The Old Broke Rancher Asks: Is Offal Awful?

Old Broke Rancher Masthead
OBR Offal

I've always thought of myself as an interesting, sophisticated man of the world. But lately, I've been worrying that I'm just a real simple hick with no taste at all.

Contrary to what you might think looking at me now, there was a time when I was a very picky eater. I gave my mother no end of trouble, refusing to eat most of the vegetables she had canned or jarred. This may, in part, be due to the fact that, when I was a kid, canned vegetables were often indescribably gross masses of wet green, yellow, or red fiber. All too often, that can was opened onto a bed of lettuce or cottage cheese, or encased, jiggling, into a block of gelatin - mixed with some mayonnaise, of course.

Since then, there have been many improvements in the field of culinary arts, for which I am grateful and to which I owe my decidedly convex waistline. Inventions such as the frozen pizza, the Big-Mac, Pringles, and Pop-Tarts.

So maybe I'm not a gourmet. But I'm willing to try just about anything, even if I know I'm not going to like it.

For instance, I'm about to eat a bunch of different kinds of offal, and I'm pretty sure I'm not going to like that.

In 1943, LIFE magazine spent the better part of 6 pages trying to convince the American reader that he or she ought to try to include some offal, or "variety meats" as they were euphemistically referred to, in their diet. This was, essentially, a patriotic endeavor.

The upshot was this: our boys were abroad fighting the Axis Powers, so we ought to let them have the real meat. We could hardly send them to the beaches of Normandy or Iwo Jima on stomachs full of kidneys, pancreas, tripe, or tongue. This was one bullet, metaphorically speaking, that we could take for them. At least, the article somewhat apologetically maintained, such cheap cuts "are not only rich in nutritive value but, when properly prepared, are among the tastiest dishes known."

It fills me with a deep sadness, the thought of those poor men dying in the surf at Omaha and Utah Beach without a final taste of devilled kidneys, liver & onions, or, God help us, foie gras.

Well, I'm a patriot, so for the benefit of you, the reader, and for the amusement of the magazine's staff, I'm going to eat a bunch of guts that I purchased at a certain long-standing and well-regarded Butte butcher shop. Whatever follows, I assure you it's not their fault.

Sweetbreads, I'm told, are the place to start.

The pancreas or thymus of young beef, these rare morsels are the organ meat recommended to the skeptic. If the idea of haute cuisine appeals to you, then consider that the sweetbreads are prized in the best kitchens of Europe, where it is often served with mushrooms, or in a cream sauce.

But since common fare interests me more, I'm heartened to learn that supposedly they have a consistency and flavor similar to chicken nuggets. Chicken nuggets are, incidentally, one of those relatively recent innovations in food of which I am very fond.

Well, reader, they sure don't look like chicken nuggets. No, they look like some sort of fleshy sac out of which alien crabs burst to woo your face.

I read that you should soak sweetbreads in something to draw off impurities. So I bought a big jug of buttermilk, Bulgarian style. This made a certain amount of sense to me, because why shouldn't you soak something gross in something else that is also gross? Then, after a half hour or so, I did my best to follow the instructions I found online: "Remove any membrane and white globules of suet and then tear it into bite-sized chunks along the naturally occurring folds." Jiminy Christmas, I thought. Did I have to be a surgeon to cook this stuff?

The next step was to dredge them in flour and then saute it in a pan, but I didn't know how to do that, so instead I dropped them on the floor and threw them in a pan with some "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter." Did I mention I'm not a very good cook?

What I ended with looked less like chicken nuggets than a pile of monkey gonads. For a moment, I imagined them being offered to Indiana Jones on a plate, maybe with some snakes.

But what did they taste like? Reader, they tasted like chicken nuggets. Even as I write, I am tempted to add something like "they taste, that is, like chicken nuggets if chicken nuggets were made of boogers." My dogs, they loved them!




Next were kidneys.

Now, these were a little more appealing looking. They kind of looked like big shiny pills, or sleek tic-tac UFOs, except they were a nice shade of pastel crimson like a faded red velour tracksuit. And they wiggled. Oh, how they wiggled when poked. And they had a smell, a certain unmistakable uric tang even after being soaked in Bulgarian buttermilk. Plugging my nose, I cut them open, as instructed by a French chef whose YouTube video I watched and tried to emulate. I should also mention that she was speaking French, and that I don't speak it, much less understand it. And that she could cook, and that I can't.

My idea was to chop the kidney up fine and add it to some hamburger and make tacos. And as I watched the little brown clumps wiggle around in the pan, I started to feel like a real chef. The sweetbreads, after all, had been pretty good. I was just beginning to imagine I had uncovered a new skill, that this old dog had learned a new trick, when I took a bite.

I wouldn't say it was bad, the brown glop which sat, quivering as if afraid, in my taco shell. But I wouldn't recommend it over a Pop Tart, which is what I ate three of while I spooned a considerable portion of taco filling into the dog's bowls.

Maybe, I thought, I wasn't really very sophisticated after all. To me, it tasted how cat food smells. The French lady on Youtube, after all, had closed her eyes and said "mmmm" when she tried hers. So why did I close my eyes and say, first, "ew" and then "phbttt" as I spat it out? It must have been that I lack the palate for such fancy feasts.

This worried me for a week or so, until I found myself at a, shall we say, "rustic" bar in a very, shall we say, "rural" town somewhere in north Central Montana. As is so often the case with these hole in the walls, there was someone back in the kitchen who was a mean hand with a deep-fat fryer. The waitress came over and I asked her what she recommended.

"Well, some folks sure like the rocky mountain oysters, if you're brave."

I had to admit, it had been twenty or thirty years since I'd had them last. And that had been at the late, great Teste Fest. Knowing this, it was likely that I had enjoyed a few beers.

Was I brave tonight? Yes, always. Now that I'm in my late middle age, anyway.

I ordered them.

They arrived golded brown, imperfect globes of breading and bovine masculinity. They were nestled around a little ramekin brimming over with ranch dressing.

Were they delicious? Yes.

Thank goodness, I thought as I helped myself to another handful of the greasy goodies. I was a sophisticate after all.




Gary Shelton was born in Lewistown in 1951 and has been a rancher, a railroader, a biker, a teacher, a hippie, and a cowboy.  Now he's trying his hand at writing in the earnest hope that he'll make enough at it to make a downpayment on an RV.  Hell, scratch that.  Enough to buy the whole RV.  He can be reached at [email protected] for complaints, criticisms, and recriminations.  Compliments can be sent to the same place, but we request you don't send them - it'll make his head big.

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Ric (not verified) , Sat, 07/06/2024 - 17:40
With kidneys, you need to boil the piss out of them first, THEN bread and fry them.
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