Beef Tendon: Pho from Khai Hoan

Despite what the supermarket aisles 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 meats from establishments across the Valley.

This week: Beef Tendon served up by Khai Hoan.

The Ick Factor: Tendon is unlike most meaty bits you've ever encountered on a plate, because frankly it's bears zero resemblance to meat. In the body tendons serve to anchor muscles to bones and therefore have to be tough, fibrous, heavy duty masses of connective tissue. With sustained cooking, however, beef tendons become soft, toothsome, gelatinous masses of connective tissue. Appetizing.

This culinary trickery turns a nigh inedible bundle of collagen into a wholly otherworldly dining experience that is also incredibly guilt free. Tendon is composed almost completely of protein and has the lowest fat percentage of any animal bits out there, while somehow managing to mimic the "mouth feel" of fat. It's a crazy contradiction that you have to try to believe. And in honor of our mama, we would be remiss if we didn't mention that the collagen helps your nails grows strong and your hair stay glossy. So at least it's got that going for it.

(bite into all the juicy details after the jump)

The Offal Choice: #1 Super Everything Pho from Khai Hoan, loaded with rice noodles, lean beef, fatty flank steak (with a line of flavorful fat down one side like bacon), ribbons of tripe, mystery meat balls, and the infamous beef tendon. To complement this crazy meat combo, thai basil, mint, cilantro, spring onions, bean sprouts, lime and jalapenos are served on the side. (To say nothing of the sauces you can add.) Since you're already eating tendon, go ahead and toss a bit of everything in for good measure. There's no backpedalling at this point.

Tastes Just Like: Strips of flavorless gelatin. Tendon has a very mild flavor that is almost completely divorced from its beefy origins. If we didn't know that it was beef tendon, then there's no way we could have surmised it by taste alone. This can work in tendon's favor, since it will willingly take on the flavors of whatever is surrounding it. It is often used as a natural thickening agent in soups and stews, and if you toss in some meaty bones it can make a pretty killer stock that's crazy low in fat.

Go ahead and ask anyone who loves tendon and they'll tell you it's all about the texture, not the taste. The texture of tendon is also reminiscent of gelatin and reacts similar when exposed to heat. When served hot in soup, beef tendon transforms from chewy and thick into a slippery, jelly-like mass that quivers between your chopsticks.

Screw up your courage and take a bite. At first, hot tendon mimics the mouth feel of slightly liquidized, gelatinous fat as it rolls around on your tongue. Upon cooling in your mouth, it coagulates into more of a chewy jelled mass that is similar to Turkish Delight or any other jelly candy (minus the flavor). To a palate that generally prefers a more toothsome and lean texture, it's weird to say the least. The closest textural approximation to a more well-known cut of meat might be super soft, fat-loaded pork belly.

You Know It's Cooked Improperly When: Just like chicken feet, there's no wrong way to cook tendon. Some dishes serve it hot, others chilled. Some cook it in excess of eight hours, others keep the cooking to a minimum to retain the chewiness. It can be served as a component in soups or as the main protein surrounded by a flavorful sauce. It's all a matter of personal preference.

Always Been a DIY-er? You will probably have to hit up an ethnic market for this cut of meat, because it's not exactly common to find at a big box grocer. If you manage to find it for sale (check the freezer section if it's not available fresh), try whipping up some Malaysian beef tendon stew or Vietnamese pho.

Know of some offal we have to try? Leave your suggestions in the comments section.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Erica O'Neil