Calf brains, pig snouts and beef cheeks: Yuck, right?
Not so fast. While the rest of the world has been doing this for centuries, Americans are just starting to catch up when it comes to nose-to-tail eating. Nontraditional cuts of meat are popping up on menus from Portland to Miami. And people are loving them.
At Cafe Marie Jeanne in Chicago, chef and owner Mike Simmons said he was getting bored playing it safe with dishes like cheesy broccoli. So he bought 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) of calf brains, prepared them with lemon, capers, and herbs, and offered them at brunch. He figured he’d sell a few and throw away the rest.
Instead, he sold out, and customers came back asking for the dish that’s now become a menu staple. Other recent hits: rabbit kidneys with mustard sauce, and for Valentine’s Day, “fun and snacky” charcoal-grilled chicken hearts.
People are looking for “something adventurous to eat,” Simmons said.
Items like offal and sweetbreads have been on trendy New York restaurant menus for a few years, but as foodie culture goes mainstream, nontraditional cuts of meat are becoming more prevalent. In Denver’s historic Larimer Square district, you can order Pad Thai Pig Ears at gastropub Euclid Hall, and in Phoenix, grab some pig face dumplings at Asian fusion joint Clever Koi.
Brains and hearts capture the imagination, but the trend also trickles into meat cuts that are less exotic, but nonetheless were mostly ignored for decades. Think skirt steaks, flatirons, short ribs and briskets — things that used to be tossed off as the cheap stuff, or ground into sausages.
Because of the newfound demand, the spread between prices for the most desirable cuts of meat, like ribeye steaks, and so-called lower cuts, like the flank, are narrowing, according to Ariane Daguin, co-founder and owner of D’Artagnan LLC, a wholesale and e-commerce food company in Union, New Jersey.
Even though dishes like chitlins have long been part of soul-food culture, the nose-to-tail movement in the U.S. really started taking off in 2008 as the recession forced chefs to get creative to bring down food costs. Processors and butchers began to cut animals into smaller, finer pieces that are more interesting,…