While you’ll often hear talk about how our ancestors used every part of the animal, even with the new revival in “nose to tail eating” plenty of parts are still left out. In the US, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone serving lungs, even though they’re a common ingredient in many countries. So how do you cook lungs anyway?
It was just a normal weekday morning at my house, the little ones bouncing about the living room and my husband bundled up to go feed the boiler. Five minutes later he walked back into the house carrying a huge armload of organs and dripped them across the living room floor before plopping them on the kitchen counter.
One of our neighbors had just shot a deer, and it had run onto our land before collapsing between the house and boiler shed. He was part way through gutting it when my husband came out, and he did the neighborly thing and offered a piece to share, namely all the organs above the diaphragm. In Europe, this is referred to as the “pluck” and it’s not uncommon to find fresh lamb pluck for sale in one big bundle at lamb harvest time.
Deer heart is a real treat, arguably one of the very best cuts. Trim it into steaks, give it a quick marinade and cook medium rare for some of the best steaks you’ve ever had. Deer liver is not so spectacular, and you have to be a pretty hardcore liver fan to cook it up. We cooked it anyway and made a downright decent venison pate.
Now comes the real tricky part. How do you cook lungs? I knew they were edible because years ago I came across a British butcher’s cooking video, where he shows you how to make an old school dish called “butchers faggots.” They’re basically meatballs made by grinding all the parts that are hard to sell in a butchers shop and then wrapping the whole thing in lacy caul fat (visceral fat).
He’s since posted a new video, specific to making butchers faggots with deer pluck. The lungs, he says, “have no nutritional value but they do add a lovely texture, making the faggot lighter.”
Since I had already cooked up the heart and liver one way, I needed to find a way to cook just the lungs on their own. I’m skeptical that they have “no nutritional content” but either way, a full pluck of butchers faggots was off the menu.
Eating Lungs in the US
I kept searching for recipes, but time and again, anytime I find recipes for lungs they were British, Italian or Asian recipes. Not one old school country recipe from the US. That struck me as odd, so I pulled out my old copy of Joy of Cooking from the 1970s which has all manner of strange included in its pages. Things that were once common on the American table but have fallen out of favor, like squirrel recipes, and even detailed instructions on how to clean a possum.
That’s where I found the answer…it’s illegal to sell lung in the United States.
After providing detailed instructions on how to cook just about every part of any animal imaginable, the book notes that, “although some of those formerly used, like lungs, are now outlawed.” What?!?! That’s just strange. Why?
A bit more research, and there’s actually a good answer. Quite frankly, the modern slaughterhouse is just not an environment that can ensure a lung is removed in a clean and uncontaminated manner. If the lungs come into contact with the bowels, there’s just no way to really clean them since they’re full of tiny passages.
When just about any other part of the cow falls on a shit stained floor, you can rinse it off. Drop a lung and it’s just full of nasty. Kind of makes you want to go pick up some mass market slaughterhouse meat at the grocery store tonight, no?
In any case, you’re out of luck buying a lung in the US, thus it’s fallen out of our culinary heritage. If you want a lung, you’ll have to carefully pull it out of the animal yourself, or find it on the menu overseas. If you do happen to have a fresh clean one as I do, here are a few ways to cook a lung.
Traditional Italian Lung Recipes
An Italian recipe, Coratella di Abbacchio Con Carciofi, this uses the pluck of a fresh lamb and cooks it with artichokes. It’s a lamb harvest tradition, and it’s often prepared around easter. I found a writeup that cooked it straight out of an old Italian cookbook, and she describes the cooking process as she’s reading the book:
“And this recipe remains one of my all-time favorites if only for one line she uses to describe how to tell if the lungs are done. When you hear the “sibilo caratatteristico,” the characteristic whistle, you know the lungs are done. I remember reading this recipe for the first time, thinking I didn’t understand it. The lungs were going to whistle? Yes, in fact, they do. A high-pitched whistle as the air valves are closing means that the lung is done and it’s time to add the heart, then the liver. “
Unmentionable Cuisine also describes an Italian recipe for lung with beans (Polmoni di vitello con fagioli):
“Brown a sliced onion, some diced salt pork, some crushed garlic, chopped parsley, and chopped celery in a mixture of olive oil and lard. Add cubed calf’s lungs and brown them thoroughly. Add a wineglass or so of white wine, some peeled tomatoes, salt, and pepper, and cook about a half hour. Add a generous quantity of previously cooked kidney beans and a little water, cover, and simmer for about an hour. Add some chopped sweet basil the last few minutes of cooking.”
Romanian Lung Recipes
Similar to the lamb pluck dish in Italy, Romania also has a big meatloaf or casserole style dish that includes lungs called Gusita Sau Drob De Miel. It’s a traditional Easter meal, and it comes together in a big loaf pan of minced lamb everything. There are some really beautiful pictures of the dish here, almost lovely enough to make you forget that it’s made with all the less desirable bits of the animal.
Traditional French Lung Recipes
A recipe from France, Unmentionable Cuisine describes Calf Lung Provence Style and mentions that it’s a good lung recipe for beginners to enjoy. They also note that it works just as well with pig or lamb lungs.
For Calf LungProvence Style (Mou de veau a la Provençal), “Cut beaten calf’s lungs into thin pieces and poach them for 30 minutes in salted water. Drain and dry them. Dredge with seasoned flour. Add them to a pan containing chopped onions fried in oil until golden and cook together until the lungs begin to brown. Add chopped tomatoes, chopped parsley, crushed garlic, salt, pepper, and a generous amount of white wine. Simmer for a half hour.”
The book also describes a second French recipe for Calf’s Lung stew (Civet de mou de veau):
“Salt and pepper pieces of lungs and fry them in butter until well browned. Sprinkle with flour, stir well, and cook for a few minutes more (or thicken with blood). Cover with dry red wine or a mixture of wine and stock. Add a bouquet garni and some crushed garlic. Cover and bake in a moderate oven for 1 1/2 hours. Transfer the pieces of lung to a shallow baking dish and add some chopped and fried bacon, diced or whole mushrooms, and a number of small onions (and/or carrots) fried in butter or with the lean bacon. Cover with the strained cooking liquid and return to the oven for an additional 30 minutes. Garnish with croutons.”
Here are a few more French variations:
Scottish Lung Recipes
Most of us have heard of haggis, if only as a something to joke about being forced to eat. It includes just about every part of the animal, including lungs. Here’s a traditional haggis recipe, with the lungs and everything. Or, you could always just take the convenience food route and try haggis in a can.
Traditional German Lung Recipes
A German dish called Töttchen is also known as “poor people’s eating” because it combined all the undesirable cheap cuts into one dish. It’s basically a calf’s head casserole, with lung, heart and other offal thrown in to bulk it out. It’s still served in many restaurants, but more desirable offal cuts like tongue are used to fancy it up a bit. Unmentionable Cuisine includes a basic recipe:
“Simmer a boned-out calf’s head, a calf lung, and heart, an onion stuck with cloves, and a bay leaf in water to cover until the meats are tender. Cut the meat into pieces. Fry chopped onions in butter until golden, stir in some flour, and then enough of the strained stock to make a smooth sauce. Add some white wine and a little sugar. Reheat the meat in butter, pour the sauce over it, and serve with mustard and black bread.”
The dish lungenragout is another traditional German dish, and includes lungs and heart into a savory stew with onions, carrots, parsnips, and celery. Beuschel is the Austrian version, including heart, lungs, kidney, spleen, and tongue in a cream sauce with dumplings.
Chinese Lung Recipes
Lungs, commonly from pigs, are still common in Chinese cooking. Here are a few recipes to get you started:
Other Lung Recipes?
This is more or less a brief survey of lung recipes from around the world, but I know it barely scratches the surface. People have been eating nose to tail for millennia, knowing that pieces wasted would come back to haunt them in times of hunger. Have you eaten lung? How was it prepared?