Nose to Tail (Sound 4/09)

Chefs Create a Variety of Dishes from a Variety of Meats

They call that gizzards, gizzards
Part of the chicken
Not too finger-lickin’
And I’m not sure what part

They call them gizzards, gizzards
Part of the bird but
That’s what I heard but
I don’t know where to start

“Gizzards, Scrapple and Tripe”
from The Hymns of Bucksnort
by The New Duncan Imperials (1991)

“Hope you took your Lipitor.” I look up, and Chef Holly Smith serves a smile along with some duck gizzard rillette on crostini. I’m at Café Juanita, listening to Massive Attack and wondering if I’m in for a massive heart attack as I bite into the first of about a dozen dishes in this month’s Dish-Off challenge: “Gizzards, Scrapple, and Tripe.” It’s an obscure song by The New Duncan Imperials, and I’m glad I found it, as I love offal and have been looking forward to the theme dinners with meaty glee.

Oh, it’s tempting to insert an offal/awful joke here. But I won’t. It’s all meat. If you’re a meat eater, yours is most likely muscle meat. I happen to also love the often-unwanted parts (“off fall” are the pieces that fall off when butchering a carcass) as well. I’m not here to convert you, but if you can stomach this, perhaps I can entice you to discover a whole new world of eating.

Union: Trippa alla RomanaChef Ethan Stowell at Union sends out one dish each of gizzard, scrapple and tripe. I start with salad Lyonnaise, just ducky, with tender gizzards, a perfectly poached duck egg, and duck confit vinaigrette. Frisée freshens up the fat from the runny yolk and bits of bacon, just as celery leaves and parsley offer a counterpoint to the next plate: fried scrapple with Piccolo potatoes. Stowell makes the semolina-based scrapple from pork belly, smoked ham hock, pig’s feet and ears; there’s a whole sheet-tray of this crunchy goodness in the kitchen, and a whole kitchen crew ready to devour it—evidence, to me, that people who really know food appreciate these less popular animal parts.

The night’s final course is trippa alla Romana. Tripe is stomach lining, and is one of the most difficult offal cuts to prepare. I call it “beefy bubble wrap,” as I love the bursts of flavor that come with each bite. All three chefs prepare tripe, but Stowell’s is my favorite. He braises it just right with tomatoes and pancetta so that the honeycomb pieces offer enchanting taste and texture. It’s the chewiest, which means more time to enjoy the flavors it soaks up—here accompanied by sweet Corona beans and oh-so-soft polenta, and topped with shaved parmesan. I admire Stowell’s sensibility in transforming fine ingredients (though not necessarily the most expensive) into sublime dishes.

Harvest Vine: Sauteed lamb hearts with blue prawnsAt Harvest Vine, stewed beef tripe is plated with chorizo, which is housemade, sharp and delicious; pork belly; and blood sausage, which is creamy and wild, also made in-house, with natural intestine casings. This course is actually the most “mellow” of the evening’s dishes. First, though, Chef Joseba Jiménez de Jiménez teases my tongue with a starter of elk tongue over raw oyster in escabeche; the meats are pleasantly wild and pillowy soft. I’m impressed with the sea and land pairing—even more so with a plate of lamb hearts and Hawaiian blue prawn pieces. I love this dish. It’s sautéed rare for best (and matching) texture and sweetness. In an offal state of mind, I should mention sucking out the head of the shrimp to get the best bits.

Heads-up: Sweeping aside some carrot and licorice demi-glace on the next dish reveals an unmistakable layering of pig snout. Dark-shaded and soft, with terrific texture, the anise flavor reminds me of Chinese red-cooking. The accompanying fried pork brains over a gratin of parsnips is even more delightful. If you’re skittish, suspend your brain and don’t think about what you’re eating; you’ll find brains are one of the most rich, creamy, and melt-in-your-mouth foods. These are fabulous, especially with the acidic and luxurious aioli, and it’s my favorite dish of the overall Dish-Off.

For the grand finale, Jiménez de Jiménez lingers to watch me eat Rocky Mountain oyster sorbet; he’s not sure I have the balls, if you will, to try it. Accompanying it is chocolate sorbet, which masks the ever-so-subtle, liver-like flavor of the bull testicles. Especially interesting are the specks of sweet skin from pig’s feet—scraped of gelatin and dried to a crackle. If not paying attention, I might mistake them for cocoa nibs. A triumphant ending to an unforgettable, and delicious, nose-to-tail experience.

And now back to Chef Holly Smith at Café Juanita. That amuse bouche of rillette won’t be the last of the gizzards, nor will be the gizzards in the pasta course. Tagliatelle, exquisitely made in-house, is the perfect vehicle for soaking up the dreamy duck gizzard sauce, which tastes almost salty but is, in fact, expressing some of its gaminess. A gizzard, by the way, is a specialized, second stomach many birds have to help grind down food. Alluring as this dish is, I might need a gizzard myself, as I can’t stop stuffing my stomach despite knowing more food is on the way.

Cafe Juanita: Inside out scrapple bombaA gorgeous curly endive salad is next, crowned by an “inside out scrapple bomba”; Smith improvises a cornmeal ball of scrapple made with pig ears, snout, liver, heart and trotters. I enjoy all the elements of this dish, from the textural contrast between the soft (almost livery) confit gizzards and the crisp pork belly, to the slight sweetness and acidity of the mustard seed quince vinaigrette. The whimsical choice of a clementine-flavored sparkling drink as a stand-in for orange juice completes this traditional Pennsylvania Dutch breakfast treat. I’m still savoring the scrapple when out comes trippa alla Fiorentina. As at Union, tomato and pancetta compliment the tripe, this time it is topped with a fried duck egg—why does everything taste better with an egg?—and wonderful, smoked sea salt.

As if the meal hasn’t already been over-the-top, Smith laughs when she serves a tarte tatin with apples and—am I seeing this right?—more duck gizzards. They’re candied, and while slightly meaty, are reminiscent of dried fruit. And she’s taken the gizzard poaching liquid and made crema with it; it’s actually so good, it renders the side of her fabulous salted caramel gelato unnecessary. (Don’t worry…I ate that, too!) The tarte is huge, but I eat, fittingly, the “guts” of it.

Should you think I’ve gone off the deep end, chew on this: If you’ve had an authentic Thanksgiving dinner and poured properly made gravy over your turkey and potatoes, you’ve probably enjoyed the essence of gizzards. In this way, and appropriate to the theme, a dessert topping featuring gizzards makes sense. And just as eating the whole beast respects and honors the animal, I feel increased respect for all the participating chefs, but honor Holly Smith as the “goddess of giblets” and winner of this “Gizzards, Scrapple, and Tripe” Dish-Off.

The menus

Union

  • Salad Lyonaisse with duck gizzards and duck confit vinaigrette
  • Fried scrapple with Piccolo potatoes
  • Trippa a la Romana with Corona beans and polenta
  • Grapefruit and honey tangerine sorbet

Harvest Vine

  • Oyster with elk tongue in escabeche
  • Sauteed lamb hearts with blue prawns in garlic oil
  • Pork snout with carrot and licorice demi-glace with fried brains
  • Beef tripe with pork belly, chorizo and blood sausage
  • Rocky Mountain oyster sorbet with chocolate sorbet, lemon foam, and sweet skin from pig’s feet

Café Juanita

  • Duck gizzard rillette with Klipsun verjus gelatin
  • House-made tagliatelle with duck gizzard sugo and parmigiano reggiano
  • Inside out scrapple bomba with curly endive, confit gizzards, pork belly and mustard seed vinaigrette
  • Trippa alla Fiorentina with fried Dog Mountain duck egg and smoked sea salt
  • Apple and gizzard tarte tatin with candied duck gizzards, gizzard crema and salted caramel gelato

All photos in the post by Rina Jordan. (Click to enlarge them.)

Here are photos of the other dishes from this Dish-Off.

Here is a PDF of how the article appeared in Sound.

Note: Dish-Off reviews are based on announced visits. Restaurants get guidelines and choose what to serve according to the month’s theme.

Union on Urbanspoon

Harvest Vine on Urbanspoon

Cafe Juanita on Urbanspoon

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#Union

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