The word offal is said by some to be derived from the bits and pieces of an animal that "fall off" while it is being butchered (the story goes that "offal" is then derived from "fall off"). The word is obviously susceptible to plenty of jokes, and so it certainly hasn't helped with waking up the masses to enjoy this type of cuisine. And it is probably a good thing really because chef Teddy was able to cook for his mates for next to nothing because offal is offal-y cheap. Yet, there is one other reason you may not see it much, and that is because it actually can be pretty nasty if it is cooked incorrectly. I mean, we're talking about delicate organs here - if you overcook them or don't know what to do with them, they really can taste like shit. Think of how much you hated your mom's overcooked liver. Also, unlike muscle or flesh, organs tend to be much more showing of a chef's talent. So when you see it on a menu or someone wants to cook it for you, they're telling you something about themselves. And you need to listen.
CRISPY PIGS EARS. The ears were braised in trotter gear for about 3 hours, then sliced and deep fried to allow for proper break down of the collagen. Not much needs to be said here. They were fried. They were chewy. They were "unctuous" (man foodies are really loving that word). They were delicious.
Another ingenious idea Teddy had was to provide butter inside hollowed out veal bones (which were of course properly boiled down, after the morrow was eaten I'm sure, to provide the sanitary dish). We had actually chatted about what we can do with marrow some time ago, and Teddy apparently came up with a few ingenious ideas (see the dessert). But he also found a wonderful thing to use the bones for. This man wastes nothing.
TROTTER CAKES, with fennel & bacon, maple butter glaze, apple ginger and prune relish. This was by far my favorite meal that night. Most people enjoyed the next dish (Oxtail on toast), and I'll give that dish proper acknowledgement in a minute, but these trotter cakes and relish were one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. Chef Teddy explained the dish as one of smoked bacon, fennel seed and parsley with the scraps of trotter all suspended in their own jelly and maple glaze. Every bite provided for a delightful and mildly sweet, porky flavor with just the right give. Since I'm half-dutch, I love ham, especially maple glazed ham. If you can imagine a deconstructed maple glazed ham, reconstructed into little cakes, and with much more flavor and texture, then your only part way there. And the combination of this dish with the apple, ginger and prune relish was just genius. I mean, this is the kind of dish that makes a restaurant famous. It was that good.
OXTAILS ON TOAST, with tomato confit, horseradish cream. Ok, so I said I would give this a proper acknowledgement since it was the group favorite. A simple description is oxtail braised for about 3 hours and served on buttered toast with horseradish cream (which is essentially horseradish and creme freche we are told). It's simple, but it took alot of time to make (which is the common theme on these dishes tonight I've noticed). And it has that sweet, fleshy taste that I love so much about oxtail. You know, I feel guilty writing about this dish because it struck such a high note with everybody else. I did think it was a superior dish, but I was still thinking about the trotter cakes and relish. Sorry.
At this point in our meal, Adam arrives (tardy bastard) after giving some of the local boys in chelsea some gymnastic lessons. I hadn't seen Adam in some time, and he's toned down some (you know, lost fat, gained muscle from all his rompings in the gym with the boys). So perhaps the jokes stop there before he kicks my ass.
CURRIED KIDNEY GRATIN, with beef dripping toast. OK, what do you say about a dish that reinvents the way you think about an organ that has passed uric acid for an entire animal's life? I mean, we all enjoy a good steak and kidney pie. But that is a less adventurous dish, as you can hardly tell what you are eating. Here, you have large chunks of the organ, reminding you what you are eating and sharing the limelight on their own in a curry sauce that is spiced just perfectly. Any carnivore would thoroughly enjoy this dish. This is not "adventurous" eating when you consider that the flavors are all familiar, and not what you would expect from offal. I suppose if you love offal and the rich taste of offal and you hate curry, then this dish might not even do much for you. But for me, it was a very welcome creamy curry flavor with chunks of delightful kidney that taste like, well, I guess steak. I slurped down every bit of the curry sauce. Teddy shows me his source of inspiration for this dish, which comes from a recipe derived from Anissa Helou, kind of a hero to Teddy.
ROASTED PIG'S HEAD. Hand made tortillas, radish, red onion, crema, salsa verde. The theme music from 2001 Space Odyssey begins. The chef presents an entire Pig's Head, split in two, braised for 3 hours and chilled in trotter gear, finished with a sweet maple glaze, served with fresh radish, sour cream, red onion and salsa verde (a very nice spicy variety with tomatillos, cilantro, and vinegar). These sides helped cut the fatty pieces of head flesh; Teddy explains that all offal needs to be cut with something to provide balance. The dish arrived, and a couple of people started to tear pieces off, and within 1 minute we were full-on cave men devouring the head, wrapping fatty, sweet, unctuous (there is that word again) morsels in freshly made tortillas. We probably should also give a thanks here to Guanita (sp?), who works with Teddy and initiated his inspirationto to prepare this dish. We should credit Guanita's wife for supplying the amazing freshly made tortillas. But the biggest thanks goes to Chef Teddy who did something amazing with a $12 head (yes, Pig's head is that cheap).
BONE MARROW CUSTARD, Lemon-almond gremolata. Ahhhh, bone marrow. I love bone marrow. I appreciate it's buttery flavor that accompanies a piece of toast. And I fear Teddy and I had conversed a little too much about the other uses of bone marrow. Perhaps it is just something best left to being roast in a bone, or served as part of a pasta dish (see Teddy's last Offal night; that dish was amazing). Does it belong in dessert? Well, I can say that I really appreciated this dish, and I did enjoy it. The custard was unlike anything I have had. Well, actually, it was supposed to be a custard, but it was torched and so became a creme brulee instead. However, the marrow ensured that the texture was a bit grainy, almost the same as the texture of cheesecake. Teddy did not want it to be a thin, slippery texture, but rather firm so that we cold taste the bone marrow. He confirmed that this should be thought of more as a savory a traditional british after dinner dessert, and not a sweet. But, I think I had an expectation in my head that it was going to be more like the marrow that is roasted in a bone, which is obviously impossible if you are baking it in a custard. I just wish I ate this custard thinking rationally... knowing that it was a savory baked good. If I was thinking rationally, and not completely entranced by the previous courses, I may well have been thinking a little more clearly to enjoy this dessert more. As I write this, my mind wanders back to those delectable trotter cakes... mmmmmmmm....