Supper tonight: Chicken liver patè loaded onto brown yeast bread which had been warmed under the grill and moistened with clarified butter, served with a dollop of Crossogue rhubarb chutney and a salad of shaved fennel, apple and scallion tossed in lemon juice and peppery olive oil.
Just the kind of thing I would order in a heartbeat in a restaurant. And just the kind of thing I thought I’d never actually make.
I’m not really sure why. It was super quick, super easy and super cheap, as most offal still is. I’m not squeamish about eating offal. We were brought up eating sweet tongue and hearty liver, and I still love their robust flavours. I was never a huge fan of steak and kidney pie, but can relate to Leopold Bloom’s appreciation for the “fine tang of faintly scented urine” they gave to his palate. I’ve ordered spleen and lung in London’s Bocca di Lupa (which the waitress served with an undisguised curl of the lip, and which I won’t be ordering again); I tucked into ‘aromatic’ andouillette in Lyon almost as enthusiastically as the elegant slip of a French PR girl sitting beside me; and gave both greyish drisheen and coralesque tripe a whirl in Cork’s English Market (where the Farmgate do a nice rendition of the latter).
Not only do I enjoy the flavour of most offal that I’ve tasted, I also reckon it’s only right to eat as much as is good to eat of any animal we kill for food. Our insatiable Western taste for the bland, spongy, water swollen tits of battery chicken (which often beats the more fulsome flavoured organic and/or free-range chicken in public taste tests) has a lot to answer for in terms of common-practice animal welfare abuse.
Anyway all of this is by way of explaining not only why I delight in offal, but also why I was delighted to find myself trimming the membranes off a small army of chicken livers. A matter of minutes later, and our patè was setting in a fridge under a slick of clarified butter, a seal which will keep the patè good for up to four weeks in the fridge, if it survives being devoured before then.
My delight was to be further compounded by a lunch of (among other morsels) a simple ham hock terrine bound in duck fat, and crispy crubeen croquettes. The croquettes were made up of about 60% pig trotter to about 40% hock meat, mixed together, rolled tightly and chilled before being breadcrumbed and fried off and served with a sauce gribiche. We even had thimbleful shots of the slick clear cooking broth in which the ham hocks (€2 each-ish) and the trotters (40c each-ish) had been cooked off, and have frozen it to make consomme next week.
Why so cheap? One look at the hairy-toed trotters has your answer: they sure ain’t the most aesthetically pleasing part of a pig. Nor do they provide instant gratification: slow cooking followed by gradual cooling followed by meticulous picking out of cartilage, bone, grissle and enbristled skin to leave just the juicy, gelatinous, flavourful fat that you’re after. And then, once you’ve rescued that fine fat from all that dross, there’s still a distance to travel before you can tuck in with relish to the big generous flavours in a little piggie’s toe. But when you do get there, boy is it worth the extra mile of effort.
My lesson for today? Cooking with offal can range from easy peasy to awful hard work, but honest, satisfying and ultimately delicious work at that. I’ll be befriending a butcher and giving it another go sooner rather than later.