As foodie trends go, farm-to-table and nose-to-tail are running neck and neck. Both fads offer diners a chance to eat like their great-great-grandfathers, but only the carnivorous option exposes eaters to dishes that have spent the better part of a century off the menu.
"This is a nostalgic way of eating. It's the way people ate for centuries," says Paul Reilly, chef at Denver's outstanding new restaurant beast + bottle. "You have so much meat on your hands that you have to find something to do with."
Reilly's intimate Uptown restaurant has quickly ascended to the top of Denver's dining scene thanks to its inventive mix of prime cuts and tender organ meats. But, even for an adventurous cook like Reilly, working with livers, hearts, feet, and tongue wasn't initially enticing. "I totally hacked it; I made some awful cuts," he recalls of his first full lamb. "But at the end of the day, it didn't matter – I could turn it into sausages, I could turn it into braises, and, of course, the bones made a killer stock."
Because of the wide margin for error, experimenting with obscure animal parts is a great way to get wild in the kitchen. Reilly compares it to golf: You'll get better as you practice, but there will always be improvements to make and nuances to master. Here are the eight animal parts Reilly recommends that beginning nose-to-tailers cook first, along with recipes for each.
Clear eyes, full pig heart: You can't lose.
"It's a stretch," admits Reilly. "The staff went absolutely crazy for it; the people in the restaurant that bit on it loved it. But it can be a little tough to get people to go for it." The recipe stems from a sauce he had in Italy, where people consider the internal organs "the gift of the chicken." While most Americans would beg to differ, cooking the liver in a knockout tomatoey ragù removes a layer of intimidation.
Chicken Liver Ragù
- 2 oz porcini mushroom powder
- 2 oz hot water
- 1 parsnip, cut into medium dice
- 1 onion, minced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 lb chicken livers, cleaned of veins, soaked in milk for 1 hour, and coarsely chopped
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup of dry white wine
Add the hot water to the mushroom powder and let it sit for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan and slowly sauté the parsnips with the onion and garlic until soft. Add one more tablespoon of olive oil, then the livers. Do not move the livers or pan, but allow them to brown and caramelize for 4–5 minutes. Next, add the mushroom liquid, tomato paste, and white wine. Tie up the cloves and bay leaf in cheesecloth, and add to the ragù. Reduce the heat to simmer, and cook for 10 minutes until the wine is reduced by half. Serve over fresh pasta with capers, balsamic vinegar, parsley, and parmesan.
Credit: Taryn Kapronica