Photo by Patricia Esteve
Anything but awful
If offal were an actor it would be Arnold Schwarzenegger—a bit funny looking and many dislike it. Also because, if it could talk (stay with me here), its motto might be ‘I'll be back!’ At one point, it looked as if ‘remains’ might be confined to the dustbin of comestible history in this country. But, thanks to a new wave of immigrants and a mood of nostalgia among the locals, tripe and hearts, trotters and brains are all making a comeback on the culinary stage.
“Offal dishes are from the hungry years, when people were poor and had nothing else to eat,” explained Jordi Asin of the Boqueria’s iconic Bar Pinotxo. “When the country started getting wealthier people stopped eating menudos. But now people are feeling nostalgic for the old recipes. Also, dishes like callos (tripe) and cap i pota (head and foot stew) are tasty, succulent, really comforting dishes. Not for every day, maybe, and not for the summer, but comforting and delicious.”
Jordi, along with chefs at some of Barcelona’s best restaurants such as Casa Leopoldo and Ca l’Isidre, gets his offal from the 106-year old stand, Menuts Rosa, in the Boqueria market. Maria Francisca Gabalda is the third generation of her family to run this stall. She is dedicated to her work and has an intimate knowledge of both her products and her customers, many of whom are immigrants from South America and Africa. She knows just how her Peruvian customers will prepare their hearts, and what the Argentines like to do with sweetbreads. She knows her African customers like tough meat (carne fuerte), because it reminds them of the older animals they eat back home.
I asked Gabalda to talk me through her wares to help demystify these often maligned and misunderstood products. (Note: names are in Catalan/Castilian/English):
Calf's stomach is sold in large sheets with a kind of honeycombed textured surface. When cooked, it's soft and glutinous with a mild flavour that soaks up whatever seasoning is added to it. There are two types: blanca (white) and morena (brown). The white has been ‘bleached’ by sitting in hydrogen peroxide for five days. As well as turning it white, this also has the effect of inflating the tripe with water, so it looks fatter—but when you cook it the water comes out and it shrinks. Maria Francisca would never buy white tripe herself, but stocks it because her customers like its colour and the price—it’s cheaper than the brown. Tripe is used, of course, in callos—a stew of tripe in a sofregit of tomato and onion and, according to regional variation, potatoes, chorizo, and/or chili pepper.
Gabalda sells calves’ feet, which are used in the Catalan dish cap i pota. At the Boqueria’s Bar Pinotxo, it’s made with pinenuts, raisins and samfaina (a ratatouille-like vegetable dish).
Cap de Xai/Cabeza de Cordero/Lamb's Head
For the squeamish, this is perhaps one of the most gruesome of menudos. A whole skinned head, complete with eyes stares goofily through the glass at customers: South Americans, who use it to make stock or soup, and locals, who roast it split in half.
Cap de Vedella/Cabeza de Ternera/Calf’s Head
It might be more correct to call this face, as that’s more accurately what it is. It’s cooked with calves’ feet in cap i pota stew, or it can be cut into small dice and made into a salad with finely chopped onion and green pepper and dressed with olives and a vinaigrette dressing.
These are distinguished by the swirly pattern under their pale translucent skin. Again, these delicacies are treated differently by consumers from here in Spain and across the ocean in South America. There, testicles are used to make a kind of soup. Here, they are peeled, sliced, dipped in flour and fried.
These can be calves’ or lambs’ brains and are presented whole in unmistakable fashion. To prepare they should be well washed in cold water and any veins should be removed before they’re boiled in salt water with any herbs you like, such as bay leaf, thyme and onions.
These are a calf’s thymus or pancreatic gland. Light pink and fleshy, it looks a bit like a messy piece of turkey breast. “It’s generally cooked a la plancha in this country, but Argentines grill it over wood,” said Gabalda.
Easily identified, calves’ hearts are large and usually sold in pieces. “Peruvians like to prepare these just like pincho morunos,” noted Gabalda. Here, they’re more commonly cooked a la plancha.
Pulmo de Vedella/Pulmon de Ternera/Lungs
Lungs are rarely eaten by locals, but South American customers love the way it thickens and flavours a stew.
Cor y Pulmo de Xai/Corazon y Pulmon de Cordero/Lamb’s Heart and Lungs
Much smaller and more delicate-looking than the equivalent parts of ternera, these are the stars of the traditional Mallorcan dish frito mallorquin. Gabalda’s mother used to make a delicious stew of these parts with potatoes.
Ronyons de Vedella/Riñon de Ternera/Calves’ kidneys
These are large, dark purple, segmented organs. They’re cooked well, fried in lard or oil, with lots of onions. Gabalda suggested finishing them off with a slosh of Jerez sherry.
This is the meat from the lower half of the cow’s face (you can see white furry patches on the edge of the meat, which match similar patches on the side of the calves’ tongues, also on display!). It’s fibrous, with a good portion of fat, so it responds well to long, slow cooking, emerging soft and incredibly tasty. But it can also be grilled a la plancha and Gabalda said it can stand up against the finest steak for flavour.
Cua de Vedella/Hueso de Rabo/Oxtail
These round cuts have a centre bone surrounded by good chunks of meat. They’re another piece that responds to low, long cooking to make rich, hearty stews.
Fetge de Vedella/Higado de Ternera/Calves’ Liver
You can usually see these hanging from hooks in the display case—large slabs of deep reddish-brown, smooth flesh. They’re normally bought in fine slices to be dipped in flour then fried with onions.
Llengua de Vedella/Lengua de Ternera/Calf’s Tongue
You can’t miss a tongue, not just because they look exactly like what they are, but also because they’re surprisingly long. They’re peeled, cut in rounds and usually cooked in sauce. “Cooked with wild mushrooms, they’re beautiful, like nothing else,” Gabalda enthused.
Recipe: Galtes en Fricando
Chop 1kg boned galtes in pieces, dip in flour and fry just for a few seconds on each side. In a casserole dish, sweat 2 finely chopped onions until golden. Then add a glass of water and half a glass of white wine and then the meat. Add 50gr of moixarnons (seta de San Jorge), which have been well cleaned. Leave everything to simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring and adding water if necessary to stop it sticking, until the sauce thickens and the meat is tender. Season to taste.