Remember when Brad Pitt and Edward Norton make soap from fat in Fight Club? You might have found it appalling, but not butchers. Carcass carvers are seeing an increase in demand for fat—and other animal parts, too—to fulfill the growing head-to-tail philosophy. In the United States, only about half of the animal makes it from pen to pan. Meanwhile in Scotland, people have been drooling over haggis for centuries. Perhaps they’re onto something. Not only are alternative cuts—fat, bones, glands, organs, skin, and so on—both eco-friendly and tasty, they cost a fraction of the price of a filet mignon. And more often than not, they’re healthier, too.
Without further ado, here are nine things you can get from the butcher that aren’t your typical meats. We say “get” because sometimes, butchers are so excited to see them not go to waste, they’ll give them to you.
1 Leaf lard
Rendered pork kidney fat is a “culinary gem,” according to Kevin Gregory, creative director at AllDay Industry, which represents whole-animal butcher shop Meat Hook in Brooklyn. Gregory says leaf lard offers more flavor than oil and butter, making it ideal for frying potatoes or adding a savory dimension to a flaky pie crust. Or take it from a friend of mine living off the grid in Montana, who makes special trips into town to buy it for her biscuits.
2 Caul fat
Caul fat sounds more appetizing in French. Crepines are the lacy membranes surrounding pigs’ digestive organs. Hunters practically buy them in bulk when it’s time to turn their kills into sausage. They make the perfect casings because they add flavor when cooked.
Think truffle fries are your biggest weakness? Try tallow fries. Tallow is rendered beef or sheep fat. Paleo Mom gets it for free from Whole Foods, which normally throws it out. But why would you toss the secret ingredient to the Texas toast served at the Granary ‘Cue & Brew in San Antonio? Not only is it griddle-friendly, the leftover liquid from making tallow is an excellent broth, says Chef Jesse Houston of Fine & Dandy in Jackson, Mississippi.
4 Marrow bones
The Butchery started splitting femur bones a year ago, because the Orange County shop’s owners wanted to make it easier for customers to prepare bone marrow at home. James Friedberg, executive chef at New York’s Nickel & Diner, says bone marrow has the richness of foie gras with an easier-to-digest price tag. Or take it from Clint Cantwell of Amazing Ribs, who turns it into steak butter.
5 Beef cheeks
Because they’re so easy to prepare, cheeks are a good entry-level option for culinary experiments. Jamie Johnson of Bluescreek Farm Meats in Marysville, Ohio, recommends throwing them in your crockpot to cook them low and slow until they’re tender and falling apart. You can also do this with pork cheeks.
Why waste the body’s largest organ? It’s cheaper to buy a whole chicken, notes Chef Evan LeRoy of Austin’s Leroy and Lewis Barbecue, so render its skin for a homemade stock. Pork skin, or “hog hide” in the industry, is also useful. Ryan Farr, founder of 4505 Chicharrones, says its fat-to-protein ratio makes it a healthier form of potato chip. Seriously. He recommends boiling pork skin until it’s tender and then drying it in the oven. The final step? Frying it in lard, of course.
Avoiding gluten? Not a problem. These sweetbreads are safe to eat. They’re basically a more pleasant term for glands, explains Jess Pryles of Hardcore Carnivore. Pryles, an Aussie chef living in Austin, recommends frying thymus and pancreas glands, which you might see on the menu as mollejas in Hispanic restaurants. Most butchers can hook you up with them—you’ll just have to ask before local restaurant buyers do.
8 Chicken Feet
Dim sum fans are already familiar with this ingredient, revered as a delicacy in many Asian cultures. Though they lack a noteworthy taste or pleasant texture, chicken feet are an excellent source of collagen. Some studies even claim they ease joint pain. Most recipes start with a serious cleaning and boiling. If your butcher doesn’t have them, and there isn’t an Asian market around, just order them online.
Our parents grew up eating it with onions. We know it best in its more refined form: pâté. Yes, livers filter out toxins. But they’re also incredibly rich in nutrients. In fact, liver has so much vitamin A that if you eat it too often, it can be toxic. Still, it’s a phenomenal source of iron. In fact, the discovery of how it treats anemia won scientists a “Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine” in 1934, so—to your health!