Waste Not, Want Not
Photo by Patricia Niven
You can’t talk about nose-to-tail in fine dining without referencing Fergus Henderson or his acclaimed London restaurant St John; it remains, to date, one of my favourite restaurants in London and is well worth a visit. As Henderson says, don’t try offal because it’s morally important to eat the whole beast (although it’s a very good reason!) – try it because you’ll like it, try it because there is a set of delights, textural and flavoursome, that lie beyond the fillet.
The global nose-to-tail trend refers to eating every part of an animal, not just the prized cuts. This is nothing new for many communities around the world, but is somehow lost in the post-war West who never wanted to go back to what was considered by some as impoverished eating. Living in Hong Kong, we encounter the ‘lesser cuts of meat’ more often than in most developed cities. Hong Kong didn't have supermarkets until the ‘70s. Not unlike in provincial Europe, one bought one’s food from the fishmonger, flowers from the florist, bread from the bakery and one went to the wet market to buy meat from the butcher.
Brisket, trotter, marrow and tail all feature heavily in Cantonese cuisine. Paying attention to the lower cuts and not being wasteful gives us a renewed interest in how to best prepare and use the animal to its fullest, most delicious potential. Of course, no one expects you to be able to prep and clean a pig’s head at home for a Tuesday night in front of the TV. And, while the bulk of us that identify in any way as a ‘foodie’ can afford the high-on-the-hog cuts, there are a lot of dishes that fall by the wayside.
Offal from poultry is a great way to get involved in nose-to-tail cooking. All of the parts are easy to handle and are packed with flavour. Duck, goose or chicken turned into terrines, confit or pâté is a great way to start experimenting that are not too time consuming. So while the waste-not-want-not attitude is a staple feature across Asia, there aren’t too many restaurants that focus on nose-to-tail as a culinary trend. Smith 49 in Bangkok or On Lot 10 here in Hong Kong are some of my favorite restaurants to experience an array of different nose-to-tail dishes by outstanding chefs.
At Blue Butcher we use a variety of beasts and cuts and bring them all together to give you a selection of dishes that we think encompass a set of sensual and textural dishes that are beyond being just a steak house. So in this way, you really get the most out of the beast and enjoy traditionally rejected cuts in a prime atmosphere.
Our chefs take 48 hours to prepare Blue Butcher’s pig’s head terrine. Slow poaching for such a length of time breaks down the meat, fat and skin allowing each element to cook together. Mixed with fresh herbs and caramelised sour apple, this time enables the flavours to come together to give it a melt in your mouth experience.
From the same beast and a hidden gem on our bar menu is the Blue Butcher pig’s neck nuggets. The lean cut of the pigs neck is similar to pulled pork but with less of the fatty taste. These bite-sized pieces of pork are lightly fried then served up with my favourite smoked mustard. The nuggets make the perfect accompaniment to that third cocktail you ordered curb-side at our ground floor bar.
I have always admired Fergus Henderson. He is, and always will be, the father of the reintroduction of offal in contemporary western cuisine. When The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating came out, I was obsessed with the book. Someone had to stand up and do that. I look to Fergus a lot for direction and I am proud to have welcomed him at Blue Butcher this month and cooked a very special dinner with him for our faithful guests.