Use your brain, I say, what did offal ever do to you?
Hearts, livers, intestines and tongues... I find it odd that so many people who fear offal, or think of it as 'disgusting' are the same ones who will happily plough into hot dogs and chicken nuggets: high processed foodstuffs that are commercially manufactured using mechanically separated meat or meat slurries. Liquefied meat never looked so good, baby.
It's a shame that offal is still off-limits for so many restaurant menus, when they can yield so much textural pleasure and flavoursome reward. This would explain my delight at attending the March Into Merivale Nose to Tail degustation at Mad Cow this evening.
Plating up entrees for service
I slip into the kitchen at the start of service, where head chef Christopher Whitehead admits he has been looking forward to this event. "It's exciting for a chef to work with offal," he says. Offal needs a lot more care, especially with the temperatures used for cooking, he explains. In previous years he'd used a skirt steak for a main, but this year he is using offal in every dish, including dessert.
Mad Cow booth seating
We slide into the cream padded booths, wide enough to seat six and crazily roomy for two.
Bread and butter
We start with a beef consomme that is beautifully clear and fragrant, bobbing with two slippery wonton skins holding parcels of delicate oxtail shreds. It takes some time for me to realise that the little buds floating in the soup are the tops cut off shiitake mushrooms, a decadent gesture that seems to imply the nose-to-tail approach to meat hasn't been applied to vegetables as well.
I've been looking forward to the terrine of lambs brains, and I'm pleased to see the brains still intact, marvelling over the pretty patterns in each cross-section. The brains are soft, sweet and creamy, although it seems a shame that the pigs ears are deep-fried so as to be almost unrecognisable.
We guess that the twice cooked calves' liver has been cooked sous vide and then seared quickly for colour. The liver is tender, if a little squidgy in the middle, complemented by sultanas and caramelised witlof. The jus is glossy and gloriously silky; the swirl of fennel puree is ridiculously smooth. We both scrape our plate clean.
Tripes lyonnaise, green salad
2007 Luigi Bosca DOC 'Single Vineyard' Malbec - Mendoza, Argentina
Tripes lyonnaise uses one of my favourite offal cuts - honeycomb tripe which has a lovely gelatinous feel in the mouth along with textural interest from the lining. The serving is a little too large given its richness, especially after the three slices of liver which preceded it. However we enjoy its winter comfort, tinged with the slight acidity of vinegar.
The matched Malbec is my highlight of all the wines this evening, smooth with notes of plum and blackberry, and elegant in finish.
Fruit mince tart in the kitchen
In medieval times, mincemeat tarts were literally made with minced meat, dried fruit and only a small amount of sugar. Suet, the fat from around the loins and kidneys of beef or mutton, was essential in making the pastry.
Fruit mince tart with hard sauce
2008 Punt Road Botrytis Semillon - Riverina, New South Wales
I'm quite intrigued by the prospect of this fruit mince tart and look forward to it eagerly. We are told it contains mince meat as well as tongue, although both are well disguised in the heady onslaught of spices. The pastry is crisp with a tempting sweet glaze on the outside, and I develop much affection for the hard sauce, a slice of butter mixed with brandy.
Get into some tripe today, I say. It's offally good.
Grab Your Fork and companion dined as guests of Merivale. The full list of March into Merivale special events can be found here.
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3/09/2011 02:38:00 a.m.