This post should be titled “What to do with the REST of the animal”!
I won’t pretend they’re my first choice when it comes to meat. A roast leg of lamb sounds more appetizing to me than lamb heart and lungs. Nevertheless, organ meats were a staple throughout history, and they’re still very much in vogue in traditional ethnic cuisines from all over. In Greece, one only has to look to “kokoretsi” – a dish often seen at Easter that is cooked alongside an entire lamb (both roasted on the spit). If you like liver and onions, you would like kokoretsi.
I wanted to learn how to make this traditional dish from scratch – and it’s quite a production. Getting familiar with the lesser known meats helps give one a greater respect for the whole animal, develop a taste for them, and to learn how to cook them confidently.
I obtained the necessary organ meats from a local Greek butcher: liver, spleen, lungs, and heart. These were trimmed, cut into large chunks and marinated well in good Greek olive oil, oregano, fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper. Also needed were two sets of fascia, or the connective tissue, and several sets of lamb intestines (which would normally be used for sausage casings).
Thanks go to the Papoutsakis and Katrakis clans for helping me out here; because I never would have ventured to do this myself! I think I got some expert instruction. The most difficult and time-consuming part was to wash the intestines, as they must be cleaned very carefully. They are rinsed in water, mixed with vinegar or lemon juice, turned inside out and washed again. I learned a small trick to turn them inside out – use a single chopstick or similar tool. Washing them was kind of frustrating at first, but as you go it gets easier. Not the most pleasant smell to have in the kitchen – be forewarned!
What a hilarious event. Not a typical way to spend a Saturday night. The house was noisy and full of adults and kids, who in typical Greek fashion, didn’t pay ANY attention to the fact that somebody was cleaning intestines in the kitchen during a child’s birthday party celebration (a simultaneous event). My “teacher”, Mrs Katrakis, wasted no time in reprimanding me if I made a mistake in my cleaning duties, and would grab the guts from my hands impatiently if I was too slow. “We don’t have all night”!, she said. If you can stomach it, here’s a little video on intestine cleaning:
Once the intestines are fully cleaned and rinsed, the organ meats are placed on the skewer (souvla), mixing the varieties up so that a piece of liver follows some heart, some lungs, etc. The whole thing is then covered with the fascia, which keeps the whole thing in place – and makes it look surprisingly attractive. Finally, the intestines are tied around the outside (which acts as a natural sort of kitchen string).
This is a going to be a two-part post, because the preparation process was quite involved (and I was slow, given that it was my first go-round at intestine cleaning). Next up will be preparing the actual skewer for the BBQ, cooking it, plating it, and enjoying the tasty outcome. OK, I know I may have lost some of you on this post – you’ll turn up your nose and go “ewwwww”! That’s alright – but keep in mind that Food & Wine Magazine has declared cooking odd bits the must-try trend for 2011!