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adventures in offal

Our search to find obscure animal parts that sit well with Japanese grilling techniques has at times bordered on obsessional.

On a recent educational staff visit to rare breed farm I noticed that all of our prep chefs had brought their knives with them. The farmer was less than impressed. Opportunists I told him.

There is not many offal parts that we haven’t attempted, some more successful than others and time we started to record our epic journey on the blog.

Here are five of our current favourites.

Pigs Chitterlings

During my time in Japan I’d eaten more than my fair share of grilled pigs intestines, strangely though almost always in Korean restaurants. Always a great flavour but almost always chewy and regardless of how much spicing you put on them strictly for the hardcore. It was never something I thought I would be able to sell in the UK.

It wasn’t until a trip to New York a few years later when I ate them at famous noodle bar that I realised their potential. By sheer coincidence on that particular night Fergus Henderson was at the helm doing a guest spot and had decided to skewer grill them.

The chitterlings were left plain, they were charred to perfection, tender, full of natural flavour and EVERYBODY was raving about them.  I vowed to recreate them on a yakitori grill. 

I bottled out of putting them on the main menu at Bincho but every now and then bring them back as an ‘under the counter’ special.

The chitterlings are rinsed, blanched twice in two changes of water and then braised in a seasoned dashi until tender. They are then left overnight  to cool slowly in the cooking  liquor, the next day cut, skewered and grilled until crispy.

There’s something very special about caramelised yakitori sauce and pigs intestine.

The Foie Gras Negima

Grilling foie gras is possibly the most tricky thing a yakitori chef can do [not to mention dangerous!].  A slight mis-judgment of the heat, a rogue flame or a drip of fat rendering off onto the wrong part of the grill and the whole thing lights up like a roman candle. NOT something to be tried by anyone wearing flammable hair products (as one young lady on a recent trial found out).

For this one we first drop the foie gras in the freezer for an hour. This light freeze enables us to caramelise the outside without overcooking the inner and stops us loosing too much fat into the fire. Its finished with a drizzle of spicy yakiniku sauce and served with beni shoga ‘hot pickled ginger.

Veal Tongue

A new skewer to us and one that has made us kick ourselves in a why didn't we think of this before kind of way.

Trying to re-create beef tongue like the juicy beef tongue you get in Japan has been a struggle.

The main reason is that in Japan the beef [from Wagyu cattle] has a much higher fat content than ours. The perfect marbling making it ideal for grilling purposes. Standard British beef tongue will just not do. After years of unsuccessful sourcing our answer to this has been to use Veal tongue.

The tongue is simply peeled and sliced as thin as possible before skewering.

The key again lies in the grilling – this must be cooked rare/medium rare, anything more and its like leather. No sauce, just salt and a drizzle of lemon as it comes off the grill.

Lamb sweetbreads

Offal that is crispy on the outside and creamy on the inner is always going to go down well with our regulars.

In South America they grill sweetbreads like they’ve gone out of fashion.

On a trip to Argentina one of our chefs ate them finished with a sweet sticky sauce – not unlike some of our own sauces;  the ‘sweetbread teriyaki’ was born.

We first used Veal sweetbreads which many prefer but at current prices not something we can afford to skewer.

The sweetbreads are soaked in milk for 8 hours to remove blood and firm up the fats. They are then dropped in a sake based bouillon for a few minutes for a quick poach, when cool the membrane is then peeled off before skewering.

To spice things up a bit we season this with shichimi pepper during grilling.

Rabbit Kidney

A bit of an obscurity and a tricky one to sell, Japanese don’t do rabbit [there are few exceptions].

No trickery about this one – the same rules as for chicken offal - has to be fresh and must be cooked pink!

To be continued.....

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