Exploring the Unusual is not a series about great recipes. Instead, it’s about tasting the odd bits, eating from nose to tail, and exploring atypical meat cuts and other produce most of us don’t eat, or cook, regularly.
My decision to buy lamb lung at Boucherie Lawrence elicited giggles and a great deal of bewilderment from my friends and family. I admit to having taken a fair amount of time making the decision to purchase it. Needing an atypical cut of meat for this series, my options that day were lamb kidneys, liver and lung… How often have you seen or eaten lung?
Turns out, compared to most foods, there isn’t that much information online about cooking lung. What’s most surprising is that, in the U.S., livestock lungs for human consumption have been illegal since 1971.
According to a Vice Munchies article, “The reasoning behind the USDA’s ban on lungs is generally couched in terms of food safety. Fluids—specifically, ones that might make you squeamish, including stomach fluids—sometimes make their way into the lungs of an animal during the slaughtering process.”
I reminded myself that many cultures eat lung. Why wouldn’t I? Having seen cooks prepare a beef heart for cooking by cleaning the muscle from the arteries and cartilage, I decided to do the same with the lung. This wasn’t a great idea.
With the wrong knives and no tweezers, I spent a good 30 minutes struggling to cut around the tough trachea and bronchi with my butcher’s knife, which is the sharpest knife I own. The whole thing was rather gruesome and not what I would describe as enticing. If you’re willing to try cooking with lung yourself, learn from my mistake: I was later told that you should prepare and clean your lung after having cooked it.
Upon finishing, I threw the usable pieces into simmering salted water with bay leaves, whole peppercorns and juniper berries and let that cook for about half an hour.
After poaching it, I tried a piece and was, admittedly, slightly disappointed. Clearly, the most exciting part of the journey was over. The macabre experiment had passed and I was left with mild-tasting offal meat. I would describe it as a mix between liver and heart. The iron flavor was perceptible but not unpalatable and its texture was a bit rubbery.
Nevertheless, if you’re the adventurous type and want to give lung a try, using it in smaller amounts and mixing it in with complementary flavors and textures is a good way to go. New eaters—myself included—would rather start with bite-sized pieces to become accustomed to its taste.
Here are two recipes with lung!
Poached lung, pickled vegetables, cucumber, mustard and coriander salad:
To accentuate its texture and make it more visually appealing, I decided to use pieces of lung in a colorful salad.
Ingredients(quantities are adaptable):
For pickled veggies:
Apple cider vinegar
Whole pepper corns
1. First, make a quick pickle of rutabaga and carrots, and let this marinate overnight.
2. When you’re ready to assemble the salad, sautée some button mushrooms in butter and a splash of white wine, thinly sliced some cucumber, cut the lung in bite sized pieces, and chop some fresh coriander.
3. Put everything into a bowl, add grain mustard and mix the ingredients with seasoning, a splash of lemon juice and olive oil. The pickles provide a sweet vinegary bite; the cucumber, coriander and lemon add freshness; and the mushrooms and lung add a depth of flavor and texture that would have been missing otherwise.
This recipe turned out quite well. It looked good and tasted fresh. I could totally see myself making this for open-minded acquaintances. One thing to remember is that you need to make sure to balance your pickled veg with everything else: you don’t want the taste of vinegar to overwhelm the other flavors.
For a dish where each bite of lung would be infused with a variety of flavors, I made a hearty autumn stew. In this way, the lung’s flavor would assume a more subtle personality.
Ingredients (quantities are adaptable):
1. Take a small piece of smoked lardon and start by cooking it on medium heat in a casserole.
2. When the bacon has become dark but not burned, sautée chopped onions, carrots and celery in its liquefied fat.
3. Add liberal amounts of garlic, some bay leaves and about half a cup of white wine.
4. Cook everything down for a few minutes and add chopped turnip, rutabaga and black eyed peas (soak these in water for a few hours beforehand).
5. Add a cup of veal stock and enough water to cover all the ingredients. Let the stew simmer for about 2 hours, season it, and finely slice some fresh parsley for serving.
If you want to share your culinary experiments with friends and family, this kind of dish might be the way to go. The lung tastes like a meaty mushroom and if you wait to tell everyone what it actually is, most of them will like it.
Cooking with lung provides its thrills and some uncomfortable laughter, which I can’t help enjoying, but it did leave me wanting more. The taste and texture were innocuous, and it doesn’t seem to provide something unique that I couldn’t replicate with other ingredients. That being said, there are some lung recipes that could be worth interpreting; for example, Austrians make Beuschel, a thick ragout of heart and lungs that’s very intriguing.
I won’t be eating lung very often, but now that I’ve tried it, I know that it’s rather harmless!