Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Eating head to tail

I frequently talk about sourcing meats from humane sources, which I know many of the followers of this blog do. But beyond where you get your meat from, have you ever thought much about the cuts of meat you eat?

I know it’s sort of a weird question to ask. No one really thinks about it. But much like I shared a few days back that I am challenging myself to try new vegetables and fruits, I’m also challenging myself with trying new cuts of meat.

This all started a year or two ago when I started watching Anthony Bourdain’s show “No Reservations” pretty religiously. My husband and I are into travel as much as we’re into food, so our TV watching reflects these passions in our life. In any case, watching the show opened my eyes to just how twisted our attitude is about meat here in the U.S.

Often on the show, Bourdain is invited to be a part of his host country’s food traditions. One thing I began to notice is that no matter where he traveled to, these countries honored all parts of the animal by using every last piece in its cooking. I’ve watched Bourdain eat pig snouts, pig ears, chicken feet, sweet breads, organ meat, tripe, blood sausage and countless other items that the majority of U.S. citizens would gag over.

Before industrial farming in the U.S. started 40 or so years ago, this is how most farmers and Americans ate too. But as industrial farming took over and fast food companies requested very specific items for their menus, we became accustomed to eating only very specific cuts of meat like steaks, pork chops and chicken breasts. The rest of the animal, well, who cares?

This creates a problem for small, local farmers who are raising their animals humanely because when they try to sell the meat, grocers, restaurants and consumers only want specific cuts of the animal, sticking the farmer with the responsibility for figuring out what to do with the rest. As a result, many wonderful farmers are unable to get their meat to market because it doesn’t make economic sense to harvest an animal for select parts. Not to mention the sheer disrespect for an animal that the farmer has lovingly cared for since birth, only to be largely wasted.

All that said, I’m challenging myself to be part of the solution by trying some less familiar cuts of meat. My first foray into the unknown was with oxtail, which is the tail of the cow. When I requested it from my farmer, his eyes lit up with excitement that I was asking for one of his lesser requested items. He and his wife suggested I use it in a slow cooker stew, as the meat requires tenderizing and the bones make fantastic broth.

Though I have some tweaking to do to the recipe I tried, I was impressed by how delicious and flavorful the meat was, and how easy it was to cook with a different part of the animal. I plan to try it again, and to try other “weird” cuts of meat to fill out our menu, save some money (odd cuts of meat are cheaper), and expand our palettes to enjoy more parts of the animals we eat.

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