At some point, over the weekend of the Ludlow Food Festival I found myself in possession of a quartet of beef cheeks. You know how it is: one minute you’re tucking into your 18th pint, the next you have a carrier bag full of cow face. Not wanting to look a gift-horse in the proverbial phizog I sobered up, took them home and slopped them onto a chopping board where they glistened all crimson and gristly whilst I poured myself a steadying beer and thought about things awhile.
Maybe it’s a boy thing, but I’ve always had a bit of a macabre obsession with knobbly wobbly bits. To a certain degree the more off-putting a piece of animal looks in the raw, the more likely I am to want to ingest it.
Naked beef cheeks look spectacularly nasty, but to the keen cook it is these extremities that get the heart racing. Cows don’t do much, but they chew all day long. Their maws are pistons for perpetual mastication, which means that in the wrong hands they’ll be tough as old boots. Unless of course like me, you treat them terribly gently to the point where they submit and yield with a sigh. Which is exactly what I did.
Into the pot they went with a bottle of rough red, plenty of garlic and a pig’s trotter hewn in half - There are few dishes, especially those that are slow cooked that will not be improved with the addition of a trotter – and they simmered at a mere blip for many hours. The progeny born of this mess of face and foot was one of such sticky, meaty savour that I took pride in calling it my baby.
Of all the animals that are killed for our greedy pleasure there are scary and oft-forgotten parts that need to be brought into our lives and tummies. Eschew them at your peril. The flippy-flappy ‘oysters’ on a chicken known in French as sot l’y laisse, roughly translated as ‘the bits that only a nutter would leave’; the brains of calves, pigs, and lambs, blanched, crumbed and fried in hot fat; hearts and gizzards of duck devilled on buttered toast. Balls too, should not be missed. I’ll draw the line at pigs’ ears though, and anything that retains the crunch of cartilage.