Brain mayonnaise. A cow udder detached like a fanny pack. Pig stomach stuffed with sausage and gutted tableside “à la Tauntaun.” You’d be forgiven for mistaking Chris Cosentino’s new cookbook, Offal Good, for the manifesto of a sadistic slasher villain.
But you’d be getting it all wrong. Chris Cosentino, Portland’s biggest celebrity chef transplant (he opened a downtown hotel restaurant, Jackrabbit, earlier this year) has spent his career trying to endear the American palate to offal, a.k.a. organs and extremities, from lungs to feet. It’s a crusade born from his distaste for wasting animal life, and his incredulity that in America, before World War II, liver was as prized as rib eye, and is still devoured with gusto in nearly every country but our own. “We’ve got a disconnect to where our food comes from and why we eat it,” Cosentino says. “I’m proud of trying to change the physical and emotional response to ‘poor people food.’”
Between running San Francisco’s Incanto for 12 years, opening Cockscomb in 2014 (also in SF), and gaining reality TV fame along the way with shows like Top Chef: Masters and The Next Iron Chef, it took Cosentino a decade to write and publish his offal opus. “Nobody cared about the subject,” he says. “It was still so taboo back then.” But now, in 304 pages of glorious full-frontal, Cosentino has produced one of the few detailed guides to offal cookery in English since Time-Life’s 1982 Variety Meats.
The first section of the book is devoted to the nitty-gritty—breaking down whole heads, prepping tongue, and ... poaching testicles. It’s not a Cooks Illustrated level of detail—just enough to guide (or disgust) home cooks. The rest is a mind-bending assortment of cheffy recipes for advanced cooks seeking inspiration. Here’s a taste: “Lips and Assholes” (beef lips and oxtail terrine), a cow udder BLT, and even a Halloween-appropriate “Lamb’s Liver, Fava Beans, and a Nice Chianti.”
Why the nasty animal puns? This is a man who serves spaghetti dusted in dried pig’s blood and French toast smothered in foie gras and braised pork trotters at Jackrabbit. A man who stars in his own butcher-themed Wolverine comic book. (Spoiler: Wolverine ends up prepping vegetables with his Andamantiam claws, like a disposable line cook).
But really? The way to convert organ-averse meat eaters, thinks Cosentino, is to keep a sense of levity. That, and repackaging the undesirable bits in familiar ways (see pig skin spaghetti, pig Newtons, and duck blood sausage à l’orange).
“Can you take what someone deems inedible and make it absolutely beautiful and crave-able?” he muses. “You can give any chef a perfect fillet, but give them something they’re unfamiliar with, and that, in my opinion, is the true measure of a great chef.”