In what's being called the "Woodstock of Edible Animals," tickets are still on sale for Meatopia, food writer Josh Ozersky's all-meat festival featuring a lineup of over 45 chefs in New York City on July 23, 2011. A couple of weeks ago Eater ran a contest for tickets to Meatopia that asked readers to lovingly describe "the best part of the part you love the most." Said Ozersky on the winners, "Reading such passionate epistles renews my faith in Meatopia, a summit for all greasy gastronomes." Here now, the winners, in no particular order:
One out of every 375 female ortolans -- more or less -- has a tiny sac tucked behind its left kidney called an omatelopia. Tiny, but packed with more flavor than any other piece of meat known to man -- mostly French man -- it has long defied description for its sweet/sour taste and creamy/crunchy texture. Camus said they were "curly on the tongue" ["frise sur la langue"], while Sartre described them as "tingly tangly" ["tingly tangly"].
An argument over a cache of ortolan omatelopia was the cause of the famous incident in which Paul Bocuse punched Michel Guerard in the nose at the 1974 Nice Jazz Festival. If you are lucky enough to procure them -- about 700 make up an appetizer portion -- have your butcher take off the silver membranes, then poach them very briefly in about one tablespoon of French Mont d'Or cheese. Let them congeal at room temperature for about six hours and enjoy them with a nice chilled icewine. This is why we eat meat -- nothing like it.
My favorite part is the fat. The charred, chewy fat on the edge of a good steak or pork chop. When the hot liquid spurts down your throat, you feel the primal need for animal fat surging through the ancient parts of your brain. It was my favorite part as a kid, when we always had beef due to my grandfather's cattle farm, and it's my favorite part now.
The salty, crispy fat on a perfectly cooked slice of bacon, that shatters in your mouth then leaves your tongue covered in grease.
The meltingly soft fat from a properly braised brisket, preferably seared in a hot skillet and sandwiched on a bun with onions (a guilty treat from the days of working the line). It's really, disgustingly good.
The fat-soaked bits of crispy chicken cracklins left in the bottom of the pan after rendering schmaltz. Drain, salt heavily, eat while preparing dinner or add to mashed potatoes.
The crunchy, chewy, perfectly browned and fat-soaked bottom crust of the lard bread from Napoli Bakery on Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg. This bread weighs several pounds but I can eat it in a day.
Fat's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
My favorite part of any meat, beef, chicken, lamb, pork, even fish!, is the meat around the bones.
Take BBQ pork ribs for example. It’s the meat that is on the other side of the meaty side. The thin part that resembles parchment, but full of smokey-ness and essence of that particular animal. Sure, it’s not juicy-woozy like “pork fat” or anything, but it has all the flavor. The texture, for this particular part is slightly chewy, but the more you chew, the more flavor it releases. Ditto with the part of Beef short ribs. Especially if it is the Korean BBQ kind. The little bit that is left on the bone is the most delicious.
Now with chicken, it’s the butt. The meat around the butt (or tail, I suppose) bone is absolutely delicious. It’s full of chicken goodness, especially if the chicken has been roasted whole and done right. Crispy chicken skin, slightly salted, will give away to all the juices that’s been rendered out from the fat around the bone. YUM.
The meat around the bones is the true treasure hidden behind all the other good stuff. It’s my personal secret reward.
You might be wondering “fish”?? Did this person really name meat around the fish?
I’ll give you one fantastic example. It’s the meat that’s around a giant tuna. It’s normally not sold in stores. You can’t easily find it in sushi restaurants either. But the meat around the tuna bone, scraped delicately with non-metalic spoon (so you don’t rub off the metal flavor onto the meat), mix a little soy and you’ve got the most deliciously rich flavored tuna meat you will EVER have. It’s meaty. It’s ocean. It’s one of a kind.
Why is meat around the bones so special?
You can't always have meat around the bone.
It's a little primeval too. Not very lady like. But it brings out the carnivore in all of us, with a little touch of "in the know" feeling.
I, my friends, am a chicken man. I enjoy as much as many the mouth-watering aroma wafting from a perfectly seared bone-in ribeye, or the satisfying release of the meat and rendered fat from the bone of a St. Louis rib that has been slowly smoked, but not overcooked. However, when my cravings arise, it is to the yardbird that my own culinary aspirations turn. My favorite piece of chicken is the wing, my favorite portion of the wing, is the tip.
Chicken is fairly easy to cook. It is exceedingly difficult to cook well. There is no better example of this fact than the condition of the wing tip. No matter how you cook it -- I have a 20 quart cast iron dutch oven for frying chicken, and 5 different grills/smokers that I use for, grilling and smoking -- presenting a perfectly done wing includes a perfectly done wing tip. When fried, the thin skin of the tip provide the best opportunity to judge the benefits of any preconditioning (I enjoy a buttermilk brine) as well as flavor and texture of the coating, be it corn meal, flour or bread crumbs. When smoked, the wing tip not only gives the purest tasting platform for your rub and but the effectiveness of marinating or brining in maintaining overall tenderness and juiciness. The wing tip also clearly displays for all the care to which low cooking temperatures were maintained throughout the cooking process.
For me the wing tip is actually a personification (or perhaps chickenification) of my own pragmatism. Most people simply discard the wing tip. For most, the lack of meat and preponderance of bone and tendon is just not worth the additional time or effort. Conversely, I almost always indulge in the tips of my wings first, saving the drumette and middle portion for later. I know instantly if the rest of the wing and the other pieces of chicken I may have been given or selected will live up to my expectations. It serves as a kind of preview of the seasonings and coating that can be isolated from the actual texture of the meat . A well cooked wing tip prompts me to dig in with a heightened zeal, looking to examine the full flavor profile that comes from a standard bite of a leg, thigh or breast with skin and meat. That can't be done with beef or pork. In fact, the tendency with those meats is to strike directly at the heart of the cut, testing temperature and desired doneness even before the flavor has a chance to register in our senses.
While many folks may choose to wax on at length about how the gristle under the bone of a prime grade porterhouse drives them to rapture, or how how a 'buttery' piece of seared pork belly starts them on the first tremulous steps toward nirvana, the wing tip neither inspires or requires such eloquence or reverence. A wing tip is either good or it is not. For myself, it is simply part of the challenge of cooking the food that I and my family enjoys to the very best of my ability. I appreciate other cooks that view their craft in the same way. I try my best to avoid those that do not.
What is the best part of a part? The best little bite? So difficult to pick. But after careful consideration, my part of a part comes from the most dissed of birds, the common chicken.
There are glories to be found on a chicken, for sure - the delectable "oysters" of course are in the thrall of chefs everywhere. For me, though - much as I love said oysters - it's a humbler part. I don't even have much love for the larger part it's attached to - for me, it's the very tip of the wing.
Why? I'm not one to get excited for "wings night" at the local bar. There's not much to the wing - it's mostly skin and bone, and more often than not said skin isn't terribly crispy, just a jiggly, rubbery mess. Ah, but the tip - that little nub of bone at the end, covered by a paper-thin coating of skin - such a satisfying crunch! Such intensity of flavor! The rest of the bone is unusable, except for making stock, but that end tip - when well-roasted to a just-burnt crisp - delivers a feeling that no other part of the bird can. And so overlooked! How often are we told to tuck the wings in when roasting - what a waste! They need to be exposed to the hot, dry air, to slowly dessicate until they can be easily pulverized with but the lightest of pressure between the teeth. Or worse, to trim them off - why? So they don't burn? Don't they get it? That it's that very burn that can turn them from an afterthought to straight-up delicious? If I make wings at home, I arrange them such that the tips get lots of air, and at the end I snap off all those tasty little nubbins and save them - I'll reheat them in a skillet or the oven later to recrisp, toss them into a pasta dish for extra texture. When I roast a chicken, I'll share the oysters with my girlfriend - we'll each take one. But I'm taking both wingtips. A truly magnificent part of a part in my book.