Let’s outlaw filet mignon.
I don’t know who to blame, but somewhere along the way the sadistic owner of a pretentious restaurant fooled generations of Americans into forking over their hard-earned dough for this overrated and overpriced cut of beef—a food product that is about as exciting and versatile as James Taylor on Valium. As boring as it is to eat that sedative of meats, imagine trying to write about it. Essentially, the writer just flips the thesaurus to the entry for “tender” and goes from there.
Believe me: There is life beyond the filet mignon. And despite what you might have learned on television shows like Bizarre Foods or Anthony Bourdain’s latest televised effort, you do not have to travel to Malaysia or Kazakhstan or even Flushing, Queens to find captivating cuisine that exists just outside of your comfort zone.
A quick and passport-free trip to Western Beef in Mineola recently yielded chicken feet, pig ears, turkey butts (the cloaca, for the refined eater) and even a goat head; all for the combined price of about $30. If you’re looking for a more ethnic approach to cuisine, navigate your way out to Hicksville and visit H & Y Marketplace for some Korean food; Philippine’s Best for Filipino fare; and Apna Bazar for all of those essential Indian ingredients.
However, you must be willing to leave that uniquely American characteristic of food squeamishness behind. There is nothing strange or bizarre about the foods you will find; in fact, much of what Americans view as adventurous cuisine are commonplace in other countries and even among some of this country’s populations.
Chicken feet, though prehistoric and ghastly in appearance to the queasy masses, boil down to the greatest chicken stock you will ever slurp. Pigs ears, while blasphemously used as dog treats by some, become crackling strips of pork essence when utilized correctly.
And then there’s the turkey butt. I’ve known about this overlooked cut since my grandfather first clued me into its existence about 20 Thanks-givings ago. Unlike the rest of the bird, this cut is very high in fat. And guess what? Fat equals flavor. The part of the turkey that goes over the fence last can be eaten whole, but my preferred method is to slice it into medallions and fry it as one might bacon. The end result is indeed, turkey bacon; not that abomination consumed by health fanatics, but instead a turkey version of irresistibly unctuous and fatty pork belly.
On the other end of the animal, the head seems to evoke more squeamishness than any other body part. Perhaps it’s the eyes looking back at the eater; the judging glare of the animal seemingly saying, “You’re seriously going to eat me?” But again, heads are consumed across the world because veteran eaters know the best cuts of most animals come from the neck up; the cheeks, tongue and brain. And if those eyes keep giving you trouble, simply squish them onto some crusty bread for a meaty bite with a rich, lard-like finish.
With Long Island’s expanding population, adventurous eating is easier than it has ever been. That filet mignon might be tender enough to cut with a spoon, but that’s why we have teeth. Besides, all of my spoons are reserved for scooping out eyeballs.