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.
Unlike their European counterparts, American consumers aren't known for being open-minded when it comes to unusual cuts. Cuts beyond the loin, breast, rump, and shoulder are met with skepticism. That's why Reilly suggests "hiding the parts in things that are familiar to people." He finds that getting people to eat pig's feet in a blanket is easier than selling the idea of garnished hog hooves. The results are chewy and slightly sweet.
Braised Pig Trotters in a Blanket
(Serves about 8)
- 4 pig trotters, cut off at shank
- Lard for browning
- 3 onions, large dice
- 3 carrots, peeled, large dice
- 1 garlic clove
- 3 cups dry red wine
- 3 cups water
- 1 inch piece of unpeeled ginger root
- 1 star anise pod
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig of thyme
- 1 clove
- 4 allspice berries
- 1/4 tsp black peppercorns
- 1/2 cup pork lard or vegetable oil
- 9 oz milk
- 4 1/2 oz all-purpose flour
- 2 eggs
- pinch salt
- 1 oz sugar
- 1 oz melted butter
Leaving the skin on, season the trotters generously with salt. Heat the lard in a wide-bottom pan, and brown the trotters well on all sides. Remove them from the heat, and place them in a large ceramic roasting pan. Add all the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover with foil, and place in a 325°F oven for 3 1/2 hours to braise. Remove from the oven and allow the trotters to cool in the braising liquid. When cool, shred the meat off the bone, then discard all of the skin and bones. Next, skim the fat off off the braising liquid with a two-ounce ladle. When the fat is removed, strain the braising liquid into a medium pan, and reduce it until two cups of liquid are left. This will be used to flavor the dish in the final step.
For the crepes, combine all ingredients and whisk until no lumps remain. Allow the batter to sit overnight. When ready, cook the crepes in a nonstick pan. Place a small amount of finished trotter on each crepe, and roll each like an enchilada; pour the reduced liquid over the top.
Credit: Taryn Kapronica