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.