Beef: Head to Tail
Updated: Jan 8, 2019
Using the whole beef, head to tail, is gratifying and reveals hidden culinary treasures Learn about ox tail, beef cheek, hanger steak and other cuts that are less familiar to the American palate but oh, so good.
I find so much beauty in my work, beauty and awe. Usually, it will show itself to me in the small things, the little details that present themselves to me elegantly in colors, shapes and textures. I see them every day and it is inspiring.
That is how, for example, composing the picture above came to pass. We were breaking down a side of beef. At some point, when I looked down at the work table, I could see the beauty of what we do here at the shop right in front of me.
Using the whole beef, nose to tail, has its challenges, requiring complex procedures and hard work. It also elicits respect and gratitude to each and every part. It’s deeply gratifying for me to be able to extend this approach to my community.
Now, as happy as this makes me, I am also aware that some of the lesser-known parts presented here could be challenging to our customers, most of whom have never had the chance to be exposed to them in this country. That is part of our mission, too. We do like to challenge you a bit. By not hiding the source, we like to remind you where your food comes from and the respect it deserves.
Let’s look at the picture again. These cuts that most people shy away from or are not familiar with are, in my opinion, hidden culinary treasures:
The ox tail (...or really, just a tail) responds so beautifully to a long deep braise. It will transform into an experience of highly succulent pleasure that will remain with you long after you have finished your meal.
The beef cheek, too, is happy in a long braise of, say, red wine and shallots. Because it is small and there is not much of it per beef, it is a perfect companion to share a dish with the ox tail. It will turn into a meltingly tender, sweet little pillow with dreamy buttery flavors.
The sweetbreads are my favorite of all organ meats. Loved in so many cultures, it can be prepared in so many ways. It can be crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside and elegant with depth and texture in sauces as in French cooking. It can be grilled, with no fanfare, on an open fire, as in many South American countries. In my country, Israel, it is skewered over hot coals and served in a pita as street food.
I think of the hanger steak (or Onglet, as it is called in France, where it is very popular) as part steak, part organ meat, or a steak that grew up in the organ meats’ neighborhood. Really awesome and unique in flavor, it is beefy and bloody and my son’s favorite cut of meat. You almost can’t mess it up. It will give and forgive.
The beef tongue is a problematic cut in the US. It demands that we know what we eat. No pretending is possible here, but once you accept it, you have a most tender soft cut. It is the “marshmallow of beef”, if I may say so. It should be boiled in liquid 3-4 hours, then sliced and served in any of a variety of ways. My mother used to serve it in white wine and mushrooms. In the words of chef Fergus Henderson, “Slices of boiled tongue are like little angels’ wings.” Bring these ideas into your kitchens. Look up recipes and expand your palate and appreciation. After all, In the kitchen, as in the bedroom and in life altogether, variety is always a good idea. Enjoy!
Homestead Meats is Evanston’s first locally sourced butcher shop, handcrafting unique fresh meats, deli meats, sausages and other charcuterie. All fresh meats and eggs are sourced from family-owned Midwestern farms that raise their livestock in open pastures, without hormones or GMO feed.