#4 A Simplicious Challenge: Dipping into offal and fermented sardines

The Simplicious Challenge: I’m cooking all 306 recipes from Sarah Wilson’s book Simplicious, to see the impact it has on the way I buy, cook, consume and waste food. Read the first post here, if you missed it.

I’m an introvert. Sometimes a shy one, although I’m getting better at pretending to be less shy – a ‘risk’ on my part which usually pays off. I actually really like being with people, talking to people, eating with people… But I find I also need time alone to be quiet and recharge. This can be challenging with two curious little boys!

I find this can vary from day to day too. If my energy levels are already low, the prospect of walking around a crowded shopping mall or market can be physically exhausting (especially if I’m child-wrangling as well!). All those people. All that talking.

So it was a new kind of challenge, this last month, to be at the point where I was having to actually engage with people about fish and offal, two things I know very little about. Sarah actually mentions this in her book somewhere – the talking to people that comes from buying fresh and local food. Except she’s tall. I’m really not. There’s something intimidating about standing on my toes, peering up at a fishmonger or butcher looming over a giant glass counter, asking whether they can gut my sardines for me. Maybe it’s just that sometimes I think they can sense I’m going to do something weird with them. Like FERMENT THE SARDINES ON MY KITCHEN BENCH.

The offal was a particularly arduous experience.

It took me three visits to get my hands on some sweetbreads, to make the ‘Sweet’ Tacos with Easy Slaw (p 200). I tried to make these a couple of months ago, and did a tour of four butchers in a regional market looking for sweetbreads, to no avail. Most of them looked at me like I was mad. One offered me lamb brains instead. The final butcher told me they could get them, but with a week’s notice.

So, cue earlier in January, I popped by to give my week’s notice for 400g of sweetbreads. A younger butcher served me:

Butcher: ‘Sorry, what did you say?’
Me: ‘Sweetbreads.’
Butcher: ‘Say that again?’
Me: ‘Sweet – Breads. It’s some kind of offal.’
Butcher: ‘Sorry, I’m not getting it. How do you spell it?’
Me: ‘S-W-E-E-T, like SWEET, and B-R-E-A-D. Like BREAD. SWEET. BREADS.’
He had to ask his boss to decipher my request.

I was really surprised. I don’t know much about meat (I wouldn’t know the difference between a sirloin and a t-bone steak), but I had heard of sweetbreads. Albeit from Hannibal Lector, who served human sweetbreads ragout to his dinner guests.

Fortunately, the head-butcher did know what I was talking about, and promised to save them up over the following week. When I went back a week later (and went through the same rigmarole with another young butcher, all over again: “I’m here to pick up SWEET. BREADS.”), he glumly presented me with only 150g of sweetbreads. It was unclear whether they just hadn’t accumulated much, or if his team had been forgetting and throwing them away. Either way, the whole experience was an interesting commentary on the way we consume and cook, nowadays: We only want particular choice cuts of meat. We no longer eat the whole animal. The butchers don’t even bother saving the sweetbreads (and who knows what else) to sell – there’s just no demand.

We know how much we waste at home, when we throw out leftovers or produce gone bad – but the waste in the way we consume more broadly is a little more hidden. Because animals are sold to us in ‘cuts’, we waste animals without even realising it. We kill chickens mostly for their chicken breasts. Cows for the best cuts of steak. Lambs for chops. Even though the idea of eating all those ‘extra bits’ freaks me out a bit too, we aren’t eating the whole animal. And doesn’t that surely mean more animals are dying than necessary?

The flow:

Generally, ‘the flow’ was a vast improvement on last month. I paid closer attention to the vegetables in the fridge, and used them before they turned. It probably helped that I was home more while on holidays from work, so I could enjoy a mish-mash meal for lunch more often.

I did have one rather large failure: The untinned sardines. I used mackerel (possibly my first mistake), as my fishmonger didn’t have any sardines. I fermented them for 24 hours on the kitchen bench, in salty whey water with herbs and vegetables. I was apprehensive but ready to give it a good go.

I couldn’t eat it. I tried. I really tried. But I literally could not stomach it, and the smell was so awful I was worried I’d get food poisoning. I’m not sure if it was because I used mackerel, or ‘over-fermented’ the fish – but I ended up getting rid of it. If Sarah Wilson lived round the corner I would have happily delivered it to her to avoid wasting it, since she seems to have guts made of steel (though I’m not sure she would have eaten this particular batch either!).

The food:

I made a few less recipes than I had intended in January, as I was away over a couple of weekends. But still, I managed to make 15 Simplicious recipes:

  • The Green Goddess Toastie (p 85): Made on a rainy day at home alone, using lots of Leftovers Pesto (p 55), a very comforting lunch.
  • Broc Bites (p 92): Delightful little cheesy savoury puffs with broccoli (cauliflower would be awesome too), which I will have to make again for the school lunchbox. I served them with:
  • Whey Good Mayo (p 50): I could eat this mayonnaise by the spoonful. Sometimes I did. Fermenting it to make it last longer was a brilliant idea.
  • Untinned Sardines (p 156): I think I’ve said enough about this. :-/ Had they survived, I would have served them in:
  • Puttanesca Festival Abundance Bowl (p 133): I used tinned sardines instead! Plus all the vegetables I had.
  • ‘Sweet’ Tacos (p 200): These slow-cooked brisket and sweetbread tacos were very enjoyable. I chopped the sweetbreads into tiny pieces, so they weren’t noticed by the rest of the family (although when I did scout one out, thought it had a pleasant, nutty taste). The tacos were served with:
  • Easy Slaw (p 200): An easy coleslaw, also made with leftover Whey Good Mayo.
  • Choc Cherry Blitz (p 86): A refreshing breakfast ‘zmoothie’ (yep, zucchini smoothie) which doesn’t taste green at all, thanks to the cacao and cherries. With the leftover zucchini I made:
  • The Zucchini Bread Thickie (p 87): Another zmoothie which lives up to it’s name: after I took the photo I realised a straw wasn’t going to cut it!
  • Plain Kombucha (p 344): I go through phases of making my own kombucha, so it was nice to start it up again with a hibernating SCOBY from my SCOBY hotel!
  • Strawberry Chia Jam (p 57): I do love berry chia jams, because they can be made using frozen berries (so can be eaten all year round). The kids love them too. I used the jam to make:
  • Lamington Ice-Creams (p 268): A very special treat that is exactly how it sounds: an ice-cream lamington. It was a hit with the family.
Lamington Ice Creams from Simplicious (p 268), with Strawberry Chia Jam (p 57).

Lamington Ice Creams from Simplicious (p 268), with Strawberry Chia Jam (p 57).

  • Cooked ‘n’ Frozen Beetroot (p 23): For the freezer stash, to enjoy over coming months. I used some of the fresh beetroot to make:
  • Cheeseburger Dim Sims (p 102): Such a strange idea, but so much fun – and surprisingly cheeseburger-ish! I will definitely be making these again!
  • Greek San Choi Bau (p 146): The meatballs I made back in November just keep giving. I used lettuce leaves instead of cabbage leaves. Super easy to put together and a lovely mid-week meal.

That’s 58 recipes down, and 248 recipes to go! I had intended to try a couple of the vodka cocktails this month… But ‘accidentally’ drank the whole bottle of vodka while away one weekend with friends (I didn’t drink the whole bottle on my own!).

Read the previous post – #3: A Simplicious Challenge: Christmas – a time of waste and reflection.
Read the next post – #5: A Simplicious Challenge: Food photography waste and a crockery addiction.


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