No if, and, or halibut about it.

Last month, we sat down at Rioja, a restaurant in Denver’s Larimer Square, where Chef Jen Jasinski turns out some spectacular dishes. Jasinski is the first Denver chef to win the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Southwest award, and she’s also in the kitchen at Ponti in the Denver Art Museum. 

I’d ordered the halibut, a luscious chunk of fish and one of the more expensive items on the menu. Halibut is also one of the earliest foods I can remember eating at home, and it was once relatively inexpensive.

We’ve seen this before: foods once economical are now quite costly. And vice versa.

Erik Williams, the man behind the fish case at Carnivore in Oak Park, told us that some of the increase in fish prices is likely due to “trawling/sustainability laws for American fisheries and changes in demand.”

Some of those demand changes are due to the public’s realization that previously ignored foods can be delicious — something some immigrant communities already understand.

Norma Zaragoza of Birrieria Zaragoza, a wonderful restaurant, told me, “Mom used to get beef tongues for free at a meat packing company because back in the early ’70s, they had no use for them. They caught on when all the Mexicans would line up for them. I just paid $67 for a medium-sized beef tongue!”

As my co-author Monica Eng wrote in Made in Chicago: Stories Behind 30 Great Hometown Bites, rib tips, now a staple at many Chicago BBQ joints, were once not even considered worthy of putting on the menu. Then Chicago BBQ pitmaster Myles Lemons of Lem’s Bar-B-Q finally relented and said, “Let’s cook them and see what comes of it.” Now, says his daughter, “We sell large and small combos, and people like them because there is just as much meat as there is on the ribs — even more.”

Years ago, before the supply of chicken increased to meet demand, I remember my aunt in Detroit once served us “mock chicken legs,” meat wrapped around a skewer to simulate a chicken leg. And what was that inexpensive mystery meat that was standing in for chicken? It was the now more costly veal!

Once considered almost too uninteresting to serve customers, chicken wings have become a popular nosh on game days and throughout the year. And now they’re anything but cheap. Chicken wings spiked at an average cost of $4.31 [per pound] for restaurants in October 2021.

Is there a lesson here? Yes, probably several, and one might be that there’s a lot of deliciousness out there, and price is not a good indicator of how delicious a food might be. So maybe it’s time to take advantage of less popular cuts, which don’t command the highest prices but are many times highly delicious. Take, for example, chicken thighs: much tastier than chicken wings and breasts, and much less expensive. 

At least for the time being.