I knew things were going badly when I began squeezing the blood out of the pancreas glands. I’d bought them for my offal-themed dinner featuring less traditional cuts of animals. Several friends were late—or never ended up showing—but I was still defrosting the beef tripe and manning a pot of braised pork belly.
“I’m failing so hard,” I said to my better half who was obediently stirring the green beans. He said something about being confident in my abilities.
This was all in the name of competition. A food blogger competition sponsored by Foodbuzz. My blog, LingboLi.com, had been cruelly abandoned in the wake of schoolwork and jobs, so I was happy to be coerced into blogging. The third challenge in the competition was to host a “Luxurious Dinner Party” to introduce guests to “new and exotic flavors.” I wasn’t sure how luxurious offal was, but it was surely new and exotic to some of my friends.
“I like offal more than it’s healthy,” my friend Sam admitted. He arrived first, bearing a box of Turkish delight, along with a gift of bacon marmalade. The latter was never going to pass his kosher lips. While he waited, I fed him dry-fried green beans made with ground chicken rather than the traditional pork. Hostess with the mostess—that was me.
The issue happened to be one of planning. Cooking offal, it turned out, is no quick task. These are not naturally delicious cuts of flesh; they have difficult textures and excess bloodiness that lends an irony flavor. They often require a full day of cooking. It wasn’t until 7 p.m. that I realized the tripe was going to need four to five hours in the pot. The guests were arriving soon. I was paying the awful, tripe-scented price of no planning whatsoever. And it smelled nauseating, wafting in a half-frozen chunk in the microwave. I tried to move the plate, but ended up splashing more tripe juice across my dress. The scent rose up again, raw and insistent. The sweetbreads similarly needed a full 24 hours of soaking to remove blood, a poaching, then a pressing to remove more blood. The idea was to turn a pinkish, slippery pancreatic blob into a white blob with a soft, creamy texture. But I had two hours. I ended up abbreviating the soak and pressing. My roommate Felice didn’t know any better and declared it the “best pancreas ever.” I had given it a dip in flour then fried it in butter.
“That was awful,” I corrected her. “It tasted all irony. I didn’t get all the blood out.”
“Well, I’ve never eaten pancreas before,” she said. “So it’s still the best ever.”
I have kind friends.
It wasn’t all bad. The pork belly came out luxuriantly fatty, humming with sweetness and imminent heart attack. I also made risotto croquettes, cheesy with fresh mozzarella and Parmesan, browned in butter and served on a bed of slivered greens. And the jasmine rice stood white and fluffy in its bowl with a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Another friend brought a cabernet sauvignon. Sam broke out his camera and let me take photos. I played some indie rock on Pandora. Magically—and I do mean magically—everyone managed to sit down at the same time with a full table of dishes. It was 9:30 p.m., over an hour late.
So I never defrosted that beef heart in the fridge. And the tripe was still bubbling away on the stove, smelling as offensive as ever. But I was touched at how supportive my friends had been in helping me plate and photograph the offal. Thanks to them, what could’ve just been a life lesson in preparedness when entering competitions also turned out to be a pleasant dinner of pancreas, pork belly, and red wine.