2017 has had its fair share of food obsessions, from the ubiquitous avocado to those frankly unappetising raw food dishes. But two-star Michelin chef Michel Roux Jr is ignoring such fads and wants you to start eating something your grandparents were probably partial to: offal.
Yes, the entrails and internal organs of animals – not the most glamorous ingredients, nor for the faint-hearted. This is the subject of Michel’s latest book Les Abats: Celebrating The Whole Beast, which is a veritable bible of offal – particularly as it has no pictures in it.
Michel’s on a mission to bring innards to the masses. Not quite convinced? He’s on hand to try and change your mind.
Why people are scared of offal
Michel’s well aware that offal doesn’t exactly have the best reputation. “People are scared of offal for many reasons – like [memories of] bad school dinners, or gran and grandad’s overcooked boiled liver, with that strong offal taste and smell,” he groans.
But for Michel, it’s all in our heads. “A lot of it is psychological,” he says matter-of-factly. “The squeamish think, ‘Oh gosh, it’s an organ, it’s horrible, I can’t eat that’ – but why not?”
He’s quick to point out that people are happy to eat a lot of things like taramasalata (fish eggs) and oxtail, without fully realising they are offal. “Growing up, I ate a lot of oxtail with my family – it’s fairly common, but not something you would automatically know is classed as offal,” he explains.
Why Michel loves offal
While you might have had some dodgy experiences with offal growing up, this wasn’t the case for Michel. As his father is renowned French chef Albert Roux, there was no danger of overcooked liver in their household – and that’s an experience Michel wants everyone to have. “If it’s cooked properly, it can be truly delicious,” he enthuses.
What’s more, nothing was wasted, he recalls: “Every part of the animal was consumed in our household, growing up. You take a chicken and all the lovely bits inside – the liver, the heart, the gizzards, they were all cooked up.”
Apparently in his family there was a fight, not over the last roast potato, but over the parson’s nose – the fatty bit at the rear end of a bird. Nice.
Why you should start cooking with offal
According to Michel, squeamishness can get in the way of a real treat. Hence why he wrote Les Abats. “The general public needs a little guidance to get back into offal and to appreciate it,” he notes.
For Michel, offal is a criminally underused ingredient, one that’s often cheap, delicious and minimises meat waste.
What offal you should try cooking first
Michel understands that cooking offal is a slightly daunting prospect. He suggests newbies ease themselves into it with something like a chicken liver recipe, rather than trying to cook tripe on their first bash.
When it comes to his own favourite offal recipe from the book, he muses over haggis made from scratch, roast bone marrow with porcini mushrooms, the sweetbread pie, before plumping for the grilled veal kidneys with mustard, which he calls “exceptional”. “My whole family – my cousins, my uncle, my dad, my mum – would crawl over hot coals to eat that.”
And it’s not hard to get your hands on the ingredients either – Michel says any cuts you can’t find at your local butcher’s can be easily sourced online.
Why offal needs no photographs
Unusually for a cookbook, Les Abats has absolutely no pictures.
A cynical person might think the choice was made because, let’s face it, offal isn’t exactly pretty. After all, Michel also called the book “Les Abats”, a much sexier translation of the English “giblets”.
“This is a book where the recipes and the ingredients are king,” says Michel. “I don’t want to muddy or crowd it with pictures.”
Les Abats is published in hardback by Seven Dials, priced £25. Available now.