Cooking with Offal, When food is in Short Supply


When I was child in South Africa, I remember our housekeeper asking if she could cook a meal for her boyfriend in our backyard.  My mother thought this was a good idea and offered to help her get whatever she wanted to cook.  A roast, chicken or whatever.  No, she had what she thought would really impress him with her cooking, a sheep’s head.  She cooked it over an open fire in our back yard. On other occasions, she cooked him fish heads.  She though these heads were the best and most delicious parts.  Nothing that was edible went to waste.  In a real emergency, we may very well have to resort to eating offal.

Now the definition of offal seems to vary depending on the society.  But in general, it refers to the internal organs and entrails of a butchered animal.  For purposes of this post I am going to include the heads.

I wish that I had paid more attention, when she cooked the sheep’s head.  She started by singeing the head in the open fire and then scraping off the remaining hair.  Do this outside, the burning hair smells bad.  She then split the head in halves and roasted it over the fire.

Fish heads with curry

Fish heads were often made into soup or just cooked over an open fire in a large pot.  Sometimes they roasted them over a fire and would then pick off the meat.  The eyes were always considered a delicacy.  Almost everything was consumed. Usually they made soup from the smaller ones and roasted the larger ones.  Because we lived near the ocean, you would often see fish heads that weighted several pounds.

Here is a recipe for fish head soup

  • 2 fish heads
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 potatoes
  • 1  onion
  • 2 pieces celery
  • 3 to 4 c. water
  • Salt to taste
  • Black pepper

Boil fish heads, onion and garlic for 1/2 hour.  Strain, take the meat of the bones and add back into the broth.  Cut up the vegetables in small pieces.  Add to broth and boil in low flame until cooked.  Serve with bread.

Offal of all types was used in the past.  Meat was expensive and nothing edible was wasted.  In the future we will cover some others ways of cooking offal, including blood pudding, liver, kidneys, heart, tongue, tripe and brains.

Like anything else, there is a learning curve to cooking with offal.  Start to learn now, you may find foods that you like and even save yourselves some money.



4 thoughts on “Cooking with Offal, When food is in Short Supply”

  1. Thanks for the good reminder. I remembered headcheese from my youth, but had completely forgotten about roasted heads. When I read historical literature (Middle Ages, Roman times, etc) I try to keep an eye on what dishes people are eating since a lot of them call for parts that have fallen out of fashion.

  2. They are definitely out of fashion in my house, but I do remember my Grandparents loving the hog head cheese. But, it is as you say, in hard times people will eat what they have too. Thanks for the article and God bless.

  3. When I was a kid my mother use to make Lambs head for my father and yes the eyes were his favorite part. It smelled great cooking but if you looked in the pot it looked back at you. I couldn’t even be around when he ate it.

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