In our increasingly food-obsessed world, we're always hungry for the next new thing. And yet one growing trend is actually quite old: Nose-to-tail eating, the practice of using as much of the animal as possible, dates back to at least the Middle Ages – more practical times when nothing was wasted. What today's foodies are finding is that less loved "odd bits" are often cheaper – and more flavorful – than the shrink-wrapped chops, steaks, and chicken breasts most people gravitate toward at the supermarket and in restaurants.
But are diners and home cooks ready to embrace pork belly, beef hearts, oxtails, and, well, innards? Increasingly, the answer is yes. Short ribs, ham hocks, and skirt steaks now regularly appear on menus and recipe websites. Chef David Ansill of Philadelphia's Bar Ferdinand has been adding nose-to-tail meals to his popular Thursday night tasting menus, listing that evening's featured animal on Twitter: The Lamb, The Cow, The Pig, and so on.
In St. Louis, chef/owner Kevin Willmann hosted his first nose-to-tail dinner at his local-farm-focused Farmhaus last summer. The menu included pig ear and tongue terrine, house braunschweiger with pork croutons, and even pig-liver caramel for the buttermilk ice cream dessert.
The daily changing menu at Incanto in San Francisco almost always includes dishes featuring "odd cuts" and offal because "serving these parts of the animal honors the whole animal," reports its website. Chef Chris Cosentino's site OffalGood.com is an educational and inspirational resource for chefs and home cooks alike.
There, he introduced patrons to dishes such as headcheese, blood sausage, grilled beef heart, and pig head stew. Mr. Levitt wasn't sure what the reception was going to be, but diners "couldn't get enough," he says.
His butcher shop has tapped into an adventurous audience. House-made pâtés and sausages, liver, leaf lard, bones for stock, and odd beef cuts such as baseball steak, vacio, and paleron all sell well. And Levitt's occasional nose-to-tail butchering demo classes are always popular. "We encourage people to think beyond 'supermarket cuts' – and they really have," he says.