Warning! This post is not for the faint of heart. Skip to the chocolate posts if you only eat well-done beef and/or chicken breasts. One of the things that made La Boqueria such an interesting market was the stunning selection of offal. The term offal originally applied to the entrails of an animal but today it covers not only the heart, liver, lungs but also brains, head, tongue and tailsâ€¦ Spain and Italy have a terrific penchant for cooking many of these internal organs and some of the dishes are simply delicious. I will be the first to admit I am a bit queasy at the thought of eating offal. Yet I have tasted brains several times in Indonesia and elsewhere, mostly battered and fried. I love oxtails particularly in slow cooked soups. I have had calfâ€™s testicles sautÃ©ed (otherwise known as prairie oysters!) and sweetbreads (typically the thymus gland or pancreas of young animals) at fine restaurants, rare calfâ€™s liver and even tripe. We eat crispy pigâ€™s feet here in the Philippines, not to mention dinuguan (entrails and blood) and sisig (which ideally includes pigâ€™s cheeks and ears).
However, I have rarely cooked these parts of the animals before. One reason is that they are not so readily available in Manila at groceries where I buy meat. I am also not fond of local market meat sources and the general hygiene situation so I avoid experimentation for the most part. But as I grow older and my palate shifts, I have gotten curious about some of these types of offal. Mainstream chefs and cookbooks are increasingly covering accessible recipes that I am itching to tryâ€¦Mario Batali is among themâ€¦his recent cookbooks have several recipes for offal. So what did I see in the brilliant cases of the butchers at La Boqueria? First up top, some of the most vividly fresh looking brains I have ever seen. But like fresh. And they were so beautifully displayed. There were also lots of whole sheepâ€™s heads on offer, complete with the eyes, which are a delicacy. I have to say, if I were served a stew with a whole sheepâ€™s head and eyes, I would have some issues with munching on it.
They also had several types of tripe (didnâ€™t know there was more than one type) on offer. It seems that a cow has four chambers to its stomach. The lining of the first chamber is known as smooth or blanket tripe and this is generally considered inferior to the tripe from the second chamber which is known as honeycomb tripe. This photo (I will never ask why it’s local name in the Philippines is tuwalya or towel) shows both types of tripe with the one with a more distinct pattern the ideal ingredient for callos or other such preparations. Mario Batali recommends that you soak the tripe in water and add some vinegar and vanilla and boil it for an hour or so to remove the off flavors that sometimes occur (otherwise known as malangsa!) before you continue with its preparation. We had some excellent tripe in Florence that has really piqued my interest in cooking this.
The market cases also had an impressive selection of incredibly red fresh livers, ox tails, tongues, pigâ€™s feet and ears, and a few things I couldn’t even identify! The fact that there was so much on offer suggests an incredible turnover of these cuts of meat. One thing I observed was the incredible size of the offal on offer! Never have I seen such large pig’s ears or livers of such expanse! The tongues also looked bigger… all of these items did look incredibly fresh!