Thursday, 4 October 2012
Offal Club. Tale of the Unexpected
A short story by Ian M Pindar
The first rule of Offal Club was never eat spleen again, again! The second rule: there is no part of an animal that is inedible except teeth, sinew and bones. The third rule, if in doubt; ask yourself the question, `would the Chinese eat it?’
Offal Club grew out of a Shares and Fine Wine Club, but after the disaster of investing in technologies and obscure mining stock that tanked, it was decided that shares were probably best managed by experts; and not six drunken blokes throwing darts at the Financial Times. Bravado and the poor fare on offer in Manchester’s restaurants led to the desire to produce something diametrically different; and you could not get much more diametrically different than offal, the bits that even butchers and Bernard Matthews threw away, unless you lived in China!
The bravado, piss-taking and wine were always a constant; what was not was the menu; tripe stuffed with sheep’s brain; compote of pigs head with wild mushroom and jalapeno relish; Ox heart with black blood jus; Sheep’s eye in white wine and onion reduction; pancreas and piccalilli; bone marrow with scrambled eggs and deer brains; and everyone’s favourite - bollock bhuna. Twelve years had now passed since the first official Offal Club night; lamb’s liver pate, followed by steak and kidney cobbler and chocolate tart for dessert. It seemed so tame now, like something you might get from a Harvester!
No one could remember who suggested it; the boundaries between reality and morality got blurred slightly by six bottles of Chablis and six bottles of Rioja, but what could be agreed was it was during the digestivos that the immoral proposal was fertilised, even if it did not start to gestate. Nothing is static and everything evolves or dies, it was basic evolutionary culinary science, or more colloquially, what goes around eventually comes around. It was suggested as a scientific experiment, which was not surprising from five doctors and a computer analyst. It was at a similar intoxicated juncture at the next meeting that gestation occurred, even if rudimentary features had not started to appear on the beast.
All gathered agreed it was a marvellous idea, although none really thought it was anything but drunken folly; except Martin. He had always harboured the inquisition to find out the answer; well the mind can wander after you have carried out over five thousand autopsies and the inside of one cadaver is pretty much like the next. Karl the GP was also inquisitive, but his mind had not wandered far from the marital problems he was having with his wife of fifteen years. By the third dining meeting it was an inevitability that the proposal would surface again.
`But if I procured the items in question, and cooked them, would that take away some of dilemma?’ Martin half suggested to auger opinion.
Marcus, Malcolm, Oliver and Steven snorted laughter at Martin, Karl just smiled.
`It’s fuckin’ mental Martin, as well as criminally insane.’
`But don’t you think it would be interesting to find out? What are the chances of getting caught?’
`I’m having no part of it,’ resounded Oliver, and Marcus and Steven echoed his sentiments.
`Ok, you bunch of girl guides, we could have pushed forwards the boundaries of epicurean and culinary scientific research at the same time, and this is the reason why society moves forwards so painfully slowly.’
`Who’s cooking next months?’ Enquired Steven when he noticed the time was nearly two and he had a golf match that was teeing off at ten in the morning.
`I’ll do it,’ offered Martin. `I’m going to do pig’s livers in an Americano sauce, I’ll think of something for a starter and let you know beforehand.’
It was agreed the pig’s liver in the Ameraco sauce, accompanied by green beans, and washed down with a heavy Cote du Rhone was a triumph, and questions turned to the sourcing of the livers.
`I have contact at Smithfield’s in London, who is more than glad to send any more unusual items up, as long as we pay him reasonably well and he bumps up his profit margins by whacking on a hefty postage and packaging fee.’
`The six livers cost me fifty pounds.’ They all agreed it was a little steep for liver, but the quality was fantastic.
`Who is this contact, should we not source more unusual cuts from him?’
`We could do, he is called Terannce Hall, Terannce is not spelt the same way, two n’s and only one r.’
`Why is spelt that way?’ Enquired Oliver.
`I don’t know, it must be a foreign deviation of Terrance, I suppose,’ offered Martin.
`What else could he get us, did he say?’
`Anything that comes into the market, he can get to us, for a price obviously. He did mention he had some lovely Vietnamese pot bellied pigs in last time I spoke to him.’
`Sounds lovely, we could make a terrine, or a fantastic pate, if you get them, I don’t mind cooking something up,’ Malcolm offered.
`I don’t mind doing it one more time, then I’ll give it a rest for a while, you all have kids and I have more time than you lot.’ Martin was met with protests from the Club Members, but he deflected them relatively easily, as they all knew that putting on a Club Night could be days of work. They all agreed he did not have to do it for at least nine months as recompense.
Indonesian ginger and spring onion pigs brain soup, followed by devilled oriental pig’s kidneys, it was the fine balance of offal meat and spice, and it was almost unanimous that it was probably the best offal they had ever had, maybe with the exception of sweetmeat Rogan Josh and bollock bhuna. The perfect matching of the wine for the courses had also met with much approval. The spiciness of the soup was complimented by the crisp mineral dryness of the 2006 Hugel Gewurztraminer Alsace and the vintage Chateau Potensac Medoc 1999 offered a level of acidity, tannins and pluminess to set the kidneys off faultlessly.
`The wine must have cost a fortune Marty?’ Suggested Marcus.
`Oh what doesn’t get drunk can go in my cellar.’ He smiled with a cursive wave of his arm, and Steven laughed at him, `that means it did cost a fortune then.’
`It’s only money chaps.’ He dismissed.
`How much?’ probed Oliver
`I got a case of the Gewurztraminer for about three hundred, and six bottles of the vintage Medoc was about the same.’
`Bloody hell Marty, that’s far too much,’ protested Marcus, and he was echoed by everyone except Karl.
`Don’t you agree Karl?’ Enquired Malcolm when he observed him not resounding their sentiments.
`Oh, you can’t take it with you, and when you have food as remarkable as this, you want exceptional wine to wash it down with.’
It was then Malcolm saw the almost imperceptible stealthy look Karl gave Martin, he darted a glance at Martin to try and ascertain what` the look’ was all about? As Martin took his gaze away from his swirling wine glass and directed it toward Karl, Malcolm knew they knew something the rest of them, or at least he, did not.
`What’s with the look?’ he interrogated Karl.
`What look?’ he tried to appear puzzled.
You know `the look’ you just gave Martin, I’ve known you for over twenty years Karl, I know that furtive almost courtship look when I see it.’
`Oh… it was just an almost subconscious look of gratitude for buying such lovely wine and cooking such great food.’
`No, no it wasn’t, I know you Karl; that was not a look of gratitude; that was a look of guilt, a guilty look?’
`Oh leave him alone Malcy, we’re all pissed.’
`Are you his girlfriend Martin?’ Oliver interjected, taking the piss.
`Now you are defending him, deflecting attention away from him, subconsciously anyway… you know what the secret is? There is a secret? Is it just me that is not in on it?’ Malcolm started to interrogate Martin and looked to the faces of the rest of the Club, this was Malcolm’s party trick, he was the Derren Brown of the group; he could detect lying from a hundred yards. He turned his attention back to Karl, he knew him better, he betrayed not only his illegality badly, but his emotions as well.
`What is it Karl? What is the clandestine secret you and Martin are keeping from the rest of us?’
`Yes share!’ Oliver Butted in, and Steven and Marcus backed him up.
`What are you keeping secret from us, hey?’
`I am not keeping anything a secret from you.’
Malcolm tilted his head and cogitated while keeping his stare on Karl, `Ok, now I know you are lying, four tell tale signs, one, your body language has closed up, your arms were on the arms of the chair and you moved them in, closed your body, classic sign of insecurity. Secondly, you found it hard to maintain eye contact, when before you had no problem, thirdly, your orbicularis oculi around both eyes contracted slightly, lastly, you always look upwards to the left when you lie, and that’s just what you did.’
Karl starred at Martin as the rest ganged up on him, and implored him to tell them something. Martin shook his head slightly to direct him, then added, `you’re bullying him Malcolm, leave him alone.’
`He’s a big boy, he can stick up for himself, what is it Karl, tell us?’ Marcus demanded. Karl looked to Martin for assistance once more.
Steven cut in, `for fuck sake, will you two tell us, so we can move on from the Spanish Inquisition?’
`There is nothing to tell,’ Martin tried to draw some closure.
`But there is, you have taken over from Karl, because you think he will give something away, something you don’t want us to know? Something that you are not willing to share easily, with four mates, some of whom went through medical school with you, and all the madness that entailed.’
Now they could all see that Martin was starting to become flustered, the capillaries in his face were starting to vasodilate and his pale skin was ruddying. Karl was fast following suit.
`Oli and Steven, you interrogate Karl, and Marcus we will work on Martin. Oliver and Steven went and sat on the arm of the chair next to him and poked him playfully and demand he tell them the truth. Malcolm straddled Martin on the dining room chair and Marcus towered over them as moral and physical support; all four were encouraged by the excessive consumption of alcohol.
`Get the fuck off Malcolm!’
`Not until you tell us the truth.’
Martin was immediately very agitated and tried hard to avoid eye contact.
`Tell us,’ commanded Marcus from above.
`Just tell us the fucking truth Martin, it has to be bad, look at your body language, this is not physical discomfort of homophobia, this is more, this emotional discomfort, tell us?’
Marcus disappeared towards the kitchen, while Malcolm raised the volume of questioning an octave every time, he demanded every time, `tell us the secret?’ Martin tried to wrestle him off, but Malcolm was bigger and stronger, and this agitated him further, a man not accustomed to subordinate roles. It was then the iced cooled water from wine bucket smacked him in the face, assaulted him, like being thrown into a cold bath against your will, and he wrestled more vigorously to make good his escape, while Malcolm shouted even louder.
`Tell us,’ Malcolm was shouting nine inches from his face, `get some more iced water Marcus, hurry up.’
Martin wrestled harder and Malcolm continued the barrage, the cold water dislodged what little composure he had left. And he let out a primeval, `Ahhhrr,’ while violently shacking his head from side to side like a dog climbing out of a cold sea, fixed his gaze on Malcolm and yelled,
`It was human, ok, human!’
Malcolm stepped back off Martin, while Marcus put his palm over his mouth in shock.
`Oh my God, Martin, what have you done, Oh my God!’
Oliver and Steven moved across, `What is it, what has he done?’
`Oh my God Martin, fucking hell Martin.’
`I’m joking, I’m just shitting with you.’
`But you’re not… are you?’