July 25, 2011 at 2:17 PM ET
Even the heat wave couldn’t keep meat worshippers away from Meatopia, an annual festival to celebrate every edible (and even inedible) bit of America’s carnivorous affections.
The event, held on Saturday, June 23 in New York City, brought out celeb chefs like Floyd Cardoz (of “Top Chef Masters” fame), Aaron Sanchez, Michael White and Ludo Lefebrve (of “LudoBites”). Writer and food adventurist Sarah Spigelman went out, fork in hand, ready to try some of the craziest creations. Here, she shares her top picks.
Best intro to offal
BBQ chicken hearts, chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo
This preparation of chicken hearts totally took me by surprise. Chicken hearts usually have a tender texture and subtle taste, but this was an in-your-face flavor explosion. The charred edges gave a pleasantly bitter contrast to the smoky eggplant puree and the mild, almost sweet flavor of the meat. This is a great way to introduce someone to chicken hearts -- not scary in presentation or taste.
Best fried creation
Crispy Mangalitsa pig's head torchon with green beans and horseradish, chefs Eduard Frauneder and Wolfgang Ban
Imagine if you were eating bacon, but from the face of the pig -- around the ear, the eye socket, the nostrils … well, you get the picture. That's what this was -- a conglomeration of pig meat, skin and fat that was taken solely from the head. Underneath a crunchy golden shell lay a decadent mosaic of fat and meat. The fat melts pleasantly on your tongue, not unlike the Italian lardo. Mixed with shreds of salty pork, and served with a horseradish sauce and snappy green beans, this was one of my favorite bites of the night.
Best use of meat jell-o
Head cheese terrine with McClure's spicy pickle relish, chef Yuhi Fujinaga
There is no way to make this sound as good as it tastes, but it’s kind of like meat jell-o. It’s a terrine made of different parts of the pig -- tongue, heart, feet, the part around the ears and face -- that is then set in aspic and sliced. It is kind of like luncheon meat, if your luncheon meat was almost as soft as pate, tasted as rich as a pork chop and was made from parts of the animal that you preferred not to think about.
Best use of inedible parts of the animal
Carolina whole Ossabaw hog BBQ with field pea and ramp chow chow, cooked over wood embers and pig bone charcoal, chef Sean Brock
This whole pig was impressive on its own, but consider that the animal was cooked over its own charred bones mixed with wood. It isn't just about eating and cooking for these chefs; it is about respecting the circle of life and using every part of the animal, to ensure that it did not die in vain.
Best use of face
Spit-roasted whole sheep, chef Seamus Mullen
The meat for this dish might not have come from the face, but seeing the animal's head there was a pretty good indication that what I was getting was fresh and it was cooked on the bone -- on all the bones. As a result, the sheep (a lamb that is older than one year) was incredibly flavorful. It tasted aged and slightly funky (in the way that steak on the bone is when compared to steak cooked without a bone), and even a little bit wild. I loved it, but if you are not a fan of lamb this is not for you.
Best intimidation tactic
Greek lamb offal mixed grill, chef Michael Psilakis
There were no bells and whistles on this. Just plain old heart, liver kidney and brain, skewered and grilled to perfection. The most surprising: the brain. Instead of being mushy or grainy like I had feared, it was gelatinous, a bit toothsome and creamy inside. The lemony sauce served alongside added clean, bright notes.
Most impressive display of beefiness
Black angus whole-roasted donley steer, Pat LaFreida Meat Purveyors
The whole 850-pound cow, from teeth to hindquarters to hooves, roasted to pink, juicy perfection in the open air. It seemed incredible that such a massive display of meat would be reduced to such tiny sandwiches, and yet, served on a soft bun with a kick of creamy horseradish sauce, it was robust, tender and incredibly...well, incredibly beefy. I have never had a better piece of beef.
Best meaty dessert
Mangalista pork lollipops, Lee Anne Wong
These bacon pops were made of Mangalitsa pork, which is not just your everyday swine. These pigs, which come from Eastern Europe, are directly descended from wild boars. Their name comes from a Serbian word meaning "hog with a lot of lard," and the name fits! The majority of this bacon-pop was pure, creamy fat that melted on my tongue. It was mellow-tasting and almost sweet in comparison with the salty bacon at the top of the 'pop. This treat was fat with a side of meat; all it needed was my mouth.