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Les Abats: French Offal, Organ and Variety Meats & Dishes

Camille Chevalier-Karfis By Camille Chevalier-Karfis on Sep 12, 2012

Order wisely! Learn everything about offal in French: the French organ meat vocabulary, as well as widespread French dishes that feature variety meat.

Tripes, chicken hearts, brains… one of my students’ biggest fears when going to France is ordering one of these variety meats, or organ meats (referring to the internal organs and entrails of animals). As disgusting as this may sound to some, many of these meats are considered a delicacy, and are indeed common in French cuisine.

Offal (organ and variety meats) are called “les abats” (pronounced “lé zaba”) in French.

1 – List of Common French Offal / Organ Meats

  1. “le foie” – liver
    This is the most common one since it’s often used grounded in pâté etc…
    Most French people would not even consider “le foie” as an ofall when used in charcuterie.
  2. “le rognon” – kidney
  3. “le pied” – feet
  4. “la queue” – tail
  5. “la langue” – the tongue
  6. “le museau” – the snout
  7. “les ris de veau” – sweetbreads
  8. “les tripes” – stomach
  9. “la cervelle” – brain
  10. “la moelle, les amourettes” – marrow
  11. “le gésier” – gizzard
  12. “le sang” – blood
  13. “les os” – the bones (used in savoury jelly).
french offal list

De la tête de veau, prepared by my father-in-law. I’m not a big fan, too gelatinous…

2 – Much Less Common French Offal / Variety Meat

  1. “le rognon blanc, les animelles” – testicles
  2. “la joue” – cheek
  3. “la fraise” – part of the stomach
  4. “le gras-double” – part of the stomach
  5. “l’oreille” – the ear
  6. “la tête” – the head
  7. “la crête de poulet” – chicken crest

3 – List of Other Organ Meats, Rarely Used in French Cuisine

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  1. “le coeur” – heart
  2. “la rate” – spleen
  3. “la mamelle” – udder
  4. “les poumons, le mou” – lungs

We really don’t eat these – a butcher may give you some for your cat…

french variety meats

Des ris de veau, prepared by my Mom… I love it, but it’s VERY rich.

4 – Common French Ofall Dishes

Now I’m not going to list dishes that have any of the above words in them: they are easy to spot.

I’ll list common French offal dishes whose names are ambiguous.

Beware of local specialties which might not be listed here: always ask what is in them.

As you will be happy to see,  only a few dishes have names that don’t reveal their content… most of the time, once you know the words listed above, you’re safe.

  1. “la farce” (stuffing): It is very common in France to add liver to the stuffing of birds and other dishes.
  2. “le boudin: blood sausage (note that “le boudin blanc” is made with white meat in a gut, like any sausage)
  3. “l’andouillette” (warm) et “l’andouille” (cold) : stomach sausage, they both have a very, very strong taste.
  4. “le fromage de tête” – has the word tête but I thought it was worth mentioning since the word “fromage” can really be misleading. It’s a pâté made with head meat.
  5. “le tablier de sapeur” : dish made of stomach
  6. “Les tripoux” : dish made with tripes
  7. “le vol-au-vent”, also called bouchée à la reine or timbale financière : the best ones may have “ris de veau” inside, and they used to have chicken crests.
  8. “la salade périgourdine” or “la salade landaise” – will probably have green salad with poultry livers and gizzards
  9. “le tournedos rossini” – a filet mignon with a piece of foie-gras on top
  10. “la sauce périgueux” – uses the fat around the foie-gras
  11. “la gelée” – most commonly made with bones and blood, but there are also many alternatives to make “gelée” including vegetal ones.
  12. “La potée” – A common cabbage, potatoes and meat dish.  In the really traditional version, it includes “pied de porc” (pig’s feet) but you’ll probably only find it if you eat it at someone’s home or in a VERY traditional restaurant.
  13. “Les paupiettes” (a thin veal meat stuffed) – Commonly held together via butcher string, it might sometimes be held together with “crépine” (or ‘caul’ – the lining of a pig’s insides)

5 – Offal Hater? Be Cautious With French Charcuterie

french charcuterie

In the “charcuterie” world (see my post about French charcuterie), you are pretty likely to run into some use of offal, so if you don’t want to risk it, stay away from all pâtés, terrines, sausages, cold cuts unless you know exactly what you are ordering.

6 – French Cultural Tips About Offal

Many French people don’t like “les abats”, and usually, the French are aware that foreigners may not be OK with them as well. So it’s unlikely someone would serve you “des tripes” at home on your first meal with them.

However, “un paté” with some grounded liver in it would be very common and most French people would not consider that as organ meat since it’s so common in French cuisine.

Try it! You will probably not notice it at all.

However, if you really don’t want to eat offal, say: “je ne désire pas manger d’abats (pronounce it “daba”)” and if this includes liver, add: “même pas de foie s’il vous plaît” (not even liver please).

French gastronomy includes many, many things – you’ll have plenty of choice, including some vegetarian options, so don’t be afraid, and if you can stomach it, I encourage you to be bold and get out of your comfort zone. You’ll never know if you like it until you try it, and if you don’t like it, then there is always excellent bread and butter on the table :-)

On the contrary, you are eager to taste some of these dishes, here is a page of recipes made from offal:

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