Protein Plus: Offal in the Gluten-Free Diet


Hearts, livers, tails and marrow: These unsung meat products deliver extraordinary eating.

At one time, humans were happy to practice nose-to-tail cookery. When our ancestors were taking down prey with little more than spears, they had little idea when their next feast would come and they didn’t want to waste an ounce of precious meat.

It’s a shame that so many of today’s carnivores in America seem to think that “meat” means shrink-wrapped pork chops, steak or chicken breast—and never liver, heart or tail. These underused cuts of meat, called offal, deserve a more enthusiastic response.

Now with the expanding popularity of the Paleo Diet, there’s renewed interest in offal—which literally means “off fall,” or the pieces, including tongue, kidneys and sweetbreads, that fall off a carcass when it’s butchered.

Many cultures around the world still make good use of these bits of meat. Offal boosters say the benefits are noteworthy: These cuts reduce the unnecessary waste of animal protein, slash your grocery budget, reap nutritional rewards and provide extraordinary eating.

Here’s the delicious update on offal. We help you take the plunge back into new culinary territory.


Once the most common organ meat used in American households, liver has largely fallen out of favor with newer generations. That’s too bad considering it provides a welcome relief from more pedestrian meats (yes, we’re looking at you, Mr. Chicken Breast) and delivers a nutritional bonanza. Liver is brimming with vitamin A to help bolster immune, eye and bone health. It also blows away most other foods when it comes to vitamin B12, necessary for a healthy nervous system.

Prep Tips  Cook liver quickly in a hot skillet so that the outside sears while the interior remains tender and almost velvety. Ideally, this should be done in a cast-iron skillet. Soaking liver in water spiked with salt and lemon juice for a few hours before cooking dampens any strong flavor and helps tenderize the meat. Before cooking, peel away any membrane that might be present on the liver by loosening it with a sharp knife and gently pulling it away from the meat.

Photo by Matthew Kadey

Liver with Caramelized Onions and Figs


This gussied-up version of classic liver and onions is sure to garner praise. If fresh figs aren’t available, use dried figs; soak them in water for 1 hour before adding them to the pan. For paleo eating, use maple syrup instead of brown sugar.

1 pound beef liver
-Juice of 1 lemon
-Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon butter or dairy-free butter alternative
1 large sweet onion, such as Vidalia, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
4-5 fresh figs, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 tablespoon avocado oil or coconut oil
4 cups arugula

1. Place liver in a large container, cover with water and lemon juice and let soak in the refrigerator up to 8 hours. When ready to serve, remove liver from liquid, pat dry with a paper towel and slice into 4 equal pieces. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Mix in sugar and balsamic vinegar. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover pan and cook 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in figs, garlic and thyme. Cover and cook 10 minutes more.

3. Remove onion mixture from pan and wipe out the pan. Increase heat to medium-high and add oil. Once oil is shimmering, add liver and cook 2 to 4 minutes per side or until well browned on the outside, slightly pink inside and somewhat springy to the touch. (Cooking time depends on thickness of liver.)

4. To serve, place arugula on serving plates and top with liver and onion-fig mixture.

Each serving contains 307 calories, 11g total fat, 3g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 316mg cholesterol, 92mg sodium, 29g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 19g sugars, 25g protein, 13 Est GL.


Beef heart is one of the easiest organ meats to master. It’s similar in taste and texture to more common cuts of steak and can be substituted for them in most recipes. Yet it costs less per pound and generally has more nutritional value. Beef heart is low in saturated fat and high in protein, vitamin B12, iron and the antioxidant selenium. Heart weighs as much as 3 to 4 pounds, meaning you can eat your heart out for a number of meals.

Prep Tips  Preparing beef heart for cooking is as simple as slicing off the fat around its top, as well as any connective tissue, silver skin and valves with a sharp knife. (If cooking heart slowly, such as braising, leave the fat on as it helps baste the meat during cooking.) Since beef heart is so lean, it can be prone to becoming tough if prepared poorly. It’s best cooked fast, such as in a stir-fry, and not past medium-rare. Or cut the meat into cubes and simmer them very gently for an extended period of time in a saucy stew or chili to help keep the meat tender. Also, try sliding cubes of marinated heart on skewers for a fresh approach to kebobs. Cold slices of cooked heart are a wonderful addition to gluten-free sandwiches.

Photo by Matthew Kadey

Asian Heart Stir-Fry


Similar to steak, heart meat beautifully soaks up the Asian flavors in this stir-fry.

1-1½ pounds thinly sliced beef heart
-Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons gluten-free soy sauce or tamari
2 tablespoons mirin, rice wine or dry sherry
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon Sriracha or other Asian chili hot sauce
2 teaspoons orange zest
1 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons cornstarch or arrowroot powder
1 tablespoon canola oil or grapeseed oil
4 cups broccoli florets
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, sliced into matchsticks
2 cups cooked rice
-Toasted sesame seeds, optional

1. Season meat with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, mirin, honey, chili sauce, orange zest, five spice powder, sesame oil, ginger, garlic and cornstarch.

2. Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil and swirl to coat pan. Add heart strips and sear until browned but still pink and juicy in the middle, about 3 minutes. Remove meat and its juices from pan and reserve.

3. Add broccoli, pepper and carrot to pan. Cook, stirring often, until vegetables are tender crisp, about 2 minutes. Return heart strips and juices to pan along with soy sauce mixture. Stir to coat and heat 1 minute or until sauce has thickened.

4. Divide rice among serving plates and top with heart and vegetable mixture. Spoon any extra sauce over top and garnish with sesame seeds, if desired.

Each serving contains 334 calories, 9g total fat, 2g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 167mg cholesterol, 704mg sodium, 33g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 6g sugars, 29g protein, 18 Est GL.

Heart Salad with Herb Vinaigrette


This salad is a great way to enjoy the bounty of meat that a beef heart provides. No one will guess it’s not steak. Roasting the tomatoes elevates their natural sweetness.

1 pound beef heart, thinly sliced
¼ cup + 1 tablespoon + 3 teaspoons olive oil, divided
-Salt and pepper, to taste
2 cups cherry tomatoes
1 tablespoon wine vinegar or lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
6 cups tender salad greens

1. Toss beef heart with 2 teaspoons oil and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Let sit about 1 hour.

2. Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large bowl, toss together tomatoes and 1 teaspoon oil. Place tomatoes on a baking sheet and cook until softened and beginning to shrivel, about 12 minutes.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add heart strips and cook until still slightly pink inside, about 4 to 5 minutes.

4. In a small bowl, whisk together ¼ cup oil, vinegar, parsley, chives, thyme, shallot, garlic, salt and pepper.

5. Divide salad greens among serving plates and top with heart slices. Drizzle dressing over top.

Each serving contains 380 calories, 29g total fat, 5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 140mg cholesterol, 289mg sodium, 9g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 4g sugars, 23g protein, 3 Est GL.


In olden days, oxtail came from oxen but now it usually hails from regular cattle. The tail is cut into sections, each with marrow and bone that’s surrounded by meat. It tastes similar to more common cuts of braising meat.

Prep Tips Oxtail requires a long time to cook, making it the perfect meat for braises, soups and stews. It’s a good candidate for the slow cooker. When cooked low and slow, oxtail meat becomes fall-off-the-bone tender. Before simmering, brown oxtail to help lock in the juices. For ease of preparation, have your butcher cut the oxtail into several pieces.

Photo by Matthew Kadey

Oxtail Stew


There is something very special about nurturing a simmering pot of oxtail until cooked to tender perfection. The delicious aroma permeates your kitchen. Soaking pearl onions in warm water makes them easier to peel.

3 pounds oxtail, cut into 2-inch pieces
-Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon canola oil or grapeseed oil
1 pound potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound parsnips, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 pound pearl onions, peeled
3 celery stalks, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1½ cups red wine
1 (14-ounce) can fire-roasted tomatoes
2 cups gluten-free beef stock or chicken stock
-Parsley, for garnish

1. Pat oxtail pieces dry with a paper towel and season well with salt and pepper.

2. Heat oil in a large heavy-bottom saucepan over medium-high heat. Brown oxtail in batches. Remove from pan.

3. Reduce heat to medium and add potatoes, carrots, parsnips, pearl onions and celery to pan and stir. Cook until vegetables have softened slightly. Then add garlic, bay leaves, thyme, allspice and paprika. Stir to coat vegetables with spices.

4. Pour in red wine, bring to a boil and deglaze pan by scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan.

5. Return oxtail to pan, placing larger pieces closer the bottom. Top with tomatoes and broth. Bring mixture to a boil. Then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer very gently about 2½ hours or until meat is very tender.

6. Ladle stew into bowls. Serve hot, garnished with parsley.

Each serving contains 591 calories, 22g total fat, 7g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 136mg cholesterol, 676mg sodium, 44g carbohydrate, 10g fiber, 12g sugars, 44g protein, 14 Est GL.

Bone Marrow

Roasted marrow imparts added richness to burgers and meatloaf. It’s a delicious butter replacement when spread hot on gluten-free toast. You can also sauté with it, like you would duck fat. Pieces cut from the center of the leg bone yield the most marrow.

Prep Tip Ask your butcher to slice the marrow bones into pieces about 3-inches long.

Photo by Matthew Kadey

Roasted Bone Marrow


There are few dairy-free gastronomic pleasures as great as eating hot marrow slathered over gluten-free toast. For paleo eating, use a small spoon and eat marrow straight from the bones or serve it on mashed potatoes.

4 (3-inch) beef bone marrow pieces
4 slices gluten-free bread, toasted
-Coarse salt, to taste
-Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
-Parsley, for garnish, optional

1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Line a roasting pan with foil.

2. Arrange marrow pieces standing upright in prepared pan. Place in preheated oven and roast until marrow is soft and loose but not melted, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the marrow from the bones with a butter knife.

3. Spread very hot marrow on toasted bread. Season with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Garnish with chopped parsley, if desired.

Each serving contains 517 calories, 23g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 5mg cholesterol, 95mg sodium, 29g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 4g sugars, 2g protein, 18 Est GL.

Contributing chef Matthew Kadey, RD, ( is author of The Muffin Tin Chef and The No-Cook, No-Bake Cookbook (Ulysses Press).