The way Maria Kabal cooks offal has helped her stand out as a chef since she arrived in Melbourne, but her love for secondary cuts goes way back.
Kabal, who grew up in Estonia, says food wasn't a big thing in her family when she was young. But when her parents started travelling and became more health-conscious because of diabetes, it became an integral part of their life.
Kabal says, "My parents became avid cooks, always involving us. But they were working a lot when I was young. When I was home alone after school and bored, I'd look at my mum's cookbooks and start baking cakes. That was my first introduction to cooking."
The chef explains that Estonian food has peasant origins, influenced by the people who occupied the country, and those surrounding it: "It's a bit Russian, a bit German, a bit Polish. We also have more of a Scandinavian influence than some of our neighbours. We do smoked fish and fresh flavours because we're next to the sea.
From verivorst to sült, the Kabal family has always embraced secondary cuts: "I'm very used to eating liver and making liver pâté. One of my mum's specialities is confit pigs tails, which is not that normal in most Estonian families."
"My grandmother would make this dish, which translates to meat jelly. It's almost like a pork terrine, but with all the offcuts like trotters, snouts, the whole pig's head and pigs tails. You boil it down, pick the meat, pour over the cooking liquid, set it and you get this clear jelly with pork meat in it. You eat it almost like a cake, with horseradish."
So it's no surprise that when she came to Melbourne after cutting her teeth as a chef at Estonia's capital of Tallinn, Barcelona and London, offal made its way on to her menu at Spanish restaurant Añada and winery Tokar Estate.
"Usually, it's a lot cheaper to work with offal, than most primary cuts. But I also think there's more flavour and that it's more interesting to cook," she says, naming veal sweetbread, bone marrow, tongue and heart as her favourites.
Like all of us, she's spending more time at home at the moment, making hearty vegetable dishes like moussaka and ordering meat from her local butcher. She has also been experimenting with new dishes she'd like to put on the menu at Tokar Estate, like bone marrow and beef heart.
"It's something I wanted to try out because I'm a massive fan of bone marrow, it's probably one of my death row dishes," exclaims Kabal. The bone marrow is roasted with chicken jus and covered with avruga, trout roe and salmon roe. She serves it with roasted beef heart in a fermented shiitake sauce.
"For us, whenever mum would make a roast lamb or something like that, us kids would always suck the bone marrow out of all the bones; it was our treat at the end of a dinner. It's where I got the inspiration for this dish," she explains.
Kabal is still working through the pandemic, preparing Tokar Estate's meal boxes. They contain dishes to finish at home like pine mushroom tagliatelle, pressed lamb shoulder and duck cassoulet, and are delivered to Melbourne's eastern suburbs. They are also available for pick up at the winery.
Beef heart, bone marrow, fermented shiitake, avruga, salmon and trout roe
Brined and grilled beef heart is served with roast bone marrow glazed with chicken and beef jus, fermented shiitake mushrooms, a selection of fish roes and pickled cocktail onion cups.
For this recipe, a few things need to be made ahead of time such as the fermented shiitake and the brined beef heart. The rest of it you can do on the day of cooking the dish.
For the fermented shiitake
- 500 g of fresh shiitake
- 15 g salt
- Just enough water to cover the shiitakes
- Glass jar
1. Gently brush the shiitakes clean of any visible dirt and place into a glass jar
2. Mix water and salt together well and pour over the shiitakes
3. Cover with a muslin cloth or an unused Chux cloth. Wet the cloth and press the shiitakes down with a plate to make sure they are completely submerged in the water.
4. Leave out in room temperature for about a week until you start seeing bubbles form and the shiitakes start to smell sour and garlicky.
5. Taste every now and then to see if the ferment is ready. If a little bit of mould or yeast film forms on top, don't worry. Just replace the cloth and press with a fresh one and keep on fermenting until you like the taste. You can also keep this in the fridge but the ferment will take longer.
6. Once you are happy with the taste, transfer to the fridge.
7. Can take a few days up to a week depending on the temperature in your kitchen.
For the beef brine
- 200g beef heart denuded/cleaned up. Ask your butcher for a steak size portion or get a whole cleaned heart and save the rest for a stir fry or a braise.
- 5 sprigs of thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 black peppercorns
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- Table salt
1. Measure out the amount of water that it takes to completely submerge your beef heart portion and from the amount calculate 8% salt. For example, if it takes 1 litre of water to submerge the beef heart then 8% of that would be 80 grams. An easy formula to calculate this would be: Amount of water needed x 0.08 = amount of salt needed 2. Bring the water to the boil with the rest of the ingredients and cool down completely. Once cold pour over the beef heart and brine in the fridge for 12h.
3. After twelve hours, remove from the fridge, pat dry and marinate with a little bit of olive oil and cling wrap for later.
For the jus
- 1 litre dark Chicken stock
- 1 litre dark Beef stock
- 1 litre Red wine
- 1 carrot
- 4 shallots
- 1 celery stalk
- 5 sprigs of thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
1. Roughly chop all the vegetables and place into a deep pot.
2. Caramelise all the vegetables until golden and pour over all the liquids.
3. Keep reducing until desired consistency is reached. Then strain, discarding the vegetables and keeping the sauce. 4. Keep aside for later.
For the pickled onion cups
- 2 cocktail onions
- 150 ml sherry vinegar
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
1. Peel and halve onions.
2. Heat a non-stick pan until smoking hot and place the onion halves onto the pan cut side down.
3. Caramelise until almost burnt.
4. Turn down the heat, add sugar and vigorously stir with a wooden spoon until caramel forms. Be careful to not burn yourself with hot sugar.
5. Once the caramel has formed, deglaze the pan with sherry vinegar. Be careful of the steam coming from the pan as it will be as hot as the sugar is. The caramel will stiffen at first but will melt back into the vinegar if you keep stirring it on low heat.
6. Add water if the liquid gets too thick. Set aside to cool and once cool, separate the onion cups from each other for serving.
For the bone marrow
- 1 piece of bone marrow cut sideways - your butcher can do this for you
- 100 ml jus
- 10 g salt
- Ice water
- Clean the outside of the bone of any extra meat and sinew so its nice and clean.
- Boil a pot of salted water
1. Once boiling, blanch the bone marrow in the salted water for 3 minutes and then submerge in ice water straight away.
2. Use straight away (instructions for serving below) or strain and save in the fridge for later
- 10 g of avruga
- 10 g of smoked salmon roe
- 10 g of trout roe
- 200 ml of red wine sauce
- 5 pickled onion cups
- Beef heart steak
- 20 g of fermented shiitake
For the bone marrow
1. Preheat oven to 180C
2. On low heat warm up red wine jus in a small saucepan
3. Place bone marrow on an ovenproof tray and cook for 2 minutes.
4. After two minutes, with a pastry brush start brushing the marrow side with red wine jus.
4. Put it back on the oven and repeat this every two minutes for 6 minutes until nicely glazed.
5. Repeat more times if needed.
6. Once ready set aside for serving.
For the red wine jus
1. Save the rest of the jus from glazing the bone marrow for dressing the beef heart
2. Add the desired amount of fermented shiitakes do the jus and keep on a very low heat so it's warm for serving later
For the beef heart
- Canola or any other neutral flavoured oil
- 2 garlic cloves
- 3 sprigs of thyme
- 50 g butter
Take out the beef heart from the fridge and bring it to room temperature.
1. Heat up a non-stick pan on medium heat.
2. Season the beef heart with salt and pepper generously and pan-fry on both sides until caramelised.
3. Beef heart is best-served medium-rare to medium as it will be very tough if overcooked.
4. About 2-3 minutes on each side.
5. Turn off the heat, add garlic, thyme and butter and baste the piece of meat with the foaming garlic butter for a couple of minutes.
6. Rest for another minute and carve.
1. Serve a large slice of beef heart next to the glazed bone marrow. Make sure the bone marrow is warm. If not, reheat in the oven for a minute.
2. Dress the bone marrow side with a mixture of the fish roes, covering almost all the marrow.
3. Dress the bone marrow with the fermented shiitakes and the jus and garnish with pickled onion cups.