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.
"We have this connotation from Hannibal Lecter that it's sinister," says Reilly of liver. Yes, it goes well with fava beans, but it's also among the most versatile of organ meats, pairing well with cold and hot preparations such as pastas and many brunch items. That's one reason why the beast + bottle kitchen loves to work with it. This dish, in particular, is relatively easy and works well with any mustard, although Reilly recommends his house-made cherry mustard. "It'd be a 'wower' at a dinner party," he says.
Duck Liver Mousse with Cherry Mustard
(Serves 10–12 as an appetizer)
Duck Liver Mousse Ingredients
- 2 shallots, sliced thin
- 1/2 cup dry vermouth
- 1 duck liver, cleaned of all veins
- 1/2 lb butter, melted
- 2 cups of cream
- 1/2 tsp pink salt
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 cup of Madeira
Cherry Mustard Ingredients
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 lb cherries
- 3 tbsp dry mustard
- 2 tbsp whole grain mustard
- Pinch salt
Cook the shallots in vermouth until almost dry, then set them aside to cool. In a food processor, puree the livers with the shallot mixture, butter, cream, pink salt, salt, pepper, and nutmeg until very smooth. Pass the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl. Mix in the Madeira, and place the mousse in a ceramic terrine form sprayed with vegetable spray. Place the form in a baking dish with enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the pan. Bake for one hour 45 minutes at 350°F. Remove from the oven, and place the terrine form in another baking dish filled with ice. Allow it to cool there for at least 4 hours. When cooled, slice the mousse thin to serve.
For the cherry mustard, combine the sugar with two cups of water in a heavy-bottom saucepan and bring it to a boil. Add cherries and cook on high for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and whisk in the dry mustard powder, whole grain mustard, and salt. Chill before serving.
Credit: Taryn Kapronica