A far cry from the grade school days when the only thing you dreaded more than Friday homework was the indescribable mound of “meat product” plodded onto your lunch tray every Thursday, scrap meats–or meats that were considered less desirable by the general consumer public–have become something of a precious commodity over the past decade or so.
Jowl, cheek, brains, kidneys, snouts and even whole heads of animals have played host to the bold culinary journey through meat history. It’s a scary territory, I know, but with my help I can put you on the right track to tackling the final frontier of the meat realm.
1. Be Prepared
The funny thing about “scrap meats” is that people tend to give them far less credit then they really deserve. Let’s put it this way: even on a bad day, I’ll take some pan-seared calf brains over a steak or pork chop any day. Want to know why? It’s all in the preparation. Knowing how to prepare a good set of kidneys or hog’s head is really half the battle. You’ll be surprised how much flavor and character can come from the kinds of meats that most wouldn’t even think twice about consuming.
2. Make Friends
I know I’ve mentioned this in the past, but I can’t stress this enough when it comes to selecting the right cuts of meat: talk to your butcher! Now, I know that most chain grocery stores don’t make it a point to carry the scrap parts of their livestock, but that I can assure you that they know someone that does. If you’re lucky enough to have a legitimate butchery in your city or neighborhood take full advantage of this. These people know their stuff and are always appreciative of those who like to test the limits of convention.
3. Texture vs. Taste
That’s really what it boils down to. Your best bet is to familiarize yourself with the different textures that each piece of meat brings to the table. This knowledge with help you determine which recipes will work best with your palette. For example, calf brains retain an almost creamy/milky texture once cooked. Sweetbreads (the thymus glands of cows, pigs and lamb) have a flakier, chicken-like texture especially when fried, but packs a really rich flavor.