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.
Tongue as an entrée can be a hard bite to swallow. That's too bad, says Reilly, because it has an intense flavor and pleasantly complicated texture. Again, adding the element of familiarity can make something that's viscerally unappealing seem a bit easier to handle. In this case, fill fresh ravioli (other pastas also work well) with the cooked, chopped meat. Bolstered with brown butter and parmesan, the rich and delicate tongue brings the meal alive while hiding from view.
Lamb Tongue Ravioli
- 1/2 lb lamb tongue
- 1/4 lb pancetta
- 2 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp chives
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup of parmesan (plus more for serving)
- Pasta dough
- 1 cup butter
- 2 tbsp thyme
Cook the raw tongue in simmering water for one hour, then let cool. Chop the tongue and pancetta very fine. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottom skillet, and add the tongue and pancetta, cooking them until they begin to brown. Next, add the chives and transfer to a large bowl; allow to cool to room temperature. Stir in the egg and parmesan, then season with salt and pepper. Roll out the pasta dough to the thinnest setting; place it on a flat surface, and cut into 3-inch squares. Place a scant tablespoon of filling on each square, the edges painted with an egg wash; top with another square and press the layers together. Make sure there are no air pockets. (The pasta can be frozen for up to 10 days at this point.) Cook the pasta in boiling water; in parallel, place the butter in a 14-inch sauté pan and heat it on high until the foam subsides. Sprinkle thyme in the butter, then lower the heat to medium until the butter browns; remove the pan from the heat. Toss the ravioli in the brown butter, and serve immediately with extra cheese on top.
Credit: Taryn Kapronica