FeaturesDec/Jan 2015 Issue

Beef Tongue? Kidney? Thymus Gland? Consider Offal for a Gluten-Free Diet

Unusual organ meats can provide a windfall of vitamins, iron and zinc to those on a gluten-free diet.

Interested in exploring new culinary territory? How about... beef tongue? Or kidney meat? Or sweetbreads (thymus gland of a calf)? The dietary benefits make them worth a try for those on a gluten-free diet. The recipes here show you how to make them part of a memorable meal.

Beef Tongue

Most people need to psyche themselves up mentally to work with something that looks like, well, a tongue. But once you get over any gastronomic squeamishness, this neglected beef part produces truly seducing tender meat. A whole beef tongue can weigh up to 4 pounds, giving you great bang for your buck. Like many other organ meats, tongue provides a nutritional windfall. Among its nutritional highlights are good levels of B vitamins, iron, selenium and immune-boosting zinc.

PREP TIPS The optimal way to prepare tongue is to poach it gently, after which you can peel off the thick skin. It’s important not to let the tongue cool too much after poaching or it will be much more difficult to remove the skin. Using gloves can be a good way to handle the tongue while still hot. Once poached and skinned, tongue can be sliced thinly and used right away or kept in the refrigerator for up to 4 days if stored in the strained cooking liquid. You can reheat slices of tongue for a couple of minutes in a skillet or even on the grill. Serve poached tongue with salsas, chutneys, herb sauces, gravy and mashed potato and even in stir-fry’s. Cold slices of tongue are great in sandwiches or atop salads. Be sure to keep the strained poaching liquid for use in recipes calling for beef broth.

Photo by Matthew Kadey

Tongue with Mushroom Sauce


When poached with aromatics like onions and garlic, tongue meat tastes very reminiscent of pot roast. The mushroom sauce brings a wallop of umami to the table.

2-4 pounds beef tongue
1 onion, quartered
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons canola oil or grapeseed oil
10 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
½ cup sliced shallots
2 garlic cloves, minced
⅔ cup white wine
2 teaspoons cornstarch or arrowroot powder
1 tablespoon butter or non-dairy butter alternative
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
¼ teaspoon black pepper
⅓ cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped

1. Place tongue in a large saucepan. Add onion, garlic, peppercorns, salt, bay leaf and enough water to cover the tongue by 2-inches. Bring to a slow boil over medium-low, reduce heat and simmer very gently, partially covered, until tongue is tender and easily pierced with a knife at its thickest part (about 1 hour per pound of tongue).

2. Remove tongue from poaching liquid and let cool only to the point where you can handle it. Reserve 1 cup of the poaching liquid. To peel off the skin, start at the throat end of the tongue and use a small knife to lift up some of the skin. Then start peeling off the skin with your fingers. Scrape off any bumpy areas with the back of a chef’s knife. Slice tongue thinly against the grain.

3. To make the mushroom sauce, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms, shallots and garlic; heat until mushrooms have softened, about 4 minutes. Add wine to pan, raise heat to medium-high and boil until most of the wine has reduced. Whisk cornstarch or arrowroot powder into 1 cup of the reserved beef tongue broth and pour into pan. Simmer until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Stir in butter, thyme and black pepper and heat until butter has melted.

4. Serve beef tongue slices topped with mushroom sauce and parsley.


This organ meat is a true pleasure with a flavor not dissimilar to liver. The nutritional payoff includes laudable amounts of protein and a range of essential nutrients, including vitamin B12, vitamin A, riboflavin and selenium. Kidneys come in pairs. Only purchase those that are shiny and firm with no dry or discolored spots and free of any “off” odor.

PREP TIPS Soaking kidneys in acidulated water will help reduce the “beefy” odor and strong flavor. If you buy the kidneys whole, which you should for better quality, be sure to slice them in half lengthwise and remove the gristly white center of the organ before proceeding with a recipe. Also remove any membrane if present. Cook fast and hot only until still slightly pink in the center or long and slow in a braising liquid–anything in between results in tough meat. Cutting kidneys into bite-sized chunks makes for quick skillet preparation.

Photo by Matthew Kadey

Kidney Vegetable Medley with Garlic-Potato Puree


Worthy of something served up at a fine-dining restaurant, this inspiring fall dish combines rich kidney meat with a delightful potato puree enlivened with garlic essence.

1 pound beef kidney
2 garlic heads
1 lbs. Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and chopped
3 tablespoons butter or dairy-free butter alternative
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 large carrot, chopped
2 celery hearts, thinly sliced
3 cups crimini mushrooms, sliced
¼ cup dry red wine
2 teaspoons cider vinegar or sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon garlic powder
⅛ teaspoon cayenne powder
2 tablespoons chopped chives

1. Slice kidney into 1-inch pieces, cutting away any hard gristly white parts as you go. Place in a bowl, cover with water, 1 teaspoon salt and juice of ½ lemon. Soak in the refrigerator for about 1 hour. When ready to use, rinse kidneys and pat dry with paper towel.

2. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Remove excess papery covering on the garlic bulb and slice off about ¼-inch from the top so that most of the cloves are exposed. Place garlic on a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil and drizzle with a touch of oil. Wrap tightly and bake for 30 minutes.

3. Place potatoes in a large saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until fork tender. Place potatoes in a bowl of a food processor along with 2 tablespoons butter, ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Squeeze roasted garlic pulp into the container and blend until smooth. Reheat if needed before serving.

4. In a skillet over medium heat, melt the remaining butter with the olive oil. When the butter foams, add the kidneys and brown on all sides, about 4 minutes. Remove kidney from the pan and set aside on a cutting board.

5. Add the onions, carrot and celery to pan and cook until softened, about 6 minutes. Stir in mushrooms and then add wine to pan. Stir to deglaze pan, reduce heat to medium-low and cook until mushrooms have softened. Chop kidneys into smaller pieces (about ½-inch) and return to pan. Stir in vinegar, mustard, garlic powder, cayenne and remaining salt and pepper. Cook just until kidneys are slightly pink inside.

6. Serve kidney mixture alongside potato puree on serving plates. Garnish with chives.


Sweetbreads are the thymus gland of a calf, which consists of two parts, so it’s often referred to in the plural. Their flavor delivers a hint of sweetness, while the “bread” part of the name hails from an Old English word meaning flesh. They are not a solid piece of flesh, but a collection of nodules held together by a membrane.

Nutritionally, thymus is a good source of vitamin C, an antioxidant most often found in fruits and vegetables. A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that higher intakes of vitamin C are associated with healthier blood pressure numbers.

PREP TIPS You may be familiar with sweetbreads from seeing them on menus at finer restaurants. Not difficult to prepare, they do require a little extra handling before cooking over a period of a couple of days. So it’s best to plan ahead if you want to serve sweetbreads as part of a meal. First they should be soaked to help expel any blood, then quickly poached and then pressed to remove excess liquid. The sweetbreads can then be sliced and sautéed or grilled. Sweetbreads are often served in creamy pan sauces. Chunks of sweetbread are also excellent when dredged in gluten-free flour and then pan fried.

Photo by Matthew Kadey

Pan-Fried Sweetbreads with Slaw and Parsley Oil

Crispy celery root is the perfect counterpoint to the creamy sweetbreads. Parsley oil provides a touch of brightness. Extra herb oil can be used in salads or stirred into cooked quinoa.

1 ½ pounds sweetbreads
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon salt
1 medium celery root (celeriac), shredded
⅓ cup golden raisins
1 cup packed flat-leaf parsley
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove minced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter or non-dairy butter alternative

1. Soak sweetbreads for about 6 hours or overnight, changing the water a couple times, to remove any blood.

2. Drain sweetbreads and place in a saucepan with enough water to cover. Add juice of ½ lemon and salt; bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer gently until just firm to the touch but with some springiness to them, about 10 minutes. Immediately plunge sweetbreads into ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain, peel off as much of the white membrane as possible and slice off any gristly parts. Place sweetbreads on a tea towel-lined large plate or baking sheet and fold cloth over the meat. Place another plate or baking sheet on top and weight it down with a heavy object such as couple cans of beans or bowl of water. Chill in the refrigerator for 4 hours or up to 24 hours.

3. Toss together shredded celery root, raisins, juice of ½ lemon, and salt and pepper to taste. Place parsley, olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic and ¼ cup water in a blender container and blend until smooth.

4. Slice the sweetbread on the bias into equal-size pieces and season with salt and pepper. Heat a skillet, preferably cast-iron, over medium-high heat. Add butter and melt. Place sweetbreads in skillet and cook until they have a crisp, brown exterior, about 2 minutes per side.

5. Divide celery root mixture among serving plates and top with sweetbreads. Drizzle parsley oil over top.


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