August 6

A Cut Above

2  comments

The New York Times Sunday Magazine a while back carried an article entitled “Super Cuts” in its cooking feature “The Way We Eat” by Daniel Patterson. (Try though I might to find it elsewhere on the net, I could only come up with the NY Times archive, which can only be had free to subscribers, though there is a 14-day Free Trial Offer available.) The piece detailed the rising trend among top chefs of offering off-beat, oft-neglected, less expensive cuts of meat on their menus: pig’s feet, beef and veal cheeks, lamb’s neck, pork belly, and others. The great wide world of meat out there beyond steaks, ribs, and shoulders. For those who complain that a meat-based diet is just too expensive, they offer a reasonable (and flavorful) solution.

I recall as a child being absolutely horrified at my parents’, especially my mother and her family’s, love of pig’s feet and calf brains. What could they be thinking? Then, again, I tended to be a sort of picky eater–no liver, no lumps (nuts) no strings (coconut) no thighs or drumsticks, no giblets or tongues, and for sure, no cheeks or tootsies for me, thanks.

But that was then, when I was young and foolish, before I had yet acquired the taste for (as I admonished my own children to say in place of ‘I don’t like that!’) and a willingness to try almost everything.

I think fear of mad cow disease has effectively quashed the likelihood that Brains and Eggs (one of my mother’s favorites) will be turning up on many menus nowadays, but more and more the others seem to be making a bigger splash than ever in restaurants from New York to Napa.

Lower priced cuts of meat, such as beef cheeks, pork belly, chicken necks, and pig’s feet, have always held a place of honor in rural Southern and Soul Food cuisines in great measure for just that reason–they were an inexpensive way to put meat on the family’s table. For just the same reason, they were eschewed by the more affluent regions, who disparaged them as ‘poor folk’s food.’ More’s the pity for the high fallutin, since despite their humble origins, these cuts offer some of the richest, best flavor on the animal.

Learning to cook them, like learning to cook anything new, just takes a few good recipes and a little effort, but the payoff in flavor (not to mention the pocketbook) will more than justify. For those interested in giving it a try, click here and here for a couple of recipe options and here and here for a couple of sources.

If you’re a novice cooker of ‘lesser parts’ this should get you started. If you’re on old hand and have other favorite recipes for eating ‘low on the hog’ as it were, and would like to share them, please feel free to do so in the comments section.

Bon Apetit,ya’ll!


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  1. Dr. Eades:
    Thanks for the memories. My mother made the best pork hock and feet dish. She simmered them slowly all day, with garlic and salt, and then removed all skin, bones and gristle, placed the meat in dishes and poured the broth to cover and placed in the fridge overnight. We always had this on special occasions (with a touch of vinegar and rye bread) along with other items (about 10 times a year), everyone and I mean everyone loved it, and when we left home Mom would make it again to draw us back to her place if we didn’t show up often enough. That and her homemade potato and buckwheat pie :

    The pig’s feet recipe is an excellent low carb dish but it’s so time consuming, messy and requires extra stoves and refrigerator areas that I can’t provide. Mom always used her stove in the basement. I’d love to give you the name of this dish but the country we come from has 3 names for this dish and anytime anyone uses one of the names, there is a huge and inflamed discussion by language purists on what the correct term is, and we don’t use the cyrillic alphabet on these blogs. Don’t want to start a war, lol, enough of those already.

    COMMENT from MD EADES: The dish sounds divine–exactly how much extra space does it require. Perhaps you might provide the recipe with no name at least for those who have the spare fridge in the garage and a double oven.

    Reminds me of an old episode of All In The Family when Edith had gone to the store for some cling peahes in heavy syrup. She picked up a bunch of other things, too, and when shee took the cart to the car, it got away from her and nearly crashed into an expensive new car in the lot. Unfortunately, the can of cling peaches in heavy syrup flew out and dented the car (or broke the windshield, maybe) and the Bunkers were on the hook for the repairs. When Edith related the story to Archie, he got so upset that he forbade her to utter the words ‘cling peaches’ again. So, in telling the full story, she resorted to saying ‘mm-mm-mm’ in heavy syrup, which is what my family forever called them. Thanks back, for the memory.

  2. First, Mom used the biggest pot you can imagine, so the end product ended up in about 6 flat type dishes (think one of those glass 5 x 12 type dishes). They weren’t very deep but took a lot of space. Skimming the fat off the top was optional, lol which was great for us fat lovers.

    She would fill the pot with water and let it boil. Then she would dump the water. She did this twice because she wanted a clear broth. Then she would let the whole thing simmer all day at least 12 hours. Very basic. Then she would strain the broth from solid stuff. Then only use the meat and throw the skin, fat and bone out. She’d put about an 1 inch layer of meat and pour broth over it so that the thickness would be about 3 inches. That was because we loved the broth. It was a matter of personal preference. A lot of people liked more meat. OUr family liked more of the geled broth.

    Anyway, it’s an acquired taste. I am attaching links to variations on this theme. Some people use all sorts of meat, pork, turkey etc. You will notice the different names used for the same thing, lol.

    http://foodgeeks.com/recipes/recipe/17672,ukrainian_meat_in_aspic_kholodets.phtml

    http://www.recipe-recipes-message-board.com/forum/view_topic.php?id=2555&forum_id=10

    http://www.brama.com/yonkersukrainianfest/recipe_studynets.html

    http://www.recipezaar.com/154189

    That should give you a general idea as to what this is.

    COMMENT from MD EADES: Sounds like quite a process, but I’ll bet it’s delicious. Simmering skin and bones and all for a long period to extract all the flavor is not easy, but worth the effort. Thanks for the links.

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