Friday, March 19, 2010

In My Grandmother's Kitchen: Eat The Offal!

In my grandmother Edith's kitchen there was a bowl sitting by the window in which she collected drippings from duck, goose, and chicken roasts. She rendered the fat until the solids separated, creating a delicious, heat-stable cooking fat.

My grandmother is the person who taught my father to cook, inspiring him to become a professional chef, and to care deeply about the food he fed our family. Through my father, and by cooking with her, she influenced me to become a passionate home chef. I think of Grandma Edith often when I'm cooking, and when my father makes one of her beloved dishes. Pischinger torte is a family favorite, a layered delicacy made with oblaten wafers, lucious hazelnut espresso cream, and covered in dark chocolate ganache.

As a child I loved sitting in my grandmother's kitchen on a red metal stool, watching, helping, tasting whatever she was making. My favorite dish she made, though it seems almost sinful to pick just one, may be cream of asparagus soup, made completely from scratch with lots of heavy cream.

My mom has a very funny story of the first time she met her mother-in-law. Mom was a strict vegetarian, a foriegn idea to my grandparents. They were Jewish immigrats from Czechloslovakia, born in the early 1900s, when eating meat was the norm and vegetarianism completely unheard of. My grandma tried her best to accommodate my mother's preference and asked my father with complete sencerity, "Will she not have even a little veal cutlet?".

My dad recalls having some type of offal many nights a week, though roast duck or goose made their appearance on the table too. His favorite dinner as a child was chopped veal liver with onions. He also enjoyed lamb sweetbreads, the thymus gland of the animal, which Dad says taste like succulent chicken thigh.

Peoples in cultures throughout the world have prized offal throughout time. Celebrated chef and author, Fergus Henderson, explains his philosophy here:

It’s just polite to use the entire animal as it is polite to use vegetables that are in season. When chefs say they’re going to cook something seasonal and local now, I always wonder, well, what were you doing before?

Grandma Edith would have laughed and agreed. She and my grandfather George lived healthy, happy lives into their eighties, due in no small part to a real, whole foods diet, and the traditional foods they grew up eating in Eastern Europe.

Our society as a whole seems to have often forgotten the healing and arts of using properly reared meat, choosing seasonal vegetables and fruits, and cooking with traditional fats. For anyone who is lucky enough to have a grandmother still living, ask her what she ate as a child, where her parents got their meat, eggs, and milk, and what techniques her family used to get the most nutrition from the food that was available. If, like me, you no longer have a grandmother to talk to here are some cookbooks that I enjoy especially for learning how to cook the healthy foods my grandmother loved:

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