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Forget what you’ve heard: The first cut is not the deepest. You’ll want to go further—past the tired chicken breasts and rib eyes—to get to the good stuff.
Meat off-cuts (as the scrappier parts are often called) of chicken, beef and pork are a chef’s best friends, and as more “whole-animal” and “nose-to-tail” restaurants open by the minute, it’s time you get acquainted with them as well. Oh, and did we mention that these off-cuts are usually less expensive than their fancy counterparts? Here are nine cuts that chefs can’t stop talking about and how you can cook with them, too.
① Wing tips
“Everyone cuts it off, but along it runs a strip of skin, a bit of cartilage and a touch of meat that gets incredibly crispy,” Michael Hung, the executive chef of Viviane in Beverly Hills, says. Though the tips are usually cut off from the wingettes, their feathered, fanned-out appearance is what makes them actually look like angel’s wings.
How to use them: Make your favorite wings recipe, but skip the part where you separate the joints and leave the tips on. Or if you prefer your wings in pieces, save the nubs for stock or fry up just the tips.
If trendy is what you’re after, eat chicken feet. Everyone the world over consumes them regularly, save for the United States—they’re even considered a beer snack in parts of China. Because of this, you should easily find them at Asian markets. Their gelatinous nature helps thicken up stock to give it a richer feel.
How to use them: Add them to chicken soup, per Ricardo Jarquin of Travelle Kitchen + Bar in Chicago. “[They add] depth of flavor and body to the broth,” he says.
Tail meat is excellent when braised, akin to short ribs, which you can even do in your slow cooker. Chef Nicole Pederson from Found in Evanston, Illinois, suggests tossing the meat with barbecue sauce and serving it on a bun with creamy slaw for what’s essentially an extra-beefy version of a pulled pork sandwich.
How to use it: Aside from braising, you can also add oxtail to a pot with spare parts, like neck and shank bones, to make hearty broth for beef pho.
“Delicious” and “beyond sexy” is how Kris Morningstar, chef/owner of Terrine in L.A., describes this cut, which is the cap of the rib eye. It can be pricey, but its tenderness and juicy taste have chefs like Morningstar singing its praises regardless. “It’s basically the warm, smoky prosciutto of beef.”
How to use it: Grill it like normal steak. But since it’s so thin once removed from the rib eye, it cooks in a flash; be careful to not overcook it.
③ Spider steak
This cut from inside the hip is analogous to a chicken’s oysters, and like those prized bits of meat, there are only two per steak. It gets its name from the marbling that radiates out from inside the muscle.
How to use it: Joanna Stachon, chef at Ada Street in Chicago (and former butcher at Publican Quality Meats) suggests simply grilling it and serving it with a green harissa marinade.
Andrew Zimmerman, chef at Sepia in Chicago, says, “If we made more of an effort to use these cuts and really use the whole animal, it would be such a sensible way to avoid waste.” Fair, this is an organ, but it’s versatile enough to act like a cut of meat and can even taste similar to the steaks you’re used to.
How to use them: Jarquin likes hearts grilled with aji panca paste, a common Peruvian ingredient. Try them on skewers as a party appetizer.
① Pig head
No matter which coast you live on (Midwest included), chefs are using their heads when it comes to pork. You can get a full pig’s head at Sauvage in Brooklyn and Cockscomb in San Francisco, and even roasted pig face topped with a sunny-side-up egg at Girl & the Goat in Chicago.
How to use it: Headcheese, while not dairy, is noggin for sure. You’ll need a large pot but not many other ingredients beyond that, to make your own charcuterie that will make for your best banh mi yet.
② Pig ears
While we’re getting in the pig’s head, let’s get more specific. You’ll find crispy pig ears at The Blind Butcher in Dallas, Texas, where they’re served with orange-fennel aioli and sliced thin to resemble shoestring fries rather than, well, ears. If you go the fried route at home, boil them first to tenderize them.
How to use them: Try Zimmerman’s approach, a Chinese red braise, in which soy sauce imparts a deep color on the ears as they cook low and slow.
Grab your pork by the balls. Rocky Mountain oysters are not even remotely related to briny seafood: They’re testicles, and though they can also come from cows or sheep, pigs are a popular choice. If the idea of this makes you squeamish, take solace in the fact that they’re most often served fried.
How to use them: “These can be a little intimidating for people, but they’re a wonderful cut,” Todd Kelly of Orchids at Palm Court in Cincinnati admits. Take a hint from his chicken-like frying method of coating thinly sliced pieces in buttermilk, seasoned flour and cornmeal, and go nuts.
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