The team at MoVida Aqui just began using fish offal. Head chef Ewen Crawford recently sourced tripe bacalao (swim bladders from salted cod) from Casa Iberica in Fitzroy. He uses it to enrich and add texture to fish sauces with the “super gelatinous” nodules – what he refers to as a seafood version of Fergus Henderson’s famed “trotter gear”.
When they get large whole fish in, such as grouper, they saw the head in half and deep-fry it in potato flour.
“You’ve ‘gotta roll up your sleeves to eat it,” says Crawford. “It’s not really first-date food. You probably don’t want to be spitting out eyeballs in front of someone you’re trying to impress.”
If you’re not used to meat that requires extra chewing (or spitting), the thought of eating offal – the internal organs and parts of animals often discarded – can be hard to swallow.
Fergus Henderson, co-owner and chef of St. John Restaurant and Bar in London, breathed new life into Western perceptions of offal with his book Nose to Tail Eating: A kind of British cooking, released in 1999. “If you're going to kill the animal it seems only polite to use the whole thing,” says Henderson, with a very British sensibility.
Ian Curley, executive chef of The European Group is a good friend of Henderson’s and often has a St. John’s bone-marrow dish on the menu at The European.
For Curley, offal dishes are never going to be the biggest seller, “But it’s important to have them on the menu,” he says. “From a chef’s perspective, it keeps us interested in what we’re doing. It takes skill and technique to cook offal well. Cooking eye-fillets all day would be boring.”
The restaurant group (which includes The French Saloon, Kirk’s Wine Bar and The European) employs an in-house butcher, Simon Poole, who has strong relationships with farmers across Victoria and interstate. Whole carcasses are brought in directly. They can use the whole beast and limit wastage this way.
Poole is also responsible for producing the Group’s charcuterie, such as boudin noir (a type of blood sausage) and the smoked tongue currently on the menu at The French Saloon.
Tongue also features prominently in Pope Joan’s Offal Waffle: a dish of grilled ox tongue, poached egg, spinach and hollandaise. For Pope Joan’s co-owner and chef Matt Wilkinson, who grew up in the Yorkshire coal-mining town Barnsley, offal has always a been part of his life.
“My family cooked a lot of ox heart, tongue, calves liver. Steak-and-kidney pie was a pretty standard Sunday lunch,” says Wilkinson. “I probably had an ox tongue, pickled-beetroot and brown-bread sandwich once a week.”
Wilkinson is attempting to instill a love of offal in his own two boys, aged five and three. While his wife hates offal, whenever she’s away, he and “the hooligans” (as he calls them) celebrate “offal night”. Dishes such as calf liver with gravy and mash, and what they call “tripey spaghetti” (Italian braised tripe) often feature. When he needs to stock up on offal he heads to Brenta Meats in Station Street, Fairfield.
As for the Offal Waffle, Wilkinson shares its backstory:
“We’ve had a gluten-free potato waffle dish on the menu for about six years. We’d put it on the menu with something like smoked salmon and it would walk out the door; we couldn’t keep up. We wanted to keep a waffle dish on the menu, but we wanted to still be able to cook it to order. So we decided to pair it with something that doesn’t sell as well – offal.”
Purposely putting a dish on the menu that doesn’t sell well? That’s a new approach. “At the moment it’s ox tongue, but soon we’ll do it with ox heart, haggis or black pudding,” says Wilkinson.
For those who can stomach it, here are other great offal dishes to try in Melbourne:
“Hot Spicy Couple” (Szechuan ox tripe and tongue), served cold at Hu Tong, CBD
Vermicelli roll with pork liver at Tim Ho Wan, CBD
Fegato, pan-fried calves liver and balsamic sauce; and lingua, grilled ox tongue, balsamic vinegar and pink peppercorns at Tipo 00, CBD
Crumbed lamb brains with caper sauce at France Soir, South Yarra
Congee with pigs ears and honeycomb tripe at Lawyers, Guns and Money, CBD
Fish-head curry laksa at Laksa King, Flemington
Morcilla, house-made black pudding with garlic and pickled padron peppers at MoVida, CBD
Due to seasonal availability, changing menus and the whim of chefs, these dishes may not always be on the menu.