Odd as it may sound, culinary nostalgia is making a comeback. Yes, again. During the short period of time when Louisiana’s cold weather beckons deeper, heavier dishes, restaurant chefs reach for nose-to-tail cuts of meat, using timeless and modern cooking methods for dishes that taste of then and now, old and new.
Pickled pig’s ears packed into jars on convenience-store counters have their charm. But the crispy fried pig ears topping house-made tagliatelle pasta with wild boar sausage and rich pork sauce at Patois or the “Pig Ear Chilaquiles” with fresh cheese, salsa and a yard egg at Johnny Sanchez make for appealing modern-minded meals.
Notoriously tough, cheek meat requires long cooking to become tender. At Angeline chef Alex Harrell smokes then fries pork cheeks for a starter that folds in cornbread puree, satsuma, jalapeno and roasted peanuts.
Neck meat is currently the darling of the culinary world for its tenderness and slightly exotic taste. Turkey and the Wolf has an easy, open-faced lamb neck with caraway, lemony yogurt and cucumbers atop roti bread, while chef Will Avelar at Meril takes turkey necks, a soul food staple, dusts them with cumin and fries them crisp.
Chewy strips of tripe (fourth stomach) are generally found in soups like menudo or pho. At Primitivo, a different, meatier type of tripe is smoked and braised tender for a hauntingly divine dish with tomato, fine curls of Grana Padano cheese, chiles and croutons.
From the rump, oxtails, braised or stewed and slurped lustily are a part of many world cuisines. At CK’s Hot Shoppe, just off St. Charles Avenue, oxtails are glorious in the peanut-laced, meaty Philippine dish kare-kare.
Nose-to-tail dining is nothing new, but the surge in dishes using these meats in modern, innovative ways is.