For those who are squeamish at the idea of eating offal, which includes giblets, intestines, brains or any other organ or foot of an animal, I would refer you to episode two of season six of Chef’s Table. In this episode, we meet Dario Cecchini, a world famous butcher who actually wanted to be a veterinarian in order to save the lives of animals. Coming from a family with more than 250 years in the meat business, we get a window into how he merged these opposing facets of his life.
He tells the story of how he always dreamed of eating bistecca, the most exclusive cut of meat from his father’s butcher shop. When he turned 18, he was finally given one to try. For all his excitement and expectations, he was left disappointed, because for him the meat he ate at home, the offal and the less desirable cuts, was much tastier than this supposedly luxurious bistecca.
When I see a stand of steaming tacos de cabeza (tacos made from any part of the head of the animal, including brains, eyes, ears, tongue), I always think of the mastery of their execution. Cabeza lovers come for the flavor that bursts from every bite because they, like Cecchini, know that unlike cuts of muscle with little tissue or fat, the real essence of meat lies in the organs, fat, and joints of an animal.
We have become so accustomed to eating lean cuts that we sometimes forget that an animal should not die just to become a steak. Its death should mean that every bit is used to the maximum without wasting anything. In ancient times, eating the whole animal was imperative, because slaughtering it could not be done in vain. When we eat pancita (tripe soup) or tacos de cabeza, we are not just paying lip service to the adage that the best meat is that which is stuck to the bone. In fact, when we eat offal, we enter the heart of the flavor, because it is in those cuts where it is really found. Soft, fatty, and light in consistency, the head meat really should be considered a delicacy.
The steam emanating from a taquería in the mornings has a profound lesson to teach us all. Eating tacos de cabeza or any offal is to respect the life of an animal, because no part of it is wasted. For those who have not tried it, it may be time to take the plunge. The intensity of flavors and aromas will fill your senses like never before and you will appreciate the animal better for what it has given you. There is nothing awful about offal, it is the essence of tastiness.