of this food is thrown away, fed to animals (like livestock), or shipped to China.

It’s especially repulsive when one considers that as recently as the 1960’s offal was considered perfectly acceptable family fare, but by the 1980’s that had all changed. Can you imagine the Seavers sitting down to a nice platter of boiled tongue with horseradish sauce? Yet, as recently as 1972 James Beard was rhapsodizing the glories of skewered lamb kidneys. Which are delicious by the way.

What you do is cut the kidneys (which must be fresh) through the middle lengthwise. That is to say, along the inside split of the kidney bean (you’ll know what I mean when you have them in hand). Remove the white stringy stuff that’s in there with a sharp knife (yes offals do take a little skill) and then cut the halves into half or thirds if they’re large. Soak these pieces in water for a few hours (or milk if your loaded), then drain and pat dry. Cut some mushrooms (Crimini or, if you got ’em, Porcini, Chanterelles, Morels or any other firm, large, flavorful fungi) into quarters or halves depending on size. Some good bacon will be threaded onto a skewer, intertwined with alternating layers of mushroom and kidney chunks. The bacon should wrap half way around each skewered piece of kidney or mushroom. Season this well and grill carefully (so as not to set fire to the bacon) for 10 minutes or so, while basting alternately with a mixture of white wine and mustard, and melted butter,  until the mushrooms are soft and the kidneys are crispy outside, just pink inside. Serve forth with a salad of endives and radishes, and some good bread.  This is how we eat.

If you don’t do it first, restaurants will beat you to the punch. You’re probably okay with that, but you shouldn’t be. When I began my career as a white trash line cook, flank steak was about $3 a pound. Then London Broil got trendy, no wait, it was already totally trendy, then every two-bit-hack of a cookbook author in the country published a recipe for flank steak, the Great American Marketing Machine went to work, now you’d be lucky to get a pound of stringy, fussy meat for under $12. So don’t wait for others to tell you, just forge ahead. You’ll already be competing with the dogs.

Marrow is people food. Have you ever eaten Osso Bucco? It literally means “bone hole” (don’t you laugh) and refers to the fact that the real treat, the raison d’être of this dish is the little spot of marrow in the middle of the bone, and it should be served with a little tiny fork so you can get it out of there. But how often does that happen? Just ask for a little fork and one gets a reaction ranging from bemusement to utter confusion. Fortunately marrow bones are still relatively cheap, easy to prepare, and can be enjoyed on their own.

The french classic of bone marrow with snails is pretty good, but a little fussy and rich. I like the suggestion of Fergus Henderson, to serve them with toast, salt and a simple salad of parsley, shallot and capers dressed in olive oil and lemon. Cooking them is simple. Have the butcher cut them into 2 to 3 inch lengths (and make sure he’s only giving you bones with a lot of marrow, he thinks it doesn’t matter because you’re going to feed it to the dogs) rinse them off, and roast them in a 450 oven for 15-20 minutes or until the marrow is just soft all the way through: use a skewer to test. Don’t overcook, as the marrow will just turn to liquid and run out the ends. If you want to get really fancy, the New Professional Chef would have you soak them in a bowl of cold salted water for a few hours to draw out the blood and any “impurities”, then you can apparently push the marrow right out of the bone. Good stuff to garnish a steak with.

Chicken and turkey offals are about the only offals commonly available. Increasingly, these are seen on the menus at trendy izakayas skewered and broiled. I even ate some skewered chicken butts at Ping, they were disappointing. As a red blooded Midwesterner, I’m partial to fried livers. As a fussy contemporary epicure, I got a certain method.

Chicken livers, to my mind, need soaking. Salted water works, salted milk is even better. I rinse the livers first, then I soak them for about 12 hours or overnight. Drain, pat them dry and season generously with salt and especially pepper, and roll them in a 50/50 mixture of rice flour and AP flour (rice flour helps make everything fried, crispier). Immediately upon dusting them, shallow fry them in a cast iron skillet, preferably in lard. They cook pretty quick, so you can cook them at a fairly high temperature, just don’t let the oil burn. the livers should be brown and exceptionally crisp on the outside, just a hint of rosiness on the inside. No, I cannot explain why it’s okay to eat chicken livers less than totally gray all the way through. I just know that I can, and to cook them any more results in a dry, crumbly mess that is best served to the cat. These I serve forth with a spicy cocktail sauce. In the Midwest, and even out here, chicken livers are generally, flabby and limp and served with ketchup, appealing only to the die- hard who is probably more interested in proving their authenticity, or their virility, than in enjoying their food.

The overarching theme here, as you may have noticed, is soaking. Not all offal needs a soaking, mainly just the internal organs, especially those that process waste. This tames the often strong flavors. and removes much of the bloodiness. On the other hand, aficionados like Fergus Henderson and rustics like Angelo Pellegrini waste little time or flavor with such niceties. I leave it to you to decide. If, however, you choose to bring home a nice boneless, skinless chicken breast for dinner tonight, I want you to think about all that flavorful, delicious skin and bone that, thanks to your squeamish contemporary sensibilities, is being rendered into soap, machine lubricant, pet food, candles, cosmetics and livestock feed right now. Turns out that, on some level, even the industrial complex abhors waste.


Preparing lamb’s kidneys. In reading order: a fresh pile of kidneys, where to cut into them from, the opened kidney showing the white stuff to be removed (there’s a little more under the pale flesh), soaking in a milk brine.