From Haggis to Headcheese: The Fall and Rise of Odd Bits

March 17, 2012

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Odd bits, offal, or variety meats—whatever you call them, they have had a chequered history. Prized by early man, enjoyed at Roman banquets, and feted by the Elizabethans, they are viewed today in most of the English-speaking world as not worth cooking or, worse still, too disgusting to eat. Why did they fall from pride of place on our table into Fido’s bowl?

Those who champion these varied and delicious morsels hope that their renaissance is underway. Economic, social, and political forces that once worked against odd bits are now helping to promote them. Is the tide really changing or is it just another tiresome trend? Will it be tattooed chefs or parsimonious habits that will be odd bits saviours?

Chef and author Jennifer McLagan discusses the past, present, and future of odd bits while explaining headcheese, Alice in Wonderland’s mock turtle, and the true lineage of haggis.

McLagan is a chef and writer who has worked in Toronto, London, and Paris, as well as in her native Australia. Her previous books, Bones (2005) and Fat (2008), were both widely acclaimed, and each won Beard and IACP awards. Fat won the James Beard Cookbook of the Year. McLagan is a regular contributor to Fine Cooking and Food & Drink. She has lived in Toronto for more than thirty years with her sculptor husband, Haralds Gaikis, with whom she escapes to Paris as often as possible. On both sides of the Atlantic, McLagan maintains friendly relations with her butchers, who put aside their best fat, bones, and odd bits for her.

Recorded Saturday, March 17, 2012 at Kendall College.