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.
Brining a pig's head overnight is not much different than doing the same to a turkey. "You just let it go in a pot with onions, celery, and white wine until the meat basically starts falling off the head." Contrary to the name, this has nothing to do with cheese, but rather refers to the gelatin created from poaching the head. "You can pour the gelatin over the meat and seal in the terrine," says Reilly. For this recipe, the trotters are optional, but they help speed up the process by making the bouillon more gelatin-rich. The recipe makes a generous terrine, which is ideal for a party or leftovers.
- 1 pigs head, eyeballs removed
- 2 pigs trotters (optional)
- 1 gallon water
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 3 tbsp pink salt
- 1 bottle dry white wine
- 4 onions, coarsely chopped
- 1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
- 1 bunch parsley
- 1 bunch thyme
- 4 garlic cloves
- 10 black peppercorns
- 8 bay leaves
- 6 cloves
- 1 tbsp champagne vinegar
Soak the head in a five-gallon bucket of cold water for two hours to draw out any blood. Make a brine with the water, salt, sugar, and pink salt. In a five-gallon bucket, brine the head with the trotters for eight hours. Discard the brine and rinse the head and trotters with cold water. In a large, deep stock pot combine the head and trotters with wine, onions, and celery and enough cold water to fully cover all the meat. Tie up the herbs, garlic, and spices in cheesecloth and add to the stockpot. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for approximately four hours or until the jawbone falls off the pig head on its own. Remove the meats from the pot, and set aside to cool. Next, strain the cooking liquid through a fine mesh sieve. Skim off any fat. Scoop a few large spoonfuls of liquid onto a plate and chill to check the strength of the gel. It should be firm; not rubbery. If it slides on the plate, reduce it a bit longer; if too hard, add some more liquid. Once it's ready, taste it for seasoning and add the vinegar. Coarsely chop all the meat and be careful to check for the teeth, which should be discarded. Line a terrine mold with plastic wrap and fill it with the chopped meat, then pour enough liquid over the meat just to cover it. Refrigerate the terrine (head cheese) overnight and slice it the next day (it will keep for about 10 days). Serve the final dish with mustard, pickles, crusty bread, and garlicky mayonnaise.
Credit: Taryn Kapronica