Beef Head: Cabeza from Andale Mexican Food

Despite what the supermarket aisle may lead you to believe, there's more to an animal than neatly wrapped styrofoam trays of meat. From tongue to tail, offal (pronounced awful) encompasses all those taboo edibles that don't make the cut at your local grocer. Just Offal is here to explore these oft-neglected byproducts of butchering, featuring different offal meals from establishments across the valley. This week: Beef Head served up by Andale Mexican Food.

The Ick Factor: As any high school Spanish student can tell you, cabeza means head. So right there on the menu it clearly states that you have your choice of any head taco or burrito combo.

To those uninitiated in the mystery that is cabeza, this can conjures up all sorts of ghoulish scenarios of just how that head ended up on the menu. Courtesy of too many late night monster vision marathons and B-movies, probably. Granted, the picture of a skinned cow head ready to be rendered into shredded beef is pretty gruesome, but that's the reality of being a meat eater.

Warning: There is a raw cow head after the jump. You've been warned!

(all the juicy details after the jump)

The Offal Choice: One cabeza burrito from Andale Mexican Food (nee Taqueria Durango at Hardy and Broadway). It was stuffed with plenty of rice, beans, pico and shredded beef head. Plus they have a salsa bar with pickled veggies and plenty of spicy selections. And don't forget a cold Mexican Coca Cola on the side-- nothing like real cane sugar and the nostalgia of a glass bottle.

Tastes Just Like: Moist, tender, greasy shredded beef. If you like machaca burritos, the shredded variety of its carne asada brethren, then you will more than likely enjoy cabeza. (For all you know, you may have been eating cabeza all these years anyway. There's no telling once it's been shredded!)

If you can make peace with the fact that cabeza was indeed at one time a head (as opposed to a leg, arm, back or any other equally oogy part of the animal) then you're in for a treat. Cabeza de vaca is a staple of any Mexican taqueria worth its salt, and with good reason. Despite being any combination of cheeks, lips, eyes and other unmentionables-- no brains, don't worry-- cabeza tastes just like any other cut of beef and has the added benefit of being some of the most tender barbacoa you could ever hope to savor.

It's also the perfect choice of meat to introduce the wary into the glories of offal dining. It lacks the strange textural associations that plague organ meat and other offal selections, and the beefy flavor is comforting in its familiarity.

You Know It's Cooked Improperly When: It's too dry. Like any shredded meat out there, overcooking it can dry it out and make it a little tough to swallow. If you run into this problem, we suggest drowning your sorrows with an extra douse of salsa and mowing down. Other than that, there's no going wrong with cabeza.

Always been a DIY-er? Cabeza is available frozen from some carnicerias, and can be slow roasted until tender. This can be accomplished via the traditional bury coals in the ground method, or for a more modern twist, an electric turkey cooker. After slow roasting to perfection, scrape off all the meat from the skull (including the eyes- don't get squeamish now) and chop up the tongue. Viola! Barbacoa de cabeza.

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Erica O'Neil