Offal-ly good: South Florida cooks utilize whole animals

Brains: Pan-roasted veal brains with brown butter and crab meat, at L’echon Brasserie in Miami Beach.
Brains: Pan-roasted veal brains with brown butter and crab meat, at L’echon Brasserie in Miami Beach. Pubbelly Media Group

For carnivores, it’s hard to imagine a more gratifying food experience than indulging in a juicy rib-eye steak or diving face-first into a pork-loin sandwich.

But home cooks have long turned to less-desirable animal cuts — organs and other innards generally referred to as offal — to save money and, along the way, find alternative paths to deliciousness.

Restaurant chefs in Miami and across the globe have wised up to the economics and like-grandma-used-to-make comforts of whole-animal cookery.

For those brave enough to adventure into offal beyond foie gras (fattened duck or goose liver), here’s a look at some of the dishes you can try in your kitchen and at local restaurants.

▪ Sweetbreads

While the name might conjure up a sugary dessert, sweetbreads actually is the cooked thymus gland of a calf or other animal. It’s often dusted in flour and pan-fried for a crispy crust and soft, creamy interior. The meat’s mild, non-gamey flavor makes sweetbreads a good gateway offal for picky eaters.

Argentine restaurants seem to have an affinity for grilled sweetbreads. Graziano’s, a local chain of restaurants and markets, serves it with a mixed-grill assortment that includes blood sausage and intestines.

▪ Tripe

It takes a special eater to stomach the honeycomb look and rubbery texture of stomach, but tripe (the edible stomach of an animal, most commonly cow) is fairly common in Latin American, Mexican and Caribbean cuisine, making it easy to find here. Its chewy texture is similar to overcooked calamari, and its neutral flavor makes it an ideal meat for stews.

Not to be confused with mofongo, mondongo is one of the most popular dishes with tripe you will find locally; it is a hearty stew made with tripe and vegetables and can be found at nearly every South or Central America restaurant in the city, including the aptly named Colombian eatery Mondongo’s in Doral.

▪ Blood sausage

Some faint at the mere sight of blood. Others let it coagulate and stuff it into sausages. Blood sausage is usually an encased mixture of pork blood and spices with an earthy, iron-rich flavor.

Also known as morcilla, blood sausage is readily available at many butcher shops and Hispanic restaurants. The Miami-based chain Delicias de España offers the dish both on their daily menu and for purchase in their market.

▪ Liver

Few outgrow their displeasure from eating liver as a child, but those who revisit the dish will surprised to learn that it is much better than they remember. There are dozens of ways to prepare liver, and what your mother used to say still holds true: Liver is quite good for you, full of protein and minerals.

Moving away from the traditional pan-fried beef liver and onions, the old Jewish deli preparation of chopped chicken liver is a treat worth trying. Josh’s Deli in Surfside makes a homemade version. And for a more upscale (but still affordable) take, try the seasonal foie gras at The Federal Food, Drink & Provisions.

▪ Heart

In its raw state, beef heart is certainly not for the faint of, well, you know. But once cooked, the inexpensive organ is a tasty, lean alternative to pricier cuts and holds up well to long braising and quick grilling.

Anticuchos de Corazón, or beef-heart skewers, can typically be found at Peruvian and Latin fusion restaurants throughout Miami like Aromas del Perú in Coral Gables or Toro Toro at the InterContinental Hotel downtown. For a next-level heart experience, Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill in midtown Miami serves lamb-heart anticuchos with popcorn.

▪ Brain

The thought of eating brain can make even the most adventurous foodie squeamish. They’d be surprised to learn that the organ doesn’t have an aggressive flavor; like tofu, it takes on whatever ingredients it’s cooked with. The meat, which has a mushy texture, is exceptionally rich, high in both fat and cholesterol.

For a refined take, try veal brain ravioli at Pascal’s on Ponce in Coral Gables (the pasta filling is disguised with braised short rib, so you wouldn’t even know the brain is there).

Or try it pan-roasted with a brown-butter sauce and fresh blue crab at L’echon Brasserie in the Hilton Cabana Miami Beach.

Alternatively, fried beef brain can occasionally be found on the menu at hole-in-the wall Cuban restaurants throughout the Miami area.

Ricardo Mor is a Miami-based writer. Follow him on Twitter: @rmor90.

Main dish

Ravioli Monégasque

55 grams Swiss chard

55 grams fresh spinach

5 ounces veal brain

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound braised short ribs (see recipe)

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

75 grams parmesan

35 grams ricotta

1 pound fresh or frozen ravioli dough

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup wild mushrooms

Lightly blanch cleaned spinach and Swiss chard in rapidly boiling salted water; shock in ice bath immediately. Squeeze out as much water as possible; reserve greens. Soak brains in water with a small amount of white vinegar for 12 hours.

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Remove brains from water and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper and lightly dredge in flour, tapping off excess. Heat a small amount of the olive oil in a sauté pan. Gently brown both sides of brains in pan, then roast brains in oven for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and refrigerate brains until cool.

Combine short rib meat, brains, spinach and Swiss chard in a mixing bowl by hand. Take mixture and feed through grinder on medium speed. Gently fold remaining ingredients into ground meat mixture and season to taste. Spoon small balls into center of ravioli dough, spreading mixture around slightly. Fold dough over mixture and secure seal with light pressure, making sure to remove any air pockets. Cut with ring cutter and refrigerate.

When ready to serve, poach raviolis in large pot of boiling water for 5 minutes or until pasta is al dente. In a separate pan, sauté 1 cup wild mushrooms in butter till brown and tender. Place ravioli on plate and spoon mushrooms over pasta. Serves 4 to 8.

Braised Beef Short Ribs

2 pounds (about 4) beef short ribs

1/2 cup canola oil

1 large red onion, diced

1 large carrot, diced

2 celery stalks, diced

1/2 head garlic, cut through the middle

1 tablespoon flour

2 cups red wine

2 tablespoons brandy

4 cups veal stock

1 bouquet garni

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Season short ribs with salt and pepper. In a large pot over medium heat, heat the canola oil and brown the short ribs on all sides until golden brown. Remove the ribs, add onion, carrot, celery and garlic to pot and cook, stirring, until golden brown. Place ribs back on top of the vegetables and sprinkle flour evenly over top. Place in the oven, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and put back over medium heat. Add red wine and brandy and let reduce by 3/4. Add the veal stock and bouquet garni and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and transfer back to the oven and braise 2 1/2 to 3 hours, until very tender and falling off the bones. Remove the ribs from the braising liquid. Let the meat cool slightly, and while the meat is still warm, remove all the fat, gristle and bones from the meat.

Source: Chef Pascal Oudin, Pascal’s on Ponce.

Main dish

Bean Stew with Blood Sausage

1 1/2 pounds dried white beans

3 links blood sausage

3 links chorizo

2 strips uncooked bacon or pancetta

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium onion, diced

1 pinch saffron threads

Salt to taste

Soak the beans in cold water for 12 hours, then drain. In a large pot, add beans, sausage, chorizo, bacon, garlic and onion. Cover the ingredients with about 1 inch of cold water, then bring to a boil over medium heat. As water boils, skim off foam that comes to the surface. Cook on medium-low, slightly covered, adding cold water as needed to keep beans covered with liquid. After about an hour, add saffron and reduce heat to low, shaking pot carefully every 15 minutes or so. Cook for at least 2 hours. Add salt to taste. Let rest 30 minutes before serving. Serves 4 to 6.

Source: Delicias de España.