Top Five: Offal Dishes

When looking up the word "offal," I came across many definitions, most of them not very appetizing. And the name itself -- most widely believed to have originated from the words off and fall, as in the parts that fall off the butcher block -- does little justice to how truly delicious these foods can be. Offal in the simplest definition is the edible internal organs and entrails of the animal, not including muscle or bone.

"Nose to tail" cuisine, as it is known, may be a fairly new trend here, but for most cultures it's just a way of life. Being of Vietnamese background, I've grown up loving offal, since long before I knew what it was called.

With Houston being such a melting pot of cultures, there's no shortage of amazing dishes being done here. These are a some of my favorite offal dishes around town.

5. Morcilla at Tango and Malbec - Most people are already eating offal when they bite into a good-quality sausage -- the natural casing on sausage are intestines. Morcilla, or blood sausage, is made with pork blood, rice and onions, seasoned with different spices. The dark morcilla here is simply grilled and served alongside a chorizo, accompanied with a chimichurri sauce. When you bite into the morcilla, there is a good crunch to the casing, and the sign of a good blood sausage is one that doesn't fall apart. It is aromatic and does not have the copper-like taste you would imagine; instead, it's rather aromatic from the spices.

4. Robata Grilled Chicken Gizzards at Sushi Raku - Gizzards are technically the second stomach of fowl and other animals that don't have teeth. Gizzards already have a chewy texture, but overcooking them can render them into shoe leather. At Sushi Raku, gizzards are placed on skewers and grilled over a robata. You have the choice of having them simply seasoned with coarse sea salt or drizzled with a sweet teryaki-like sauce. The gizzards here are cooked well, with just enough crunch and a cartilage-like chewiness. I usually have to get more than one order, as just two skewers is never enough.

3. Chicken Livers at Andalucia Restaurant and Bar - While most of the food here is really hit or miss, the crispy chicken livers with honey sherry glaze was the one dish I would come back for. Chicken livers with sherry is a very traditional type of Andaluz tapa, and here the chicken livers have been fried, leaving a caramelized exterior and a creamy, pate-like interior. The glaze is sweet, and the sherry brings out the smokiness of the liver.

2. Deep Fried Pork Intestines at Banana Leaf - The thought of eating intestines may be hard to stomach for some, no pun intended, but deep-fry anything and it's delicious. Banana Leaf's intestines are deep-fried to crispy, golden-brown perfection, then sliced into perfect bite-size pieces. The intestine itself is cleaned well, leaving no gamey taste, and is soft and tender on the inside. It's served with a sweet and sour sauce that makes you want to pop these things like chicken nuggets.

1. Beef Tongue at Feast - One would be remiss to exclude Feast from a list about offal. The menu changes, but one constant is the beef tongue. The beef tongue is braised until extremely tender, needing little but its own natural juices. If you gave this dish to someone without disclosing it was tongue, they would think it was a very rich, flavorful cut of beef that had been cooked for hours. The sides usually change, but the dish is always served with something rustic, like mashed potatoes or bubble and squeak. The beef tongue is currently featured on Feast's Houston Restaurant Week menu.

What are some offal dishes you love?

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