Beef: Head to Tail
Using the whole beef, head to tail, is gratifying and reveals hidden culinary treasures. Learn about oxtail, beef cheek, hanger steak, sweetbreads, and other cuts that are less familiar to the American palate but oh, so good.
I find so much beauty and awe in my work. 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 they inspire me.
That is how, for example, the photo above came to pass. We were breaking down a side of beef. When I looked down at the work table, I could see the wonder of what we do at Homestead Meats right in front of me.
Using the whole beef, nose to tail, has its challenges. It requires complex procedures and hard work. It also elicits my respect and gratitude for each and every part. It's deeply gratifying for me to extend this approach to my community.
As happy as this makes me, I am also aware that some of the lesser-known parts could be challenging to our customers, most of whom have never been exposed to them in this country. That is part of our mission, too. We 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 oxtail (or really, just a tail) responds 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 cheek is happy in a long braise of red wine and shallots. Because it's small and there is not much of it per beef, it is a perfect companion in a dish with the oxtail. It will turn into a meltingly tender and sweet little pillow with dreamy, buttery flavors.
The sweetbreads are my favorite of all organ meats. Loved in so many cultures, you can prepare them in so many ways. They can be crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, and elegant with depth and texture in sauces as in French cooking. They can be grilled, with no fanfare, on an open fire, as in many South American countries. In my country of origin (Israel), sweetbreads are 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. I often quip that it is a steak that grew up in the organ meats' neighborhood. It's incredible and unique in flavor — beefy and bloody. It's my son's favorite cut of meat. Grill it and add it to mixed greens for an incredible salad. You almost can't mess it up!
The beef tongue is a problematic cut in the US. It demands that we know what we're eating. There's no pretending when you eat tongue. But once you accept it, you have a most tender, soft cut. It is the "marshmallow of beef." It should be boiled in liquid for 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.
Homestead Meats is Evanston's first locally sourced butcher shop, handcrafting unique fresh meats, deli meats, sausages, and 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.