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Leefstyl | Lifestyle > Kos & Wyn | Food & Wine > Rubrieke | Columns > Michael Olivier: Notes from my kitchen table

From my kitchen table: Offal - definitely not awful

Michael Olivier - 2007-08-28

Winter is real offal and red wine time. Maddy and I recently acquired a brand new matt black Le Creuset casserole. It replaced one which had been used by my mother when I was a boy - an enamelled version - which after 50 years had given up the ghost and started shedding its enamel. It was a sad day when we said goodbye to that pot of my childhood.

We opted for a cast-iron one this time in the hope that it would outlast us and possibly our children. And I am as pleased with it as anyone who has bought his first sports car.

Its predecessor had done sterling duty for a variety of dishes that I remember very well from my childhood. "Meneer se afval" was one of them.

"Meneer se afval" was presented to us by Mr Neville, the butcher, each Friday morning in winter wrapped in greaseproof and brown paper and tied up with hairy brown string in a thick loop with which to carry it. One sheep’s head sawn in half (teeth and nasal passages cleaned with an old toothbrush kept for the purpose!), one sheep’s tripe - cleaned and virginal white, 8 sheep’s trotters - sliced in half lengthways. Brains, liver, kidneys, sweetbreads, oxtail and tongue were packed, taken home and cooked separately. The afval was cooked up in the aforementioned enamelled casserole with plenty of onions, bay leaves, a bunch of freshly picked parsley, sprigs of thyme, peppercorns, salt and cider. Cider came from an Elgin factory and was called William Tell; the building is still there today. A thick luting paste of flour and water was put round the top of the casserole and the lid placed gently on top of it so that it formed a seal. An overnight in the low oven of the Aga that thrummed away in the corner of the farmhouse kitchen transformed the contents into a rich, unctuous stew which would be ladled out into smaller containers and used for lunches during the week. This usually happened while we were breakfasting on Saturday morning and it may well have been the sheep's eyeballs when the casserole was opened, which put me off this dish for life!

A tripe was sometimes cooked, cooled and then cut into thin strips, crumbed and deep fried. This I was happy to eat with a sharp tartar type sauce which contained chopped gherkins, capers, parsley and freshly milled black pepper in overdose!

My dad just loved offal in all its forms and while I did not get the tripe and trotters thing, I am very fond of liver and brains and tongue and kidneys and various other body parts which go under the heading of offal.

As children we ate brains either on toast or with a sour apple purée and brown butter - magical stuff. Kidneys were usually served on toast (we called them kittens on toast, which did not amuse my grandmother). Delicious they were too - as were the marrowbones we were treated too on occasion. These were poached in beef stock in the oven and when cooked were placed on a plate with slices of toast. Using a marrow spoon we dug out the marrow and spread it on the toast.

Oxtail, usually in a limpid brown sauce, redolent with thyme and heavily fortified with red wine, was a regular, as were sweetbreads which were poached and then cooled on a plate with a weight on top of them and then served in a classical French white wine butter-based sauce.

Liver was fried with sage leaves and served with crispy bacon and mashed potato and a tomato and onion braise known as tamatiesmoor. Maddy and I enlivened the dish by frying onions till golden caramel brown and deglazing with some sherry vinegar, flash frying the liver and laying it out on slices of ripe avocado and strewing the onions on top.

Using ox liver, my beloved mother-in-law, Anne Whittal, makes a huge roundel of a thing called a pofadder (puff adder). She scrapes the liver off the tubes and pipes with the back of a knife and then mixes the meat with spices and herbs, fat and various other things like chunks of kidney, and wraps the whole thing in caul fat. It is then cooked over vine stump coals, the smoke adding a further dimension of flavour. Eaten hot it was magical; next day cold with some home-baked bread it made a paté that if eaten at a roadside hostelry in France would have been declared some of the greatest food ever eaten.

Smaller versions of the puff adder are muisies (little mice) or skilpadjies (little tortoises) depending on their size.

Sheep’s Liver in Caul (Lewer in netvet)
You’ll need

1 sheep’s liver – cleaned with all the pipes removed, one quarter of its weight in suet or lamb fat, 1 large onion – chopped, 2 fat cloves garlic, 1 chili – not too hot, seeded, veins removed and chopped, a little sunflower oil, 1 Tbs wine vinegar, 1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce, 2 eggs – beaten, 1 Tbs each chopped parsley and thyme, 1 Tbs flour, sea salt and freshly milled black pepper, 1 sheep’s caul.


Preheat the oven to 180°C. In a saucepan over medium heat, fry the onion, garlic and chilli in a little sunflower oil until lightly browned. In the bowl of a food processor chop fairly fine the liver with the suet or lamb. Remove to a bowl and mix in the onion, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, beaten eggs, herbs, flour and season to taste with sea salt and freshly milled black pepper.

Now to make this up, you can choose to make small portions (the size of an egg), called Karoo muisies, or bigger versions, called skilpadjies. Spread the caul on a board. Place the liver mixture on to it, bring the edges together and turn over so that it stands on the seam. If you’re feeling energetic, sew up with a needle and thread. Place in a roasting dish and pour over some melted butter. Season with grains of sea salt and freshly milled black pepper.

Bake in a moderate oven at 180°C for about an hour until well browned (quite important for the caul to be crispy) and a needle stuck into it draws clear liquid to show it is cooked.

Serves 6 as a starter portion - serve with wedges of lemon.
Wine suggestion

A really good sweet wine, like a natural sweet or a noble late harvest, is a great foil to this dish, especially if it has a good acidic edge to it. The Ridgeback natural sweet Viognier does the trick, as does Simonsig Vin de Liza or the Stellar Organics Heaven on Earth. Or Glen Carlou Pinot Noir velvet raspberry – lightly chilled. Shut your eyes and you’re in Burgundy.

Here are some remedies for the cold winter nights we are still experiencing which I have been tasting for a book I am writing at the moment. And a couple of whites to drink while cooking your offal!

Grangehurst - Jeremy Walker makes a knockout Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Blend - a real benchmark that others can only aspire to.

Ridgeback - Vernon Cole’s Merlot Cabernet Franc is such a yummy blend - lovely forest floor flavours from the Franc and lovely spicy blood plums from the Merlot.

Bouchard Finlayson Blanc de Mer is such a yummy wine and if you are lucky enough to get some fresh mussels, a splash of this at the bottom of the pot just adds so much to the flavour.

Onderkloof - I just love Danie Truter’s Pinotage. Lovely soft mulberries, beautiful gentle oaking too.

Simonsig - as I mentioned above, the Vin de Liza is such a wonderful sweetie. If you’re wanting to celebrate, the Brut Rosé is such a brilliant bottle of bubbles - lovely strawberries in the Pinotage with a splash of Pinot Noir giving that tight cherry edge to it.

Landskroon have just released their 2005 Paul de Villiers Reserve. I just loved the 2004 and the addition of the Touriga Naçional gives the wine such a lift and takes it up into another dimension.

Morgenster - had a bottle of the Flagship Morgenster recently and it just confirmed to me what a sensational winemaker Marius Lategan is. So humble and modest and producing this real "meneer" of a wine which seems to have sucked its very soul up from the depths of the Helderberg basin.

Stellar Organics are making some very exciting wines and they have recently redesigned their labels. For people who have sulphur allergies, they have bottled a 2005 Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon with no sulphur added.

Mountain Oaks. Christine Stephens is also making excellent wine which is also organic and certified - delicious Chenin Blanc and a really lovely Pinotage.

Swartland - one of my current favourites is the Tinta Barocca, a dry red wine which is made from this well-known Port varietal. Warm flavours of the Swartland and naturally some excellent porty flavours in the wine.

Lindhorst. Mark and Belinda have recently bottled a wine called Strategy which is a Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend. Lovely juicy fruit and so elegantly oaked.

Morgenhof - I have a thing for their Premiere Selection, which is the flagship Bordeaux style blend - just love the depth of fruit, the elegance of the oak. Their Fantail wines are the early release easy drinkers with fun label.

Groot Constantia - tasted the Sauvignon Blanc Semillon blend at a lunch for the Swiss International Airlines Wine Awards - it was a perfect fish wine and later we had it at home with a piece of fresh fish which we slowly pan-fried in butter so that the skin took on a crisp and golden character - the wine was the most perfect foil.

Constantia Uitsig’s wines are such stunners - the Sauvignon Blanc was on show at the Vineyard Hotel at the Seductive Sauvignons Festival last week - screwcapped and just alive with the fabulous flavours of this wonderful grape. This is a wine to get the juices going before a meal and with your first course.

Lots of info and stories for you this month as we clear off the kitchen table.

Get the corkscrew out and enjoy. 

Michael Olivier