The Offal Truth: Six NYC Chefs Redeem Six Gnarly Ingredients
Elise Kornack, owner and head chef at Take Root
"I think some people are put off by facial meat because there is recognition of the animal as a sentient being. A piece of beef tenderloin does not truly embody the animal the way the face does. The eyes and mouth, however, are two features that capture the personality of an animal, making the butchery and cookery a more personal endeavor. But my mother always used to say, 'How do you know you don't like it if you haven't tried it?!' When [my wife], Anna [Hieronimus], and I first met, she had never eaten a raw oyster — for no reason other than she was afraid she wouldn't like it. Within a couple weeks of our knowing each other, she finally tried one. Now we order them anytime we are out! Try everything at least once!
"When cooking a lamb head, you can either separate the respective parts — cheek, eyes, tongue, collar, and face meat — or cook the entire head at once. In this case, I did the latter, searing the outside of the head, browning it on all sides, then cooking it at 325 degrees for about three hours in a large ceramic pot with a lid. I like to put garlic, onion, and herbs beneath the head to prop it up and create some steam. That way the meat remains moist and sweet, the way it does when it is cooked on the bone — or on the skull, rather.
"I would suggest going to the butcher, asking for a head, and trying a few different methods. It is a fun cut of meat to play around with because you have a variety of textures. I love the sweetness and delicate barnyard flavor. And this way, you're not wasting part of the animal."
Lamb's Tongue with Peas and Spinach
For the lamb's head
1 lamb head (ask your butcher for one with the tongue in)
5 small yellow onions, halved
2 heads of garlic, quartered
2 lemons, halved
1 cup sweet vermouth
Maldon salt (for finishing)
For the peas
3 cup shelled peas
1/4 cup green garlic
2 tablespoons butter
For the spinach and lamb
1 large spinach leaf per serving
Lamb's head meat
Heat oven to 325.
Liberally salt the lamb head. In a cast-iron Dutch oven big enough to fit the lamb head, sear on all sides until a dark, honey brown. Leave any remaining lamb fat in the pan and brown the halved onions, garlic, and then lemons. Spread the onions, garlic, and lemons to cover the bottom of the pan. Turn the heat to high and deglaze with the vermouth, then turn the heat to low and cook until reduced by half. Perch the lamb head in the middle and cover. Cook for four and a half hours, or until the lamb tongue pulls away from the head without any difficulty.
Remove the lamb tongue, clean by removing the skin, and cut in half lengthwise. Sprinkle with maldon salt.
Strain any liquid remaining from the pan and put aside. Discard the onions, lemons, and garlic. Put the lamb head (minus the tongue) back in the pan and put in the oven for ten minutes at 550 to crisp the outside.
Blanch all peas and reserve 1 cup. Sauté the remaining 1 cup of peas with the green garlic with 2 tablespoons of melted butter in a small sauté pan.
Purée the peas and green garlic, adding hot water to thin until a thin-yogurt consistency. Strain through a fine-mesh chinois and add the remaining peas.
Blanch spinach leaf and lay it flat. Fill with seasoned meat from around the cheek and eye socket. Roll like a burrito.
Bryce Shuman, head chef at Betony
"The thing to remember is that all ingredients have culinary value. The most important thing is to find ingredients that are fresh — real food. When you think about honeycomb tripe, you're like, 'What is that? Cow stomach? What am I eating here?' But just taste it, try it, and you'll often be pleasantly surprised.
"For tripe specifically, my advice would be to go to a really good Chinese restaurant. My favorite is called Café China on 37th between Fifth and Madison. Its tripe is so tender and spicy and delicious. It's beefy, not funky or weird with an awful smell. It's just yummy, a big bowl of delicious stuff.
"I have had tripe prepared in other situations where it's been kind of unappealing or chewy or uncooked, or not cooked properly, not taken care of. But you know what? A striped bass can be really bad, too. It's all about it being fresh — a good ingredient — and then prepared by hands you trust.
"[Tripe] is time-consuming but worth it. Wash it really, really well; blanch it in a pot of rolling salted water. Layer it with vegetables and some stock and slow-braise it in your oven until it's super, super tender. Lots of aromatics: You want lots of bay leaves and thyme. Then strain the liquid, reduce it, make a glaze with a bit of butter and the meat reduction, then serve it with some fresh vegetables, like morels, pea shoots, fava beans, or asparagus.
"Food is different all over the world: People eat things based on what is available to them or what they grew up eating. You might turn your nose up at something that is another person's traditional food. People would scoff at bone marrow or pig's blood, which I use to coagulate a custard. Like tripe, it is in the spirit of using the entire animal, so there is no waste."
Braised tripe served with fava bean and morel ragout and shallot confit
Tripe with Fava Beans and Morels
For the braised tripe
3,000 grams tripe, purged
3,000 grams chicken stock
3,000 grams chicken jus
750 milliliters white wine
250 grams shallots, sliced
2 garlic heads, halved
100 milliliters canola oil
50 grams thyme
10 grams bay leaves, torn
10 grams morel mushrooms, trimmed
Purge the tripe by soaking in lightly salted ice water for 48 hours, making sure to refill the water every eight hours.
In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Quickly sweat the shallots, garlic heads, thyme, bay leaves, and morels for about two minutes. Add the tripe and let cook for two more minutes.
Deglaze with the white wine and reduce by half. Add the chicken stock and jus, and cover with a cartouche. Lower the heat to low and cook for eight hours. Strain the reserve liquid and reduce to a lacquer consistency.
For the shallot confit
100 grams shallots, brunoise
300 grams extra-virgin olive oil
In a small saucepan, combine both ingredients and gently bring up to temperature where bubbles barely break the surface. Remove from heat and place over a small pilot light, and allow to confit gently for 15 minutes. Allow confit to cool in the oil and reserve in pint containers.
For the fava bean and morel ragout
60 grams fava beans, shucked
16 pieces dried morel mushrooms
6 grams shallot confit
2 grams thyme, picked
10 grams vin jaune
10 grams butter, unsalted
4 grams salt, kosher
4 grams lemon juice
For the favas, ensure that the beans are shucked and peeled raw, then blanch and shock in salted water. For the morels, make sure that the mushrooms are trimmed at the bottom and rinsed thoroughly to ensure that there is no dirt or sand.
In a small saucepan, combine the fava beans, morels, shallot confit, picked thyme, and vin jaune together. Bring up to a simmer and add in the butter to form a glaze. Season with the salt and lemon juice.
For the vin jaune vinaigrette
150 grams cultured cream
50 grams champagne vinegar
60 grams vin jaune
5 grams salt, kosher
In a mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients together and mix well. Transfer to a pint container and reserve.
100 grams fava bean and morel ragout
30 pieces fava leaves
30 grams vin jaune vinaigrette
90 grams braised tripe
3 grams black pepper mignonette
3 grams fleur de sel
Divide tripe into three 30-gram servings. Heat the portioned tripe pieces in the reduced braising liquid. Once at a lacquer consistency, mount in a couple of cubes of diced butter to create a tight, shiny glaze. Spoon one-third of the fava bean and morel ragout onto the middle of each plate. Brush the fava leaves with the vin jaune vinaigrette and neatly arrange the 10 of the leaves and one serving tripe on top of the ragout so that the ragout is completely covered. Season with 1 gram black pepper mignonette and 1 gram fleur de sel.
Kerry Heffernan, head chef at Grand Banks
"Slipper shells are the most prolific shellfish found on the entire East Coast. They are technically sea snails and are considered a delicacy in Hawaii. They metabolize algae and oxygen faster than mussels or clams, and there are twenty of these for every single oyster. They are so common you can go and grab them from the shoreline yourself. No one is speaking up for these guys yet, except me. They have a mild flavor, so for people who don't like shellfish, it's a good gateway option into seafood.
"I puréed garlic mustard, an invasive plant that you can find in the parks all over Manhattan, with olive oil to make a pesto sauce. Basically for this dish — after you've grabbed your slipper shells from the shore and garlic mustard from Central Park — you put some clam stock and butter in a frying pan, add sliced ramps, and sauté that with a little bit of green garlic. Add the slipper shells and cover for one minute or two on medium heat. Throw in some pasta, then add a little bit of the pesto with a pinch of salt and some cracked pepper. The whole thing takes five minutes.
"I try to get people curious enough to try a food they might not otherwise try by likening it to something they can relate to — I make a metaphor. Like, you would take a few minutes to explore a new app, so why not explore this food? It's kind of the same thing."
Slipper shells linguine tossed in garlic mustard pesto garnished with ramps
Slipper Shells Linguine
1 pound slipper shells, very well rinsed
12 ounces fine linguine
1 bunch ramps, stems removed and well rinsed
3 ounces unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, minced
2 bunches garlic mustard (or 1 bunch basil), leaves only, rinsed and dried
2 ounces canola oil
Blanch the garlic mustard (or basil) in a small pot of salted boiling water for one second. Immediately place in a strainer and rinse with cool water until leaves are cold. Squeeze excess moisture from leaves and mince on the cutting board. Place into blender with oil, garlic, and some salt, and blend until bright green.
Bring a pot with 3 quarts of well-salted water to a boil, add pasta, and begin cooking.
Mince ramps, beginning at bulb end and working across the grain or perpendicular to the length of each ramp.
In a two-quart sauté pan over medium heat, sweat ramps with 1.5 ounces butter and 2 ounces water for three minutes, seasoning well with salt and pepper.
Add slipper shells and 2 or so more ounces water to the ramps, toss, return to a boil, cover, and let cook for one more minute, or until the slipper shells have slightly shrunk and firmed up.
Drain cooked pasta, toss with garlic mustard pesto and remaining butter, and pour slipper shells on top.
Ana Harrison, head chef at Freemans Restaurant
"When my mom divorced, the first guy she started dating sent her roses with ferns as the decoration, so I wanted a reason not to like them. Fiddleheads are what come out of the ground when ferns are growing; they are the sprouts, and I hate the spores — the reproductive organ for the plant — that are on the back of the leaves. To this day, they freak me out!
"Fiddlehead ferns are relatively new in the culinary world — even in New York you don't see them all that often. We use them in specials in the restaurant when they're in season, usually around May, so right now. Texturally, fiddleheads are a lot like asparagus. They are light and springy. Most people suggest blanching the fiddleheads, which I would not do. All the flavor ends up in the water, which you then throw away.
"Here, I sautéed them with garlic, chile flakes, and some lemon juice. If you cook them when the pan is smoking-hot, put them in with the oil quickly, the flavor intensifies. Serve them with a simple fish, or chicken if you want. The fish here is grilled, so the char flavors work well together.
"My advice to people leery of 'strange foods' is that the weirdest thing on the menu is often going to be the best. With chicken, that's always going to be the safe, throwaway dish for anyone to have on a menu. The thing that sounds weird, the thing that sounds crazy, that's going to be something the chef has put a lot of thought into and has tried a bunch of times. Often, if you are comfortable with it, going with the thing that sounds the worst on the menu, that you're like, 'What is this ingredient? I've never heard of it,' means you will often end up with the best dish."
Grilled fish with seared fiddlehead fern
Grilled Fish with Seared Fiddlehead Ferns
Whole, cleaned, and pin-boned fish, or skin-on fish fillet, about 5 ounces per person
Fiddlehead ferns, about 1 cup per person
To clean the fiddlehead ferns, pick through, cutting off any brown ends and removing detritus.
Heat a grill or cast-iron pan over high heat. Season fish with salt and place on heat skin-side down. Cut a thin slice of the lemon and place it over the fish, along with a sprig of thyme. When the fish is beginning to firm up, flip it over to finish cooking. Time will depend on the thickness of the fish, but you are looking for the flesh to be opaque all the way through and flake easily. Remove fish from heat, and finish with sea salt and a nice fruity olive oil.
While the fish is cooking, heat a dry metal pan on medium-high heat. When the pan is almost smoking hot, turn the heat off and add the fiddlehead ferns, garlic, chile flakes, salt, and oil to the pan. Turn the heat back on, and do not touch it for several minutes. When ferns start to turn a brighter green, give the pan a shake. Turn the heat off, and squeeze half a lemon into the pan, toss it again, and pour the fiddlehead ferns over the fish.
Jody Williams and Rita Sodi, owners and chefs at Via Carota
"Pig's blood is musty. It has a woody, nutty flavor. Sure, if cooked wrong it can taste tinny and irony, like blood. But if used right — we use garlic and pecorino and spices, a lot of nutmeg and cinnamon, a touch of sugar — it is simply an added ingredient, and it's mild enough to eat savory or sweet. You use it like you would eggs or milk, or as a substitute for those things.
"Traditionally you buy your pig all nice and fat, and you kill the pig and use the entire animal. The stomach for salami, the side as stuffing — and the blood. Its shelf life is only one week, so as a child I would go around with pig's blood to give to neighbors, because there's so much.
"We use it with old recipes from my [Sodi's] family, from vintage cookbooks, and we put our own take on them. Today we made migliaccio, a crêpe from Tuscany made using eggs, pig's blood, nutmeg, and pecorino; blutengel, a pasta from Northern Italy, made using flour and pig's blood; biroldo, a Tuscan sausage made with pork belly, nutmeg, garlic, fennel seed, and, of course, pig's blood; and our favorite, sanguinaccio, which is served as a dessert on toast. Traditionally it is made using pig's blood, but today you'll often find it made using chocolate instead. We added ricotta, pine nuts, and currants to sweeten it up."
Clockwise from left: Pig’s blood biroldo sausage; pig’s blood sanguinaccio; pig’s blood tagliatelle
Sanguinaccio (Pig's blood)
1 liter fresh milk
1 liter fresh pig's blood
500 grams dark chocolate (at least 70 percent cocoa), broken into pieces
500 grams sugar
100 grams pine nuts, toasted
100 grams raisins, soaked in vin santo
1 orange rind, grated (optional)
Salt to taste
In a large pot, heat the milk and the blood together over a low heat. When the mixture is warm, add the sugar and stir to dissolve, then add the dark chocolate. Stir constantly as it simmers. As the chocolate melts and the blood cooks, the mixture will begin to thicken and become heavy, like a custard. Add the pine nuts, raisins, cinnamon, and orange (if using). Serve warm over grilled bread with ricotta.
Lance Knowling, owner and head chef at Blujeen
"It's not like anything else. You might be inclined to think beef heart is like liver or something, but it's not. The flavor's different, the texture's different. You can slice it thin for beef heart stir-fry, or you can do a steak-slice.
"What I'm going to do is marinate it and grill it. Serve it with roasted asparagus and a side of tomato and bacon grits with sautéed onions, with a little gravy on it. This heart comes from my butcher next door, Harlem Shambles, and everything is grass-fed, so it's top-quality heart.
"The good thing about beef heart is that it's big and, when cut, it just looks like a normal steak. But little chicken or little duck hearts, they look like little hearts, so people are more inclined to feel squeamish about them. This just looks like a piece of meat — it's beautiful, actually.
"I also like beef heart because it's using the entire animal, and because of the nutritional benefits — it has as much protein as chicken. It's a muscular organ, so it's softer than a thigh or a breast, for example. Creamy and soft. Plus heart's easy to cook and inexpensive. That's always number one for the average consumer: Grass-fed beef heart is about $5 per pound compared to $15 per pound for a sirloin steak. It can be an economical meal you can have once a week with simple preparations — a side of mashed potatoes and greens."
Grilled Beef Heart with Dirty Grits
6 ounces grass-fed beef heart, trimmed and sliced in half
1 clove garlic, smashed and minced
1 teaspoon onion, minced
pinch of fresh thyme
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 scallion, chopped
1 tablespoon freshly cooked bacon bits
1/3 cup cooked grits (we prefer yellow coarse)
3 to 4 pearl onions, roasted
2 ounces carrots, roasted
1/4 cup red wine sauce or gravy
Salt and pepper to taste
Marinate beef heart with garlic, onion, thyme, and olive oil, and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes.
In a saucepan, mix red wine sauce or gravy, pearl onions, and carrots, and simmer till hot. Mix together grits, scallions, and bacon, and season to taste.
Grill beef heart for about 90 seconds on each side. Do not overcook; the heart should be medium-rare to medium when done.
Place grits on a plate, then hearts, and top with sauce and vegetables. Serve immediately.
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