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The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating

From Cosa Bolle in Pentola:
This is, according to Anthony Bourdain, who wrote the introduction, a "cult masterpiece" that chefs and foodies who went to England to eat in Fergus Henderson's St. John's Restaurant would hurry to purchase and then pretend they didn't have for fear someone would borrow it (and not give it back).

To be honest, I had my doubts, but as I began to flip though the recipes, a flipping that quickly became much more interested reading, I changed my mind. It's a fascinating book dedicated to turning what a great many people living in our age of abundance might blanch at into, well, the Italian word is manicarretti, which means deft culinary delights. What sorts of things? Pig's trotters, pig's tails, pig's ears even, bone marrow, tripe, giblets, ox tongue, and so on, in short, all the things people used to eat because hunger is a nasty bedfellow. And not only used to eat, but used to enjoy, because they can be very good if properly prepared, though the preparation also takes time, and this explains their current eclipse, given the ready availability of the prime cuts that take much less effort to do.

Saint John's doesn't just serve culinary throwbacks; Mr. Henderson also includes many dishes (both modern and traditional) that don't require prowling assorted butcher shops because a supermarket simply won't have the cut, and also many soups, salads, and more, including a chocolate ice cream recipe that will outdo just about anything you can get in a store. Ice cream being a standard thing, we won't use it as an example, but rather:

Jellied Tripe (page 40)

I know that there is a general mistrust of tripe; interestingly enough this dish has produced most tripe converts. It does have a seductive nature of looking like summer on a plate, but it's not just its good looks that recommend it -- it's delicious.

  • 4 pig's trotters
  • 2 heads of garlic, skin on, plus 6 cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • Bay leaves
  • A bundle of fresh thyme tied together
  • 2 quarts good dry cider
  • 1 cup Calvados, optional
  • 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 pounds [2 k] tripe
  • 1 scoop of duck fat
  • 8 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 leeks, cleaned, trimmed, and thinly sliced
  • 4 canned whole plum tomatoes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the trotters, whole heads of garlic, bay leaves, thyme, cider and Calvados (if using) in a pot, bring up to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. After 2 hours add the tripe. Cook for another 1 to 11/2 hours, until the tripe and trotters are cooked: when you pinch them, your fingers go easily through the flesh. Remove the tripe and trotters, herbs, and garlic from the liquor, which you should leave cooking to reduce by half. Pull the flesh off the trotters while still warm and add to the tripe, discarding the bones.

Meanwhile sweat the shallots, carrots, leeks and chopped garlic in the duck fat until softened, but not a pulp. Add the tomatoes, crushing them in your hand as you do so, and let this mixture cook for a further 20 minutes, sweetening the tomatoes (you are not looking to make a tomato dish, just bring the faintest blush). Now add the tripe and trotter flesh to the pot with a few ladles of the liquor, and season with salt and pepper -- remember that this will be served cold, so slightly overcompensate. Let this cook gently together for another 30 minutes.

Line a terrine or loaf pan with plastic wrap. Spoon in the tripe, trotter and vegetables with a slotted spoon, topping up at the end with the liquid so they're just covered. Make sure, by banging the mold on the counter, you are not left with any gaps or air holes. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in the fridge overnight to set.

When firm, remove it from the fridge to acclimatize without getting too warm, and slice it as you would a terrine: you should have a beautiful cross section through a tripy weave. Serve with chicory salad dressed with Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, and capers.

I can see why this would make converts of non-tripe eaters, and though it will take a while to do it's one of those dishes that's easy to make if you happen to be at home to take a look at the pot every now and again. In summary, about 160 fascinating recipes covering everything from starters through desserts, delightfully presented in a book that will greatly expand many people's culinary horizons. At least it did mine. Highly recommended.

Practical things:
The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating
By Fergus Henderson
Ecco Press (an imprint of Harper Collins), 2004
Trade paperback, 202 pages, about 160 recipes and some illustrations
ISBN 0-06-058536-6
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