Chitterlings (// or //; sometimes spelled/pronounced chitlins or chittlins) are a prepared food usually made from the small intestines of a pig, although the intestines of cattle and other animals are sometimes used.
Etymology and early usage
Chitterling is first documented in Middle English by the Oxford English Dictionary, in the form cheterling, c1400. Various other spellings and dialect forms were used. The primary form and derivation are uncertain.
A 1743 English cookery book The Lady's Companion: or, An Infallible Guide to the Fair Sex contained a recipe for "Calf's Chitterlings" which was essentially a bacon and offal sausage in a calf's intestine casing. The recipe explained the use of calf's, rather than the more usual pig's, intestines with the comment that "[these] sort of ... puddings must be made in summer, when hogs are seldom killed". This recipe was repeated by the English cookery writer Hannah Glasse in her 1784 cookery book Art of Cookery.
Distribution, different traditions
As pigs are a common source of meat in many parts of the world, the dish known as chitterlings can be found in most pork-eating cultures. Chitterlings made from pig intestines are popular in many parts of Europe, and are still eaten in the southern U.S.
Chitterlings were common peasant food in medieval England, and remained a staple of the diet of low-income families right up until the late 19th century. Thomas Hardy wrote of chitterlings in his novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles, when the father of a poor family, John Durbeyfield, talks of what he would like to eat:
It illustrates that chitterlings were the poorest choice of poor food. George Sturt, writing in 1919 details the food eaten by his farming family in Farnborough when he was a child (probably around 1830):
During the winter they had chance to weary of almost every form and kind of pig-meat: hog's puddings, gammons, chitterlings, souse, salted spareribs -they knew all the varieties and welcomed any change. Mutton they almost never tasted: but sometimes they had a calf's head; sometimes even, though less often, a joint of veal.
Chitterlings are the subject of a song by 1970s Scrumpy and Western comedy folk band, The Wurzels, who come from the southwest of England. Chitterlings, though much declined in popularity, are still enjoyed in the UK today.
The Balkans, Greece, and Turkey
Kokoretsi, kukurec, or kokoreç, are usually prepared and stuffed, then grilled on a spit. In several countries such as Turkey, Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, lamb intestines are widely used. In Turkish cuisine, the intestines are often chopped and cooked with oregano, peppers, and other spices.
Gallinejas are a traditional dish in Madrid. The dish consists of sheep's small intestines, spleen, and pancreas, fried in their own fat in such a manner that they form small spirals. The dish is served hot, often with French fries. Few establishments today serve gallinejas, as this is considered to be more of a speciality than a common dish. It is most commonly served during festivals.
Zarajo: A traditional dish from Cuenca is zarajo, braided sheep's intestines rolled on a vine branch and usually broiled, but also sometimes fried, and sometimes smoked, usually served hot as an appetizer or tapa. A similar dish from La Rioja is embuchados, and from the province of Aragon, madejas, all made with sheep's intestines and served as tapas.
Tricandilles are a traditional dish in Gironde. They are made of pig's small intestines, boiled in bouillon, then grilled on a fire of grapevine cane. This is considered an expensive delicacy.
People in the Caribbean and Latin America eat chitterlings. Chinchulín (in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay) or chunchule (in Chile) (from the Quechua ch'unchul, meaning "intestine") is the cow's small intestine used as a foodstuff. Other name variations from country to country are caldo avá (Paraguay), tripas or mondongo (Dominican Republic), choncholi (Peru), chunchullo, chinchurria or chunchurria (Colombia), chinchurria (Venezuela), tripa mishqui (Ecuador) and tripa (Mexico).
In Mexico, tripas are considered a delicacy. They are very popular served as a guisado in tacos. They are cleaned, boiled, sliced, and then fried until crispy. They are often served with a spicy, tangy tomatillo-based salsa. In Guadalajara, along with the traditional preparation for tacos, they are often prepared as a dish, served with a specialized sauce in a bowl and accompanied by a stack of tortillas, additional complementary sauces, limes, and salt.
Chitterlings are also eaten as a dish in many East Asian cuisines.
Both large and small intestine (typically pig) is eaten throughout China. Large intestine is called feichang, literally "fat intestine" because it is fatty. Small intestine is called zhufenchang, literally "pig powder intestine" because it contains a white, pasty or powdery substance. The character "zhu" or "pig" is added at the beginning to disambiguate. This is because, in Cantonese cuisine, there is a dish called chang fen which uses intestine-shaped noodles.
Large intestine is typically chopped into rings and has a stronger odor than small intestine. It is added to stir-fry dishes and soups. It is also slow-cooked or boiled and served as a standalone dish. It releases oil that may be visible in the dish. Small intestine is normally chopped into tubes and may be simply boiled and served with a dipping sauce. Preparation techniques and serving presentations for both small and large intestine vary greatly within the country.
In Japan, chitterlings or "motsu" もつ are often fried and sold on skewers or "kushi" 串 in kushikatsu 串カツ or kushiage 串揚げ restaurants and street vendor pushcarts. It is also served as a soup called "motsuni" もつ煮 with miso, ginger, and finely chopped green onions to cut the smell, as well as other ingredients and internal organs such as the stomach and depending on the preparer. In Okinawa, the soup is called "nakamijiru" 中身汁 and served without miso as the chitterlings are put through a long cleaning process to get rid of the smell so it is not needed. In Nagoya it is called "doteyaki" どて焼き and is served with red miso and without the soup. In preparation of chitterlings for use, well-informed cooks feel the need to filter the potent aroma with white bread or a slice of potato on the rim of the cooking pot to keep their neighbors from just dropping in for a meal.
In Korea, chitterlings (Gopchang) are grilled or used for stews (Jeongol) in Korea. When they are grilled, they are often accompanied by various seasonings and lettuce leaves (to wrap). Stew is cooked with various vegetables and seasonings.
In the Philippines, pig intestines (Filipino: bituka ng baboy) are used in dishes such as dinuguan (pig blood stew). Grilled intestines are known as isaw and eaten as street food. Chicken intestines (isaw ng manok, compared to isaw ng baboy) are also used. Pig intestines are also prepared in a similar manner to pork rinds, known locally as chicharon. Two distinct types of these are called chicharon bituka and chicharon bulaklak, differing in the part of the intestine used.
Chitterlings are carefully cleaned and rinsed several times before they are boiled or stewed for several hours. A common practice is to place a halved onion in the pot to mitigate the very unpleasant odor that can be particularly strong when the chitterlings begin to cook. Chitterlings sometimes are battered and fried after the stewing process and commonly are served with apple cider vinegar and hot sauce as condiments.
When slavery was legal in America, slave owners commonly fed their slaves as cheaply as possible. At hog butchering time, the best cuts of meat were kept for the master's household and the remainder, such as fatback, snouts, ears, neck bones, feet, and intestines, were given to the slaves.
In 2003, the Smithsonian Institution's Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture accepted the papers of Shauna Anderson and her business, The Chitlin Market, as part of its emerging collection of materials about African American celebrations, foods and foodways.
In 1965, blues harmonica player and vocalist Junior Wells recorded a song, "Chitlin Con Carne" (compare for reference "Chitlins Con Carne," a composition by jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell), on his acclaimed Delmark Records album, Hoodoo Man Blues. In 1991, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble also released a song under that title on The Sky Is Crying. Other notable blues songs with references to chitlins were recorded in 1929 by Peg Leg Howell ("Chittlin' Supper"), and in 1934 by the Memphis Jug Band ("Rukus Juice and Chittlin'"). Gus Jenkins, Johnny Otis, and Arthur Williams have also recorded songs with a reference to chitlins in their title.
The song "Chittlin’ Cookin’ Time In Cheatham County" is well covered by various Bluegrass and Old-Timey bands as well as Jazz and Blues versions.E.G. from Pokey LaFarge, The Old Time Snake Milkers, The Juggernaut String Band. Many others.
Disease can be spread by chitterlings not cleaned properly and undercooked. Pathogens include E. coli, Yersinia enterocolitica, and Salmonella. Chitterlings are often soaked and rinsed thoroughly in several different cycles of cool water, and repeatedly picked clean by hand, removing extra fat, undigested food, and specks of feces. They may then be turned inside out, cleaned and boiled, sometimes in baking soda and/or salt, and the water discarded.
- Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed
- The Lady's Companion: or, An Infallible Guide to the Fair Sex (1743). T. Read, London, Digitized by Google Books
- The Lady's Companuion p. 310 – Chitterlings
- Hannah Glasse (1784) The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy
- Sturt G, William Smith, Potter and Farmer 1790-1858
- "Kokorec Recipe". grouprecipes.com. Retrieved 2011-04-27.
- "Zarajo and other Spanish terms". Dictionary of the Spanish language (in Spanish). Real Academia Española. Retrieved 8 September 2013.
- "Chinchulín, chunchules, and other Spanish terms". Dictionary of the Spanish language (in Spanish). Real Academia Española. Retrieved 8 September 2013.
- "Fried Chitterlings (Chitlins) and Hog Maws". The Chitterling Site. Archived from the original on 2007-06-21. Retrieved 2007-06-21.
- Alonso, Maribel. "Preparing Chitterlings for the Holidays". FoodSafety.gov. US Dept of Health & Human Services. Retrieved 16 September 2017.