– by Jakob Anderson, Food Writer –
Please share. It’s good karma 🙂
I was raised on chicken breasts, steaks and ground meats, just like most of you. This is typical in many North American households, particularly Caucasians who don’t have many ties to their heritage. There is nothing wrong with eating this way, except for the fact that your missing out on some of the tastiest meals you will ever encounter. Using “odd cuts,” (they have taken on many names) will expand your palate, improve your cooking skills and save you a considerable amount of money!
Going to culinary school opened my eyes to the wonders of these often neglected proteins, from beef cheek to the succulent lamb rib. Our grandparents are familiar with a lot of these meats, as they were the only options back when times were tough. Our modern society, however, cringes at the thought of eating a tongue or a jowl, which is highly unfortunate. Much of this neglect is due to lack of experience with these cuts, in terms of both eating and preparation. The restaurant industry has been on to them for years because they are relatively inexpensive, and because trained cooks know how to handle them. A home cook would be surprised by how simple many offals (another name) are to work with!
The odd cuts are parts of the animal that you usually won’t find in your local supermarket, though there are many that are starting to catch on. For example, on a cow, the majority of the world buys strip loins, sirloins, ribeyes, prime ribs, sirloin tips, inside rounds or ground beef. But what do you think happens to the rest of that animal? A cow has a face, some hooves, even a heart! These animals gave their lives to be on our plates, why not use all their parts? Most butcher shops carry these cuts, as they are more likely to order a whole animal and cut it up themselves then order a box of pork loins, for example.
Don’t be intimidated to ask your local butcher how to cook the product you’re buying! A beef cheek braised slowly with lots of strong, in-your-face flavors such as red wine and rosemary can be one of the most succulent bites you will ever eat. Cooked correctly, these cuts portray very familiar flavors as well (yes, I have tricked people into eating weird things, and they have loved it 100% of the time).
The restaurant industry has been promoting this concept for years, understanding that these cuts taste amazing and the fact that people are most likely to try something new while dining out. Some establishments base their entire concept on these odd cuts! With more young people interested in food culture, the move is paying off. Don’t be grossed out or intimated by the strange shape of these cuts; give them a chance and you’ll be succulently surprised.
Recipe: Braised Beef Cheek with Red Wine
This is the easiest intro into the world of odd cuts. You can treat this like a slow cooker recipe, put it on in the morning before work and dinner is ready when you come home! Serve with mashed potatoes and steamed asparagus and your weeknight meal is complete.
2 to 3 beef cheeks (depending on the size)
2 liters beef stock
2 onions, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 celery stalk
5 cloves garlic
2 cups red wine
1 Tbsp tomato paste
3 sprigs of thyme and rosemary
2 Tbsp grapeseed or canola oil
3 Tbsp ground black pepper (I use about 5, but I’m a pepper fiend)
Salt to taste
Set oven at 225ºF. Season cheeks on both sides with a good amount of salt. Heat deep, oven-proof pan on high heat with oil. Hold your hand over pan to test heat; you shouldn’t be able to hold it there for more than 3 seconds. Once you reach that temperature, add cheeks. Heavily sear (brown) cheeks on both sides and then remove from pan. If more oil is needed at this point, add it as well as the onions, celery, carrot and garlic. Brown in pan. Add the tomato paste and use it to scrape the bottom of the pan, freeing the crispy, stuck-on parts (key step). Add the red wine and reduce heat to medium, letting wine reduce by half. Add beef cheeks back to pan, nestling them among the vegetables. Add the beef stock, pepper, thyme and rosemary. Bring liquid up to a boil, cover pan with lid and place in oven for 6 hours. Once cheeks are done cooking, remove from pan and allow to rest for 10 min (it’s worth it). While meat is resting, reduce liquid in pan to create a rich gravy.
Jakob Anderson is a trained cook and food enthusiast who approaches cooking as something that connects people in ways they don’t realize. “I love talking about food, eating food, thinking food, discussing food, debating food, think about debating food, fooding food? I love food.”