Tam posted about our weekend oxtail-and-beef-shank stew and Instapundit picked it up. This is pretty flattering. They both made a point about the "lesser cuts" of meat, less pretty but tastier and (in the common understanding) left to the underclasses. It's a good point and from a seat at the High Table, it makes sense: it's roasts and steaks that the fancy fellows get, maybe done up in a pastry castle and served with a fine sauce--
But the cooks and scullery maids and even the turnspit dogs have always known that the fancy sauce was made with fat and pan drippings; it's no good without them. Likewise, m'lord's lovely cup of consomme is made with meat full of cartilage and tendon; shin meat, tough and full of gristle, is just about essential to the flavor. Cook that down, clarify it and you have broth fit for royalty.
The best meat-based soups and stews rely on "ugly" meat, lots of bone (and marrow!) and connective tissue, simmered for a good long time; it's one of the reasons why humans invented such dishes, to get at the nutrition too difficult to winkle out more directly.
You'll find some version of "oxtail" served just about anywhere they eat beef, from Spain (Rabo de Toro!) to Hungary, from Korea to modern-day Rome. Soup or stew or braised, it's tasty stuff and people who have eaten it usually want to have it again.
Beef shank is another wonderful-tasting meat. It's got a lot of chewy stuff in it and needs plenty of cooking; but what a reward! (Plus, of course, a nice big soup bone or two, loaded with goodness.)
So, sure, this is the left-over, ugly stuff (one article on the Roman version of oxtail mentions butchers and cooks calling the tail the "fifth fourth" of the cow, bull or ox) and it's often attractively priced but the people living off the fat of the land ate such things often, far more than they realized, while the kitchen help got by on tea, toast -- and, with a little luck and foresight, wonderful leftovers.
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