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offal-book cover copy

I still remember the day clearly. I was at the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery and Tom Jaine had just beaten me to buying a beautiful tripiรฉre at the bring & buy stand. We started talking about offal and I told him I was keen to write a book about it. Tom thought it was a great idea but I didn’t really do much about it until quite some time later when I got a call from my then agent to say she had a publisher wanting a book on offal and Tom, who she had approached to write it, said she should speak to me.

I was thrilled but unfortunately my excitement was short-lived. I don’t remember exactly how long it was after I had started working on the book that the BSE crisis started but this meant that we had to shelve the book. It wasnโ€™t until a few years later that The Fifth Quarter was finally published, a beautiful volume with stylish illustrations but no photographs. Of course, it wasn’t a bestseller but a lot chefs and food writers loved it. And now, I have a brand new edition that is just out with lovely photographs and extra recipes from various chef friends.

offal-pig's snout, etc. copy

When my friend Bruce Palling heard about the new edition, he said he would write about it. I asked him and his lovely wife Lucinda over for an offal dinner and I prepared three dishes: what I call the acceptable face of offal (foie gras), the in-between (tongues) and the not so acceptable (lamb’s head). It didn’t occur to me that the main course would be such an ordeal for him. You can see it in the picture, with him sitting in front of his lamb’s head looking quite forlorn at the idea of having to gouge out an eye — he didn’t!

offal-bruce's ordeal copy

In a way he is right. The lamb’s head looks more scary than appetising but that is more because the Turkish butchers in Green Lanes skin it and take most of the meat off, not to mention the bizarre practice of chopping its nose off which has the effect of giving it a middle horn after cooking. Quite gross! I am sure Bruce would have found it less of an ordeal if I had bought the head from a Syrian butcher like the one in the picture below who leaves the heads pretty intact apart from shaving them and singing the last bits of fur hence the burn marks.

damascus-offal butcher copy

In any case, here is Bruce’s piece. I promised to make up for the head by cooking him a delicious Lebanese meal next time they come over. I will also remember his aversion to milk. I added insult to injury by giving him my Arabic goat’s milk ice cream with salep, mastic and rose water. One version was plain and the other had added slivers of Persian pistachios but the pistachios couldn’t hide the milk. Oh, and here is a picture of the lamb’s tongue which I had spiked with pistachios. I learned that trick from the chef at Zmorod, one of Aleppo’s finest restaurants. I wonder how they’re doing these days with all the tourists gone and most people staying home.

offal-tongue & salad copy

There is 9 comments on this post

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    Shelley Handler
    May 28, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Anissa – What glorious photos, including Bruce in all his sad trepidation. The tongue is gorgeous. (My mother made beef tongue throughout my childhood. I loved seeing the big thing bobbing on the stove, and I especially loved tongue sandwiches. I would bring them to school and completely freak out my WASP fellow lunchers.

    I will look for your book. I want to see more!


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    omnivore books will have it in stock so you should be able to get it there. the awful thing is that i didn’t really realise what an ordeal it was for bruce. i am so used to eating everything, i never really worry about other people. will pay attention from now on. still, i thought the heads looked pretty awesome on the table in all their goriness ๐Ÿ™‚ and i loved my mother’s ox tongue recipe which she made often for us. it’s in the book. bet it’s v different from your mom’s.

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    Nice to see the oft maligned offal being brought to the fore .One of the ways to make the whole food chain have more for no more effort or money. Lots of people will have to eat this if we are to afford the protein we all would like to consume. will be an up hill struggle to make this artisan idea of consuming offal become main stream

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    You could trust aleppans to come up with the idea of studding a lamb’s tongue with pistachios. Now I’ll never have cow’s tongue without it!

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    it makes a difference and even though the pistachios soften as they boil inside the tongue, they still offer a different texture. works really well and as you can see, it’s v pretty when you cut the tongue open ๐Ÿ™‚

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    bravo for the new edition, anissa !! must be so exciting to see how the book has evolved – from an idea and a passion, to being on hold, to finally coming out, first with illustrations and now color photos and even more recipes from your friends too. i can’t say i’m quite the audience for the book, but if i were to try offal one day, it would be with you ! ๐Ÿ™‚

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    thank you kerrin. it is exciting and i am really pleased with the new edition. love the photos. we will eat offal together, either in london or in zurich ๐Ÿ™‚

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    deal ! in london or zรผrich or new york city or paris or beirut… ! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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    Hello Anissa,
    Your book has taken you on a bit of a journey it seems! I have never eaten a sheep’s head before but I have had quite a bit of offal and to me the addition of pistachio nuts in the tongue would be very welcome . Your friend’s expression with the sheep’s head being served up to him is very entertaining indeed, thanks for educating the likes of me in the cuisine of the Middle East!

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