“Remember Pillsbury Toaster Strudels? Can a girl not get a toaster strudel anymore?”
I almost spit my Panamanian, four-times-roasted, $6 coffee across the table when my friend posed that question at brunch last weekend. In this round of what I like to call Art vs. Sustenance, Sustenance was sporting a concussion and two black eyes.
In front of us was a razor-thin slice of seafood. Topped with bright pieces of torn basil, pickle relish and a smattering of olive oil, the main event was two diaphanous circles of octopus, barely thicker than a sheet of paper.
I lifted my fork, head cocked and hesitant. It seemed a shame to destroy something so beautiful and so, frankly, bizarre. However, there were no toaster strudels to be had, and we were starving.
Bizarre is becoming the norm. Menus around America are boasting bits of meat previously only witnessed on reruns of "Fear Factor," and after brunch, I asked a few chefs about the motivation behind this trend. They admitted that shock value never hurts, but many feel it’s spawned by the increase in global food travel and farm-to-table ethics. The world is coming to the table, and in more countries than not, they eat everything an animal can provide. That means ears. And feet. Eyes and tongues.
I, for one, am loving this trend. Pillsbury’s got nothin’ on delicious flattened octopus, even if it did take three orders to fill us up.
Herewith, four "offbeat meats" worth traveling for:
At: Rosemary’s – Greenwich Village, New York City
Preparation: Head and tentacles are sliced, cooked in combination of Aranciata Italian soda, red wine vinegar and gelatin. It’s then pressed overnight.
Notes from Chef Wade Moises: “It was a work in progress for many years until I finally figured out the magic combination of liquids to both bind and lend flavor. (The cooking method and presentation) offers good texture without the sometimes challenging chewiness that whole tentacle might have. It’s also just fun and nice to look at.”
Pig Tongue Salad
At: Cochon – Lafayette, LA
Preparation: Pig tongues are brined in salt, sugar, herbs and spices for three days. Boiled till are fork tender, the tastebud membrane is then removed. They chill them and slice thin, mix in olive oil, sherry vinegar, chopped parsley and sage.
Chef Kyle Waters: “The rest of the salad is fresh pink eye peas, tossed with mayo, horseradish, shaved onions and crushed herbs. I hadn’t used pig tongue before this, but the beef tongue is popular. There’s not much difference in taste … a bit more game and brine flavor.”
At: Duck’s Eatery – East Village, New York City
Preparation: bite-size strips are deep fried, dressed with soy sauce, kaffir lime, and Thai chilies and served in lettuce wraps
Chef William Horowitz: “The idea of bringing food to the table that tells a real history of older trade routes and traditions is something very near to my heart. I like turning people on to odder ingredients like pig ears, which is a comfort food I learned about living abroad.”
Munch it at: The Pass & Provisions – Houston, TX
Preparation: whole fish is wrapped in caul (a.k.a. the inner lining of a pig’s stomach) and roasted
Chefs Seth Siegel-Gardner & Terrence Gallivan: “Caul looks like a webbing. It’s a fat that is very thin, and it renders out when you cook it. The fish then has a slight smoked pork essence.”