Culinary trends can be interesting, but I have to admit I often find them more interesting to read about than to actually use. Sous vide? Looks wonderful for perfectly cooked meat, but it requires one very expensive appliance which doesn't call to me. Molecular gastronomy? Chefs create some fascinating presentations, but the techniques are time-consuming and I have a life outside of cooking.
One current culinary trend I'm particularly interested, though, is the practice of trying to use all parts of an animal, not just the standard cuts of meat. One popular TV chef, Michael Symon, champions the practice so much that he and his staff wear T-shirts sporting a single word: OFFAL.
It's a trend I can at least partially get behind. I fully support the concept, but have some practical concerns about the practice.
Using all parts of an animal killed for food can be argued successfully from several directions. First of all, if we are going to eat meat (and I do), I believe the animals deserve our respect. Their care should be humane, their lives should be as enjoyable as possible and their deaths should be carried out as quickly and painlessly as possible in a setting as stress-free as possible. Using as much of that animal as possible can easily be seen as a continuation of that respect.
Avoiding waste is another strong argument. Especially in difficult financial times, when some families find it challenging to put food on the table at all, it seems particularly inappropriate to waste nutritious food.
Aesthetics are often the biggest obstacle to using less-familiar animal parts. We humans seem to enjoy eating meat, but only if the food doesn't have an appearance that reminds us of the animal killed to provide it. Sheep brains, beef tongue, pig feet, etc., may be beyond the visual tolerance of people who didn't grow up eating those foods.
Concerns like these tend to be learned, though. Dr. Wayne Dyer, in one of his early books, "How to Be a No-limit Person," gives a humorous example. He tells of a person who meets a friend for lunch at a restaurant where beef tongue is the special sandwich of the day. The person makes a fuss about how disgusting it is to think of eating tongue. "Think about where it's been!" he says (I'm paraphrasing). "No tongue sandwich for me! I'll have an egg salad sandwich instead."
If we can overcome our initial feelings of aversion to unfamiliar foods, we may find they will quickly become new favorites.
A more serious concern to me is the possibility of toxins in organ meats. In the past I've enjoyed both beef and chicken livers. I rarely eat them these days, though. I still enjoy the flavor, but the liver in all animals (including humans) is an organ that filters impurities and toxins out of the blood. Toxins, such as heavy metals or pharmaceuticals, can become concentrated in liver meat, so I'm reluctant to expose myself and my family to those effects. Even when animals are raised in a clean, organic environment, there are few places where air and groundwater are completely free of these chemicals.
My solution is to eat filtering organs, such as liver or kidneys, only infrequently, if at all. I feel more comfortable eating other organs, such as heart meat. Organ meat can be a rich source of nutrition.
Today's recipe uses oxtail, which is, in fact, the skinned tail of a cow, and that's exactly what it looks like before it's cooked. I purchase beef in bulk from Second Wind Farm in Everson, and have it cut by Lynden Meats. I let them know I want the tail, so they don't discard it. They package it with the vertebral joints partially cut through so it's easy for me to finish the cut or not, according to my preference. Since most of the flavor and the nutrition comes from the marrow, I choose to separate the bone segments.
There is some meat on the tail, too, though most of it is connective tissue. When cooked long and slow, as in a crockpot, the connective tissue gradually becomes tender and releases wonderful flavors. Oxtail makes an extraordinary broth.
CROCKPOT BRAISED OXTAIL
3 large carrots (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
1 oxtail (beef from Second Wind Farm, Everson)
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme or rosemary (or used dried herbs) (home garden, Lummi Island)
1 quart whole tomatoes (home-canned romas from Terra Verde, Everson)
1 cup beef stock (or water) (made with soup bones from Second Wind Farm, Everson)
1/2 bottle red wine (any Whatcom County red wine you enjoy with a rich flavor)
Optional: parsnip gnocchi (see last week's recipe in this column), or other winter root vegetables (potatoes, parsnips, celeriac, rutabagas, etc.)
Peel or thoroughly scrub the carrots and cut into 1-inch pieces. Put into the crockpot. If you plan to include other (optional) winter root vegetables, cut those into the same size chunks and add them to the crockpot as well. (Do not add gnocchi, if you are using it.)
Cut apart the individual vertebrae in the oxtail, and place on top of the carrots. Put the thyme or rosemary sprigs on top.
Add the whole tomatoes and their juice over the oxtail and herbs. Pour in the beef stock and wine. Oxtails should be almost covered with the liquid. Add more beef stock or wine, if needed.
Cover the crockpot and turn to low heat for 7-8 hours (or high for 31/2 to 4 hours.) Meat should be falling off the bones when the oxtails are done.
Remove the meat from the oxtail bones. Put the meat back into the crockpot and discard the bones. Remove the herb stalks.
If you are serving with parsnip gnocchi, spoon the braised oxtail meat, vegetables and broth over the gnocchi and serve while hot.
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996; appel-farms.com
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959; artisanwineclub.com
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060; bellinghamfarmers.org
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699; boxxberryfarm.com
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859; cloudmountainfarm.com
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158; communityfood.coop
Everybody's Store, 5465 Potter Road, Deming; 360-592-2297; everybodys.com
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747; ferndalepublicmarket.org
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151; graceharborfarms.com
Green Barn, 8858 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-354-1008
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
Lynden Farmers Market, 514 Liberty St., Lynden, fiveloavesfarm.blogspot.com
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398; facebook.com/pages/Pleasant-Valley-Dairy/161872142667
Red Barn Lavender Farm (egg CSA), 3106 Thornton Road, Ferndale; 360-393-7057
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190; islandergrocery.com
The Markets LLC, 3125 Old Fairhaven Parkway and 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797; themarketsllc.com
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020; terra-organica.com
Bellingham Country Gardens (u-pick vegetables), 2838 East Kelly Road, Bellingham; bellinghamcountrygardens.com
Reach Whatcom Locavore columnist Nancy Ging at 360-758-2529 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To follow her day- to-day locavore activities, go to Whatcom Locavore on Facebook or @whatcomlocavore on Twitter. For locavore menus, recipes and more resources, go to whatcomlocavore.com.