Despite what the supermarket aisles may lead you to believe, there's more to an animal than neatly wrapped Styrofoam trays of meat. From tongue to tail, offal (pronounced awful) encompasses all those taboo edibles that don't make the cut at your local grocer. Just Offal is here to explore these oft-neglected byproducts of butchering, featuring different offal meats from establishments across the Valley.
The Ick Factor: Liver suffers from the unfortunate stigma of being really, really unsexy. It filters blood, day in, day out, removing toxins and harvesting all sorts of fat-soluble vitamins. It keeps hormone levels even keel, synthesizes cholesterol and manages blood sugar. It's a solid workhorse, and what kind of respect does it get? Kids spitting it out, feeding it to the dog and generally turning their noses up at it nationwide. No respect. Liver may not be the sexiest of offal (clearly that accolade goes to the intriguing sweetbreads), but you sure would be put out if it decided to take a day off. Just ask that wino on the street corner for his opinion on the matter.
(bite into all the juicy details after the jump)
The Offal Choice: A retro classic, Liver and Onions, from TEXAZ Grill. June Cleaver would be proud. And the Beave would be stuck at the kitchen table past midnight staring at that liver-y mass with a scowl on his face. It's a coming of age ritual as American as apple pie.
Tastes Just Like: Liver. Liver tastes like liver. It's rich and meaty with a metallic tang that lingers. It's a bit gamey and musky, similar to the change in flavor that meat undergoes when it's aged. This also depends in part on how old the cow is at time of slaughter, calf liver being much milder in flavor, kind of like the difference between sweet young lamb and old granny mutton. It's not unpleasant though, just acquired. It might shock your palate initially, but after the first bite you can't help but eat another bite, then another, and another, trying to place that flavor.
The texture of beef liver is also nothing like any other steak you've ever had. That weird salisbury steak mystery meat served in the cafeterias of yesteryear (or currently in frozen dinner form) is probably the closest textural approximation. (Sorry to ruin the mystery.) Pan-fried liver is dense and toothsome, but after some light chewing it crumbles and takes on a powdery, meatloaf-like texture. Kind of surprising. Like those gums that change from berry to mint on you mid-chew, but mega meat-flavored.
The liver and onions at TEXAZ grill was some of the best I've ever had; moist, flavorful, and not the least bit funky. This probably is due to the fact that the liver is pan fried in bacon grease and then topped with three meaty slices of bacon and a glistening pile of grilled onions. Make sure to get a bit of each of these components in every bite for a delightfully savory combo. It's a scientific fact that bacon makes everything better. Even liver. The peppered, country-style white gravy on the mashed potatoes also provided a nice dipping sauce.
You Know It's Cooked Improperly When: It resembles dry and brittle shoe leather. Liver is a delicate cut of meat and if you sear the bejeezus out of it, the flavor and texture are going to suffer. If you've never had liver you've liked, it may be because you were eating the crap nasty boot leather equivalent.
Always been a DIY-er? Then you're in luck, because calf liver is widely available in most grocery stores. The best liver though is going to be that hoity toity organic stuff, and the fresher the better. Since liver functions to filter hormones and toxins from the blood, cows that aren't slapped with a chemical cocktail strong enough to knock a grown man on his ass naturally have better tasting livers. If all you can find is the commercially offered stuff at the grocery store, try soaking your liver slices in milk before cooking to help leach out any lingering funk. And remember, bacon makes everything better. Even liver.
Know of some offal we have to try? Leave the details in the comment section.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.