I have to start by saying that I can prepare only ten of the thirty-four recipes in the meat section of this cookbook without special ordering, and thirteen are virtually impossible due to unavailability of ingredients. Lamb tongues? Pig tails? Quarts of pig blood? Lamb hearts? Forget it. I live near a large butcher who can't or won't provide any of these items for any price I can pay. They go to the dogfood plants. This is a pity, as anyone lucky enough to have eaten the flavorful extremities and innards of young animals can attest. Our American supermarket meat counters have for years whittled down the selection in favor of the most flavorless cuts: fillet mignon and chicken breast have taken the shelf space once dedicated to the "set of delights, textural and flavorsome, which lie beyond the fillet", to quote author Fergus Henderson. As our cultural memory of the flavors of the parsimonious and creative farmhouse kitchen shrivels, our food is impoverished. Henderson writes a sharp critique of our culture of waste, but only as the byproduct of his central thesis: that there is a world of pleasure out there for those who set aside their suburban sqeamishness and eat the whole beast.
Among the few recipes I can follow without unconscionable substitutions are some real gems. Tripe and Onions, remarkably similar to French, Italian, Spanish, and even Mexican preparations, is delicious. Rabbit and Garlic is a powerfully aromatic feast. Beans and Bacon is a perfect rustic dish, a worthy simplification that could stand for cassoulet. Ox Tongue and Bread, really a carpaccio or hearty salad, is an excellent meal on its own, great with a simple and light red table wine. Each time I've prepared a dish from this book, I've lamented the narrow-minded marketing that makes most of the book inaccessible.
My laments are accompanied by shameless keening when I get to the Birds and Game section. Almost nothing in this section is possible here. A shame, really. Some of these recipes make great reading. But so did Don Quixote, and I'm not any more able to get fresh pigeon [without a good slingshot] than I am able to book a flight to medieval Spain. This highlights the real perversity of this book: af all the many cookbooks in my library, representing such far-flung cuisines as Indian, Turkish, and West African, the most exotic is from my ancestral England, from a chef who speaks something very like my own language, and whose ingredients sound, but for the specific location of their cuts, very familiar. How far we've come without true progress!
Go to the meat counter and test this assertion: our culture values two characteristics above all others in meat: softness and blandness. Now consider what we're missing: the heady pleasures of the most flavorful cuts of meat, skillfully prepared and simply served. Somewhere along the way we've abandoned a great cultural inheritance. It takes an act of will to remember that abundance has cost us dearly.
I wish I had the means to distribute this excellent book like a religious tract. It will take something like religious fervor on the part of a few brave souls to get us back to the roots of our cooking: farm and field.
on August 3, 2004
Kudos to The Whole Beast by Fergus Henderson. This unusual cookbook is dedicated to recipes on organ meats. The delicious array includes warm pig's head, ox tongue, roast bone marrow, calf's heart, brawn (headcheese), jellied tripe, rolled pig's spleen, duck neck terrine, duck hearts on toast, many recipes for lamb's brain, sweet breads, blood cake (made with 1 quart of pig's blood), pig's cheek and tongue, gratin of tripe, haggis, deviled kidneys, lamb's kidneys and giblet stew. The one notable omission is steak and kidney pie.
The recipes are exotic (or so they seem to us-they were once standard fare for Britons) but also simple. Henderson's signature dish is Roast Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad, which calls for marrowbone, parsley, shallots and capers, with a dressing of lemon juice and olive oil-that's all. The ingredient list for Duck Hearts on Toast is minimal: duck hearts, chicken stock, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, butter and toast.
Many pages are devoted to preserving meats, including an intriguing recipe for dried salted pig's liver. Others include brine-cured pork belly, corned ox tongue, cured beef or venison, pickled herring and a variety of animal parts preserved in rendered fat.
And the book contains other treasures: many recipes for game birds, rabbit, venison, crab, eel, mussels and salt cod; creative vegetable concoctions, wonderful soups and unusual salads.
Henderson understands the value of stocks, makes pastry crust with suet and uses real butter and cream.
Henderson includes no discussion of the health benefits of the foods he serves, but with the exception of white sugar used in a few dessert recipes, and white bread crumbs in a few soups recipes, The Whole Beast is the quintessential health food cookbook; its principles will confer more beauty, strength and happiness on mankind than the thousands of fatuous lowfat tomes that lecture us about the evils of rich diets and promise the mecca of good health on a diet of skinless chicken breasts and soy smoothies.
Critics contend that Henderson's food is too extreme for Americans. Henderson replies: "My experience is that every time someone comes to the kitchen at St. John to say how much they enjoyed our Pig's Head or Rolled Spleen, they are always American, so I have no doubt that the strong gastronomic spirit of adventure in the United States will carry them through the recipes in this book."
Whether you are a timid eater or a courageous one, this book needs to be in your kitchen, and not kept pristine on the shelf, but reverently used. You'll need to find a real butcher or a farmer to obtain many of the basic ingredients, which is all the better, because as we learn to eat the whole beast, we hasten the revolution that is underway in America: the return to real food produced on real farms.
Review by Sally Fallon
Fergus Henderson, the chef author of this book subtitled `nose to tail eating' is a cult hero among foodies and among heroes of foodies such as Tony Bourdain, who writes the introduction to this new edition and Mario Batali, a major advocate himself of using the whole animal.
For several reasons, this book is likely to have little to no value to the average person who cooks and who may refer to a cookbook now and then. The recipes commonly use ingredients that are simply unavailable outside better butcher shops and farmers' markets. The recipes also commonly use techniques that are the antithesis of fast cooking and low fat cooking. There are some recipes that literally require up to two weeks to complete.
The true audience for this book aside from culinary professionals are those who religiously watch Alton Brown's `Good Eats' , read John Thorne's books and newsletter as if they were gospels, and study books by Paul Bertolli, Eric Rippert, Judy Rodgers, and Jeremiah Tower for subtle new techniques to squeeze the last ounce of value from their primo materia.
Just to be sure it is clear to you what this book is all about, it's primary subject is preparing in a cuisine absolutely everything but the oink, as the saying goes, from a pig and other animals. To this end, the author presents us with recipes for pig's head, pigs jowls (Mario Batali's favorite guanciale), pig's ears, pig's tail, livers, hearts, tongues, and the most beloved stomach as used in preparing the old Scottish classic, haggis.
If this were the limit of the author's novelty, there would probably be little interest in the book among chefs. The author pushes this point of view to cover culinary techniques which are either not commonly used by the average chef and which are generally unknown to the average cook. The two best-known methods are brining and preserving in oil as in a comfit. Brining has probably become much better known among American foodies thanks to the efforts of Alton Brown and Shirley Corriher. It is a method of soaking meat in a solution of salt, sugar, and aromatics to impart moisture to the meat. Creating a comfit involves storing meat in fat rendered from the meat and fatty parts of the animal from which the meat was taken. The method is best known as a method for preserving duck legs, but it may be applied to many other meats. The author applies both techniques to a wide variety of foods.
If any part of this book may have use to the average reader who takes cooking seriously, it would probably be the author's lessons on the creation and use of stocks. Unlike chefs at the cutting edge of American haute cuisine such as Judy Rodgers, Henderson's stock techniques are beautifully simple. He does recommend the uncommon method of creating a raft to clarify stocks. I have not seen this method used outside of Culinary Institute of America texts, but the author presents it so simply that one need have no fear that it is too complicated for them. That is not to say it does not take time. This is an example of why the nonprofessional will want to read this book. It is just chocked full of unusual techniques, some as simple as they are unexpected. The author goes against a tidal wave of preference for the Italian flat leafed parsley and chooses to use curly leafed parsley in most recipes including an utterly simple method for flavoring salt with the herb and adding it to a simple sauce.
While the focus of the book is on meat, it does cover the very typical range of dishes with chapters on Stocks, Soups, Salads, Starters, Main Dishes (mostly the odd body parts are here), Birds and Game, Fish and Shellfish, Vegetables, Sauces, Puddings, and Baking. The refreshing iconoclasm extends even to the discussion of routine sauces where the author is clear to all that aioli is NOT mayonnaise with garlic, but a thing onto itself. He probably also breaks a few hearts by mixing olive oil for both mayonnaise and aioli in a food processor.
The book should also be a treasure for armchair foodies who get no closer to a Garland range than a read of reviews in `Cooks Illustrated'. This chef has a way with words. You may almost think of him as a literate Jaime Oliver who suggests you put terrines `in the fridge for 24 hours to allow it to find itself'. I sometimes find it tedious to read even good recipes. There is no such problem with this book.
Highly recommended read for all professionals and foodies. Great source of ideas, even if you never make any of the recipes.
on April 12, 2004
Recipes from my very favorite restaurant on earth.Finally..FINALLY, Fergus Henderson's amazing book is reprinted in the US--allowing American chefs and foodies to lay their hands on what they've only been hearing about for years. Don't be put off by offal--this is a fine, British country-style cookbook filled with useful, easy-to execute regional Brit fare. And as a food-nerd collectible--its the ultimate must-have. I've said elsewhere that the publication of this book is the most important event in food publishing this year--and I meant every word.
on April 26, 2004
This book is centuries behind its time and years ahead of its time-a great book for anyone who cares about food, cooking or eating. Thank God for Henderson's work and craft. He's a marvel. More people in the United States ought to be familiar with his work. I hope this book is just the beginning.
on June 14, 2008
Architecture's loss was the UK food scene's greatest win in nearly 60 years when Fergus Henderson became a cook. Now chef at St Johns restaurant in London, Nose To Tail Eating is a truly ground breaking work of exquisite simplicity, just as every dish in the book is in itself.
Having lived and worked in the UK, I, as a former cook, was of the opinion that modern British cooking left much to be desired. How wrong I was. Fergus takes the now rare simplicities of basic English cooking to amazing heights. His roasted quail dish couldn't be simpler: quail, salt, pepper, good oil and a hot oven for around 20 minutes. If you begin with good quail you will, I PROMISE YOU, have one of the best dining experiences of your life. I've cooked this dish for other chefs who refused to believe me when I said it was his recipe and that it only contained those four ingredients. His roasted marrow bone, in-bone, is exceptional and astounding in its simplicity and quality. He cares naught for precise measurements or detailed recipes. How can any cook book writer KNOW what YOUR oven is like, or what your skill levels are... a great and ignored flaw in all cook books. Fergus sweeps all this trivia aside and presents basic elements and instructions and leaves the rest to you... if you love food as much as he, obviously does, then the rest is up to you. How else can it be. This is what makes this cook book (guide) so special. There are some recipes that may be daunting or downright off-putting, like pig's head or cheek. But so well was this book written that, even after 25 years of commercial cooking, I was so inspired that I went out and got myself a whole pig's head and gave it a go. It was scary, but in the end result... heavenly!
Fergus Henderson, along with Tony Bourdain is one of my 'cooking gods'. I'm in Tasmania and probably will never, sadly, get to his St Johns but I've got the next best thing; his book and the inspriation Nose To Tail gave me.
I urge you to buy this book. (No, I'm not Fergus Henderson) I just wish I was.
William Kenneth Halliwell
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
on April 12, 2004
fergus henderson's nose to tail eating is the most interesting and provocative cookbook i have seen in a time where the bulk of all of the cookbooks released have 75 recipes for chicken and 30 for cream cheese and pasta. This thoughtful tome starts with delicious and easy to make soups with simple ingredients like pumkpin, bacon and garlic and proceeds to reveal a zen master restaurant chef at the peak of his game. This is not a pasta and grocery store driven book for the rookie cook, but more for the cuisine enthusiast with a couple of great recipes in their repetoire, looking to expand to the slightly different and flavorful world of simple and poetic cooking of one of the great restaurants of the world.
on April 13, 2004
I know, I'm the publisher. But that's just it -- I committed early here, bought into this book in a big way. Anyone can publish "the famous chefs," but as a publisher, and a reader and user of cookbooks (my 10-year-old daughter thinks I'm a talent in the kitchen), how often do you get the chance to be part of a groundbreaking movement? A style of cooking that combines soul and taste, with a nod to "economy" - waste not want not! I've been told by many along the way that this is truly a counter-intuitive enterprise. In response, I wish only to say that THE WHOLE BEAST is a book that has already given the serious food world (chefs, cookbooks writers, reviewers and discerning eaters) tremendous pleasure. It's a book that will always be part of my starting team in the kitchen. There's nothing like it - a book that proves once and for all that offal is awesome.
on August 27, 2011
I have eaten in the author's restaurant and I love uncommon food. However, I can't say that I am fond of this book. It is aimed to a very small group of people that are already so familiar with unusual cuts so they can just jump into recipes. What is really missing in this book is a section on butchering and some interesting background material. Unfortunately, the book almost immediately jumps into recipes. As I said, this approach is fine if you already know your meat or if you have a butcher that has all the information. Many of us would like to know a bit more so that we can talk to the butcher. I have found that not all butchers are instinctively familiar with or interested in all different kinds of cuts. I would also have liked some pictures in the book, that would have added $5 but would anyone really care? I still give the book three starts for the passion of the chef and the uniqueness (today) of his food.
on March 15, 2005
The more I learn about Chef Henderson, the more I admire him. He's a role model for every Chef out there, and this book shows you why. I first heard about Fergus Henderson when Tony Bourdain brought him along for a book signing and conference at the CIA. This was 2004 and I was a student there. I liked what both had to say, and a few days later I ordered the book. I've never read a cookbook so fast, and I still keep it on my bedside table for inspiration.
His recipes may not be suitable for the amateur cook. Not because they're hard to make, but because they take time and the extra effort of finding the ingredients he uses, like tripe, heart, tongue and livers. He reinvented old techniques and uses the cheaper, more flavorful cuts of meat. Of course, selling this food to your family might be a problem. He even says that in the mid nineties it was difficult to sell the idea to the English customers.
However, if you're a serious foodie or a professional chef, then buy this book and read it. For the price it sells, there's just no better value. For me, reading it makes me want to have the same kind of restaurant he does, where the philosophy is about respect of the seasonality of ingredients and the animals slaughtered to put food in the plate. The whole beast is edible, so let's learn to cook it. The best bits are usually the ones we overlook and throw away. Not me, not anymore. Chef Henderson has showed me the real way to cook. I hope he does the same for you.