It is often said that traditional Italian cuisine is born poor, from the brilliant intuitions of farmers and workers who had to make do with the ingredients available to create hearty and tasty dishes. And looking at the regional cookbooks from North to South, the presence of many dishes prepared with the entrails of slaughtered animals certifies precisely this humble origin, in the name of the recovery and reduction of leftovers.
How to cook entrails
Corata, offal, fried, but also musetto, coda, tripe: the entrails of animals maellati like lambs, pigs and calves are used in many tasty and very full-bodied recipes, which ennoble ingredients only apparently waste and not valuable. It is not by chance that the name that unites the entrails is the fifth quarter, a derogatory (or at least superficial) way of defining what remains of the other quarters of slaughtered animals, two before and two after, which was often even given as a gift or added to the meagre wages of farm workers.
What are guts?
From the point of view of food we identify two categories of offal or “fifth quarter”, red and white; the first group includes liver, heart, kidney, lung, spleen and tongue; in the white innards we find tripe, sweetbreads, guts and brains. Regardless of their truculent appearance and the qualms that often accompany their consumption, entrails or offal can become a fundamental ingredient for sauces, sauces and pies or become the protagonist of excellent embers.
What animal guts are used in the kitchen?
The list of innards and offal that become ingredients for various typical dishes is very long: The list ranges from duck and goose liver (used to prepare the famous French foie gras, which literally means fatty liver) or rabbit, pork and beef liver to the heart and lung of the pig; from the kidney of the calf (or the kidney of the animal) to the stomach (tripe) of the calf or pig; from the brain of an adult bovine, pig, rabbit or lamb to the sweetbreads of a bovine or pig; from the tongue and diaphragm of a bovine or pig to the foot of a pig (the cartilaginous parts) and the muzzle of a calf. We must not forget the intestine of the pig, which serves as a casing to cover the sausages, and the set of heart, liver and ventricles of chicken, called offal or giblets.
The taste of entrails
To cook the entrails well you obviously need to know their characteristics, starting with the taste; in general, the different types of offal have intense and strong flavors, which may be unwelcome to those who have little affinity with the ingredients. Moreover, being internal organs of animals, they can be more sensitive to contamination by pathogens or drugs used in the breeding phase, which is why it is essential to buy only offal of safe quality and origin.
The most famous recipes with entrails
As mentioned, the use of entrails in the kitchen is historic and there are traces that go as far as the Etruscans; moreover, it is not only in Italy that these “less noble” parts of the animals are prepared and consumed, since there are traditional recipes with entrails also in France or Scotland, as in the case of the aforementioned foie gras or pate, which are even gourmet foods, or the Scottish dish haggis.
Regional dishes with entrails
Coming to our Italian gastronomic tradition, there are some famous and tasty dishes prepared with entrails: the main ingredients of the fried Neapolitan pork offal (to be precise lung, heart, spleen and tongue), in Tuscany are famous the lampredotto with the stomach of beef and spleen croutons that use the parts of veal, as well as the sandwich ca meuza Sicilian. The teteun of Valle d’Aosta is based on bovine udders, and from cattle the language used in the recipe of the salted tongue is also obtained; the pork liver, sliced in very thin strips and browned with butter and onions, is the protagonist of the Venetian liver, while in Abruzzo Fegatazzo, grilled or dried, is prepared.
The entrails in the Italian culinary tradition
The list of typical dishes with animal entrails is still long: in the classic Roman pajata or pagliata the small intestine of the dairy calf is used, and always in Rome is known and loved the oxtail vaccinara, prepared with oxtail stewed and seasoned with various vegetables. It is impossible not to mention the entrails of lamb, which become central to make the coratella, which is prepared fried or stewed, accompanied by vegetables and vegetables such as onions, artichokes and various herbs.
In many gastronomic cultures kidneys are widespread, kidneys of animals to be grilled, trifolato or even braised, as well as tripe or pig’s trotter are transversal to several regions, even the giblets of birds are a very common ingredient for pies, sauces or meat sauce, sometimes adding even the ridges to the innards, as in the Piedmontese Finanziera.
Tips for cooking entrails
The entrails are very delicate ingredients, which require special care and attention in the preparation of recipes, each type of offal and animal has its characteristics, so we will try to provide some advice of principle always valid. Rabbit entrails can be stuffed with fillings or ragù (brain and kidneys), delicate escalope (liver) or accompaniment for poached eggs; if we have ingredients such as tripe, liver, kidney and sweetbreads available we can prepare excellent stewed recipes, while with the brain and heart of beef you can cook in a pan with onions and other spices, after taking care to clean up the waste parts of the animals.
How to cook lamb entrails
A small chapter is dedicated to how to cook the entrails of lamb: the offal of this animal (lungs, kidneys, sweetbreads, spleen and heart) are central to the above mentioned coratella, to be accompanied with artichokes or with a tomato sauce, but can also be prepared as rolls, following the example of gnummareddi lucano. The lamb kidney is smooth and delicate, so it requires short cooking and should be cut into slices, sweetbreads (endocrine and salivary glands) are good in a pan or grilled after being blanched, while the brain can also be prepared on the grill.
How to cook fish entrails
So far we have talked about the offal of slaughtered animals, but in recent times chefs are also rediscovering the taste and versatility of fish entrails: the most common use is reserved for heads or bones to prepare comics, sauces, sauces or soups with which to enrich the dish, but there is also a fifth quarter of fish. Obviously you have to make sure of the freshness of the fish and its healthiness, as well as buy uneviscerated products, but the list of possibilities in the kitchen is long.
The fifth quarter of fish
For example, angler’s or cod’s liver can become the protagonist of various recipes: for the first case, the ideal preparation is to burn it quickly in a pan, while cod’s liver is excellent as a pate. Among the fish entrails there are caviar and bottarga, made from eggs, but there are also lattume (made from the reproductive apparatus of male tuna), the heart of tuna or tripe and the cheek of cod, delicate and tasty preparations.