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.
"If you like tenderloin, you'll love heart," says Reilly. "It has the same exact texture." At beast + bottle, the kitchen will often assemble an amuse-bouche (tiny complimentary appetizer) to make the fist-size organ last for several days – after all, there's only one per animal. When two are dining, however, it can be skewered as a kebab for a heartier meal. If the lamb variety isn't available from the local butcher, beef or bison hearts make satisfying alternates; steer clear of pork.
Lamb Heart Spiedini
- 13 oz lamb heart, cut into large dice, veins removed
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 2 jalapeños, minced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Marinate the heart in all ingredients for at least 4 hours. Skewer the meat on wooden skewers soaked in water for 20 minutes. Get an open grill very hot, and cook kebabs on high heat for 2 minutes on each side. Heart should be served rare and interlaced with vegetables, such as onion, mushroom, and pepper.
Credit: Taryn Kapronica