I'll tell you a little secret: I hate offal. You can keep your tripe, intestines, and kidneys. In the U.S., aside from a small cult of food dorks with I Heart Offal buttons pinned to their suede-bottomed Jansport backpacks, most people just won't eat it, which means that I can't sell it ... unless I can sneak it into something they already like.
The obvious platforms for sneaking the icky bits past closed-minded consumers are terrines, pâtés, and mousses. We won't eat liver if it's fried in butter, but for some reason people can't get enough of it if you put it in a glorified meatloaf or whip it with a bunch of caramelized onions and pork fat. Same goes for setting stuff prettily in aspic. It just reminds me of Jell-O salad but if you stick a blood orange-poached beef tongue in it and charge $25 a pound people will buy you out.
That's fine. We make terrines, pâtés, and bullcrap in aspic every week at the Meat Hook but liver is not the shape of my heart. What keeps me coming to work every morning is sneaking offal into things that you would buy at a truck stop. Anybody with $80 worth of charcuterie books and an elementary understanding of the culinary arts can bang out a passable pâté, but it takes a real passion for pulling one over on Middle America to get the fifth quarter into the fourth quarter of the game.
A few of my favorite things I make for the shop every Thursday are the Meat Hook Meat Sauce (your standard "Italian" red meat sauce) and the Meat Hook Chili. Why do I love them so much? Well, they are tasty for certain, but they also contain about 25 percent braised pork skin. As it turns out, when you simmer pork skin with water and garlic, then strain, chill, and grind it into a dish that is usually made from ground beef and pork, you get something with not only a better, more silky body and mouth feel, but also pig skin in it! Win!
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Another Meat Hook treat we make was born from the frustration of watching the hearts from our gorgeous local pork and beef languish in the case for days only to be finally tossed out. What a waste! How can I get people to eat these damned things?! Why am I yelling?! The answer was as old as the snack isle at a filling station: jerky sticks. Hearts alone are one of the more delicious of the exciting world of things-you-can't-seem-to-sell-anybody-no-matter-how-good-you-say-it-is, but when you combine them with soy sauce, brown sugar, and chili paste and dehydrate them into cute little meat logs, they become the first thing to sell out every week rather than the last thing sitting in the display.
The truth at the end of this rant is that none of this is my fantastic original idea. Food companies have been putting far stranger things in your chili and jerky sticks for decades ... only they just didn't tell you.
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