The Offal Revival
No self-respecting conversation about going green, conservation or sustainability is complete without a discussion of whole animal butchery, or its more illustrative colloquialism — nose/snout to tail. Once upon a time, the idea of eating offal (edible organs) and underused cuts of meat perhaps brought to mind images of the Plains Indians one learns about in elementary school who famously made use of every piece of the sacred buffalo they both hunted and worshipped. These days, however, it’s the bearded butcher betwixt the glass counter and white subway tile along with his counterpart, the modern chef and her meticulously sourced menu, who lead the charge in reviving this fundamental yet nearly forgotten facet of food culture. Though commonly accepted as a popular culinary trend, many still find eating what was previously thrown out hard to swallow. Chalk it up to the mental separation between man and his dinner that modern convenience and the industrialization of meat processing has made wider than times gone by.
For some, like those of my parents' generation, offal was eaten for its frugality if not flat-out necessity. Their parents still subscribed to the idea of “waste not, want not,” having lived through the Great Depression and carrying with them the values and austerity of leaner days. But to their children, boiled cow tongue sandwiches and liver and onions were something they happily left behind as they ventured willingly into the age of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, processed convenience and all the trappings of prosperity this bold, new future held in store. Those regrettable memories became the horror stories they told their children in an attempt to make us better appreciate the instant satisfaction and fortified nutrition found in their handy blue boxes.
Fast-forward a couple decades and what’s old is new again, as the hippest restaurants proudly parade plates of fried sweetbread nuggets, housemade pates and braises of unfamiliar cuts to a new generation of adventurous gourmands who happily gobble up what was once considered refuse. Meanwhile, as society rediscovers what it so easily forgot, one doesn’t have far to look to discover traditions of nose-to-tail eating that never took their food for granted. While the rest of us turned up our noses to the less desirable parts only to later applaud ourselves for eating responsibly, the notion of getting the most out of an animal’s sacrifice was never lost in the home kitchens and restaurants of many immigrant cultures.
JACK'S PICK FOR OFFAL AROUND TOWN
From haute cuisine to hole in the wall, here are but a few of the bold bites one can sample here on the First Coast that proudly feature rare cuts in some ofall-y surprising ways that may just leave you wondering why anyone in their right mind would have ever thought to toss them aside.
OXTAILS AT POTTER’S HOUSE SOUL FOOD BISTRO - Oxtails are nothing more than the tail meat and bones of the cow (that’s right, they don’t even come from oxen anymore). In fact, they’re one of the most flavorful cuts of meat, practically dissolving in your mouth after a long, slow braise. They’re so good that folks line up on for them at Potter’s House whether on the the buffet line or fried into wontons.
PHO WITH TRIPE AND TENDON AT PHO 99 VIETNAMESE GRILL - Tendon is nothing more than the tissue that holds muscle to bone which you’ve probably inadvertently consumed if you’ve ever had a chicken wing. It breaks down in the hot broth to lend a gelatinous quality, while tripe, or stomach lining, contributes a dense, chewy texture. Both are mild in flavor, absorbing the rich beef broth.
TACO PEPE WITH LENGUA (BEEF TONGUE) AT PEPE’S HACIENDA - If you think about it, the tongue is just another muscle, so why wouldn’t you put it in a taco? Texturally, lengua can be a bit challenging, but after a long simmering bath with some onions and herbs followed by a quick fry on the griddle, they’re actually quite nice. Top it with enough fresh onion, avocado and queso fresco, and you’re all set.
ANTICUCHOS (BEEF HEART SKEWERS) AT LLAMA RESTAURANT - Guess what beef heart tastes like? You got it, beef. Again, it’s nothing more than a specialized muscle that just so happens to also be an organ, so quit fussing and think of it as a steak because ultimately, that’s all it is. Once marinated and grilled to perfection, you probably won’t even be able to tell the difference.
BRAISED VEAL CHEEK AT MATTHEW’S RESTAURANT - We’re taking it pretty easy on you with this list, in case you didn’t notice. Cheek meat doesn’t even sound gross. The only challenging part about it is that you’re probably just not used to it, but it’s braised in a cocoa sauce for Pete’s sake — as in chocolate. How could you go wrong?
PHO-STYLE HEAD CHEESE AT BLACK SHEEP RESTAURANT - Trust me when I say that head cheese is a heck of a lot tastier than it sounds. This sometime weekend special is made from the head meat of sustainably sourced pigs from Grassroots Farms in nearby Waverly, Georgia. The entire head is cooked in pho broth, picking up rich gelatin from the bones before allowing to set in a terrine.
CRISPY CHICKEN LIVERS AT MOXIE KITCHEN + COCKTAILS - Livers are understandably a little hard to love. They don’t look very pretty and somewhere along the way, someone has probably forced you to eat them without properly cleaning them or overcooked them to the point of being chalky and bitter. That being said, there isn’t anything enough hot sauce and blue cheese can’t make delicious, am I right?