Oh, how we love our beef. It's a truly difficult thing for us not to find pleasure in the majesty of a porterhouse for two, a perfectly marinated London Broil (which, of course, is flank steak), a dry-aged New York strip, decadently soft filet mignon wrapped in bacon, thick rib steaks seared in a cast iron skillet with lots of butter and salt and finished in the oven, or even just some simple skirt steak fajitas from our favorite Mexican joint. And then there are ribs, naturally, slow roasted and falling off the bone, perfectly peppered and smoked brisket, juicy ground chuck in our chili, and burgers made from ground top sirloin top loin. Just beautiful.
The cow is such a truly magnificent animal, a splendid collection of cuts wrapped in a convenient leather bag. And while the current species of domestic cattle only slightly resembles its evolutionary forbear, a wild cow-like animal known as an aurochs, we humans have been enjoying the beauty of beef for thousands of years. However, there's so much more to the cow than just steaks, chops and burgers. If you're willing to take a short diversion from the more popular (and expensive) cuts, you'll find a treasure trove of beefy goodness. Below are a few of our favorites.
TongueBeef tongue has long been a staple of everyday cuisine in Eastern Europe, and for good reason. Prepared properly, it has a wonderful, beefy flavor, and is quite lean, to boot. Look for boiled sliced tongue at your favorite Jewish deli (we love the tongue sandwich at Katz's). Or, if you feel inventive, you can smoke the tongue yourself and serve it sliced thinly over salad.
LiverVeal liver is a true classic. We enjoy ours cooked in the Milanese-style: seasoned simply with salt and pepper, and sauteed in oil with thinly-sliced onions. Just make sure to use veal liver and not that of an older beef steer, since it grows more pungent as the animal ages.
KidneysAgain from a veal calf, kidneys have a distinctive, powerful flavor that is highly prized by the French. Any cook with fortitude can find a great recipe for rognon de veau, usually served with a mustard sauce. Kidneys also taste fantastic when stewed with mushrooms and served over broad egg noodles in a stroganoff.
Marrow BonesOne of the absolute simplest pleasures in life is scooping out some roasted marrow from the bone, spreading it on a toast point, and enjoying with a sprinkle of coarse sea salt. We don't need much more than that, however one of English chef Fergus Henderson's most renowned dishes is roasted bone marrow paired with parsley salad. And, naturally, don't forget to roast some veal marrow bones when making a great stock, which can be used in soups or stews, or reduced down into demi-glace for sauces.
HeartThe heart of a beef steer, while not as easy to cook as a steak, has an incomparably robust flavor. Season and marinate your heart with care -- the toughness of the organ requires it -- and grill over an open flame, then slice and serve to hungry, happy guests. You can also ground it up and add it to your beef mixture for the "heartiest" hamburgers you've ever tasted.
CheeksBeef cheeks are soft, pillowy and delectable, especially when long-braised and incorporated into ravioli, or served as barbacoa (Mexican barbecue) in soft corn tortillas with diced onions, lime and cilantro.
SweetbreadsThe thymus gland of a veal calf; read more about them here.