Super Bowl Sunday (this year on Feb. 3, and featuring the San Francisco 49ers) surely is one of the meatiest eating days of the year. But it's still somewhat surprising the lengths some people will go to push their game-day feed over the top. Last year, for example, some enthusiastic carnivores went as far as to build football arena replicas out of deli meats, cheese and bread.
Constructing stadiums out of cold cuts may be a great conversation starter, but it's not likely to win you many accolades from the foodies in your life. Luckily, some recent trends on the butchering side of things are offering whole new ways to up your meat game, so to speak.
Up until recently, shopping for meat at the grocer generally meant you were limited to just a few mainstream cuts, says meat guru Bruce Aidells, author of the "The Great Meat Cookbook." Part of the problem was the standardization of the meat industry. Butchering skills waned because so much was handled at the industrial level.
But as consumers demanded better, more unusual meats including locally raised chefs needed to improvise. Many had to learn butchering skills in order purchase and use the sorts of meats their customers were looking for, says Tia Harrison, chef and co-owner of Sociale, a Northern Italian-inspired restaurant in San Francisco.
And in order not to waste a single bit, those chefs also began to develop and rediscover recipes for lesser known cuts of meat, including how to produce charcuterie.
Pretty soon restaurants were having wildly popular snout-to-tail supper nights where dishes made from every bit of the animal are served. The burgeoning market for local meat ultimately has led to the art of butchering becoming quite hip. And that has influenced the meats available even at mainstream grocers, with most offering grass-fed and organic meats, even some heritage breed meats.
Aidells welcomes the change as an easy opportunity for home cooks to try new, and better quality, cuts. And a meat-centric celebration like a Super Bowl party is a fine time to give it a go.
Perhaps start with something easy, such as grass-fed beef. Because the animal was raised entirely on grass, expect the meat to be a bit pricey and leaner than grain-fed. As with wine, flavors can vary widely depending on where the animal was raised and the quality of grass it ate, said Aidells.
"If you're a meat lover, you owe it to yourself to sample and compare grass-fed beef from various areas," he said.
To get further into the sports theme, ask your butcher for a "baseball steak," which gets its name from the fact that when grilled it plumps up into a ball shape. These are cut from the tip of the top sirloin and are about 2 to 3 inches thick. There are only two of these delicious steaks from each animal, and Aidells recommends marinating and grilling them as you would a top round steak.
For the consumer, new books such as Aidells' are focusing on sorting out all the choices at the market, as well as providing the skills and recipes for cooking unusual cuts, as well as using old cuts in new ways.
Harrison even is trying to bring the art of butchering to the home kitchen with her new book, "Butchering and Sausage-Making for Dummies," which hits shelves in March.
For this year's Super Bowl, consider trying this recipe from Aidells for Mexican beef brisket and winter squash chili. It takes a cut usually known for pot-roasting or barbecue and transforms it into a meaty, chunky chili.
Mexican beef brisket and winter squash chili
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 2 hour 30 minutes
Recipe adapted from Bruce Aidells' "The Great Meat Cookbook" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40, 640 pages).
6 dried ancho chilies
2 cups boiling water
6 ounces bacon, diced
4 cups chopped yellow onions
5 pounds first-cut beef brisket, cut into 3-inch chunks
Salt and ground black pepper
2 jalapeño chilies, stemmed, seeded and chopped (optional)
6 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons chili powder
One 14 1/2-ounce can diced fire-roasted tomatoes with green chilies
One 12-ounce bottle Mexican beer, plus more if needed
1 bunch cilantro, stems and leaves separated
One 7-ounce can diced fire-roasted green chilies
3 cups peeled and seeded butternut or banana squash, cut into 2-inch chunks
Finely chopped red onions, for garnish
Peeled, seeded, and sliced avocado, for garnish
Shredded Monterey Jack cheese, for garnish
Warm corn or flour tortillas
Tear apart the dried ancho chilies, then discard the seeds and stems. Place the torn chilies in a small bowl. Pour the boiling water over them, then soak until soft, at least 30 minutes, or up to several hours.
When ready to proceed, heat the oven to 325 degrees.
In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, sauté the bacon until it begins to brown. Add the onions and cook, covered, for 5 minutes.
Season the beef with salt and pepper. Remove the pot with the onions and bacon from the heat and stir in the beef.
Place the soaked chilies and about 1/2 cup of the soaking liquid in a blender (save the remaining liquid to add to the pot later, if needed). Add the jalapeños (if using), garlic, cumin seeds, oregano, coriander, chili powder, and 2 teaspoons of salt. Blend to form a purée, then add to the pot along with the diced tomatoes, beer, cilantro stems and green chilies.
Stir well, cover, place in the oven, and bake for 2 hours. If the chili becomes too dry during cooking, add some of the reserved chili-soaking liquid or more beer. The meat is done when it is fork-tender. If the meat is not yet fork-tender, return the covered pot to the oven and check it every 20 to 30 minutes. Once the meat is tender, stir in the squash and bake for 20 minutes more, or until the squash is tender.
Remove the pot from the oven. Use a spoon to skim off any fat on the surface of the chili. Season with salt and pepper. Divide among serving bowls with the cilantro leaves, red onions, avocado, cheese and tortillas on the side.
Per serving: 490 calories; 270 calories from fat (55 percent of total calories); 19 g fat (7 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 95 mg cholesterol; 31 g carbohydrate; 7 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 49 g protein; 1,010 mg sodium.