What is offal and where did the word come from? Did you know that offal has a plucky companion? I’ll take you on an ‘Offaly Good’ adventure and talk about the origin of the word offal and some interesting dishes that are created with this under-appreciated meat.
Have you ever considered the meaning of the word offal or where it came from?
I often don’t think to question the words I’ve used all my life, that is until my daughter Molly asks me and I realise I haven’t a clue.
Fortunately in our modern world of gadgets and gizmos and google, we’re a mere digit dance away from discovering the answer – perhaps that’s how fate landed you here.
Where Did The Word Offal Come From?
Imagine the animal carcass hanging in the abattoir, the slaughterhouse worker makes a cut down the underbelly, the stomach and intestines slop out or ‘fall-off’. Now, swap the words around, slap them together and remove an ‘f’ to prevent a stutter and one ‘l’ and you get ‘offal’.
Actually, the origin of the word comes from the Dutch word ‘afval’ with ‘af’ meaning ‘off’ and ‘vallen’ meaning ‘fall’. Or in other words, offal translates to ‘off-fall’ for the reasons described above.
You may have already of heard the word ‘offal’, but did you know there’s another word that’s used in the world of the animal innards?
What the Pluck!
‘Pluck’ refers to a collection of organ meats in the chest cavity that didn’t slop out (fall-off). They include the heart, lungs and liver all connected together by the oesophagus. These are ‘plucked’ from the carcass by the skilled hands of the slaughterhouse worker.
If you’re Scottish or Italian, the word ‘pluck’ will not be a revelation to you as it was to me.
Simmer, Don’t Boil!
Proper Haggis, regarded by many Scots as Scotland’s national dish, is made of lamb pluck, along with some minced onion, spices and oatmeal simmered – not boiled! – in a lambs stomach lining.
In 1802, on what would’ve likely been a cold, damp and windy evening typical of the Scottish Lowlands in January, the ‘Burns Club of Greenock’ was formed and began a birthday celebration in memory of the late Rabbie, the Bard of Ayrshire.
From that year onwards, every 25th of January, Burns Night is celebrated. With the soundtrack of skirling bagpipes, Haggis with neeps and tatties are devoured, wee drams of Scotch are swigged, and his infamous poetry chanted including the ‘Address to a Haggis‘.
In both the U.S. and Canada, it’s illegal to sell genuine Haggis, much to the anger of the millions of the Scottish community that resides in these countries. In 1971, for reasons lost in time, humans were banned from consuming lungs. It’s suspected there was a fear of contracting ‘Scrapie‘, a degenerative disease affecting sheep and goats.
This has caused much uproar in the Scottish community over the years with thousands signing the #FREETHEHAGGIS petition in an attempt to change the law but to no avail.
When in Rome…
Now, let’s travel in a south-easterly direction until we land in Italy, another nation that proudly celebrates offal where it’s referred to as ‘Quinto quarto‘ or the fifth quarter.
In the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, particularly in Rome, the slaughterhouses would divide the meat up into four quarters in terms of their quality and sold to the different Roman classes – the higher classes getting the prime cuts.
The remaining meat including the organs and offal earned the phrase ‘Quinto quarto’, and was used as payment to the slaughterhouse workers or sold to the peasants.
In an ironic twist of fate, it’s now a favoured food across all classes gracing the tables of many restaurants in Rome and across Italy.
One particularly popular dish makes use of the pluck of an animal. Again, usually, the lamb variety, although rabbits and poultry can be used. The dish is called ‘Coratella’ – Italian for ‘pluck’.
This dish is a favourite at Easter and often found on the dining table at the celebration of the death of Christ. At this time of year, artichokes are in season and make the perfect accompaniment, the dish eloquently named ‘coratella con i carciofi’.
Traditionally made from the heart, lungs and liver of ‘abbracchio’ or a milk-fed lamb chopped into small pieces. Artichokes and a few other ingredients are used. Accompanied by a full-bodied Chianti, of course.
I found this perfect taste provoking description…
“Cooked well, coratella is a textual and flavoursome delight, the liver is creamy and delicate, the lungs pillowy and tasting rather like pot-roasted pork and the heart rich and thick”
Sounds good, right? Those words left me salivating.
Where’s the Love for Faggots?
It would be rude not to mention the offal dish that was once a regular on the British dinner table – ‘faggots’. I admit it doesn’t sound as appealing or graceful as ‘Coretella’, but topped with onion gravy and a side of buttery mash and peas is scrummy none the less.
Usually made from pig’s heart, liver and other pork parts with herbs, occasionally bread crumbs and wrapped in caul fat (pig’s stomach membrane).
Faggots, sometimes called ‘savoury duck’, are believed to have come into popularity during World War II when meat was scarce and using all parts of the animal were essential to keep tummy’s fall. Unfortunately, they lost popularity along with all offal over the years.
According to the Foods of England website, the earliest record of Faggots is in a cookery book called ‘A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes’ By Charles Elme Francatelli dated back in 1852. The name of the recipe is ‘Belgian Faggots’ and suggested pig pluck was the preferred meat although sheep’s pluck or bullocks liver could be used.
My father-in-law, Geoff, was once reminiscing, reliving fond memories of gobbling up faggots as a kid. By chance, I stumbled over an online meat supplier selling said faggots. Kimbers‘ Farm Shop promised…
“Made using only the finest prime pork cuts and offal, Kimbers’ homemade faggots are made by Naomi’s grandmother Hazel using her secret recipe!”.
Not one to pass up an opportunity to impress the in-laws, I placed an order and invited them around for dinner. I’m pleased to say, my plan worked a treat, I think I’m now regarded higher than my wife in their eyes, even after putting a dent in Geoff’s van following a moment of stupidity on my behalf.
It was heart-warming to see Geoff’s face light up as each mouthful brought back memories of his younger years. That’s how good these faggots are, I do recommend them.
I can’t help but wonder if its name will be the hindrance of bringing this dish back to its former glory? But, that won’t stop me trying. ‘All hail the mighty faggot’.
To Sum Up
So, history tells us that we should be referring to these meats as offal and pluck and this blog should really be called ‘Offaly Plucky Good’, which has a nice ring to it – is it too late to change?
Over the years the word pluck was dropped and offal reigned strong and is now used as the blanket term for all meat that comes from the animal that’s not skeletal muscle meat.
The phrase ‘organ meats’ has limitations too in that they can only be used to refer to the organs – obviously. Whereas offal encompasses everything this blog is about. But, when I refer to ‘Mother Nature’s Superfoods’, this is generally the organ meats. They are the powerhouses in regards to nutrition with liver being the king of the superfoods.
Now having a deeper understanding and appreciation of Burns Night, on the 25th of January, I’ll be joining the Scots in celebrating the life of Robert Burns with haggis and scotch and poetry.
On the discovery of the Italian’s passion for offal, I’m eager to visit Rome and seek out the restaurants serving up Coratella and other traditional offal dishes. If I can find lamb pluck I may be tempted to knock this dish up myself.
And as for faggots, I vow to not just use them for gaining brownie points with my in-laws. I will make them a regular in my diet and champion them proudly.
Have a nutritious day!
There you have it! Just a reminder that I’m no doctor, dietitian or any other profession for that matter. I’m simply a bearer of information for you to do what you want with; question it, research it, erase it from your mind, you are in charge of you.