Editor's note: Our friend and Serious Eater Cathy dropped by recently with praise for Fergus Henderson's new book, Beyond Nose to Tail: More Omnivorous Recipes for the Adventurous Cook. Henderson's book is our featured Cook the Book entry this week, but first we'll give you Cathy's take before we begin the usual giveaway contest and recipes.
There are two kinds of carnivores: those who think meat means steak, and those who consider almost every bit of the animal edible. Count me in the latter camp. Tongues, brains, lungs, balls, eyeballs, liver, spleenI never met a part I didn't like. OK, the eyeball was a little disconcerting, but I'm glad I tried it.
For omnivores like me, the publication of Beyond Nose to Tail, Fergus Henderson's second cookbook, is cause for celebration. I love his sensibilities: "It would be disingenuous to the animal not to make the most of the whole beast; there is a set of delights, textural and flavoursome, which lie beyond the fillet." And I adore his food. Pig's face! Squirrel guts on toast! The man is a genius.
I want to cook everything in this book. Henderson's style is as direct as his recipes; his language can be whimsical, almost poetic, but it's always earthbound. He describes a pressed pig's ear as "thin slivers of joyous piggy jelly, within which there is a beautiful weave of ear." For a pot-roast half pig's head: "I say only half a head, as it is a perfect romantic supper for two. Imagine gazing into the eyes of your loved one over a golden pig's cheek, ear, and snout."
Sigh. Now that's love.
There's plenty here to please non-offal fans (braised lamb shoulder with lots of garlic and shallots, deep-fried rabbit), and even vegetarians: a salad of butter beans, leeks and cauliflower, a paean to the underappreciated kohlrabi, a gorgeous mess of grated raw beets, red onion and red cabbage.
Moreover, half the book is devoted to breads and desserts, courtesy of St. John pastry chef and baker Justin Piers Gellatly. His recipes are as gutsy as Henderson's. Breads rely not on commercial yeast but on a venerable starter fueled by rhubarb and live yogurt. There's an array of simple cookies, homey crumbles and cobblers, British puddings, and ice creams.
Jason Lowe's photographs are wonderfully evocative. They show dishes served family-style, on tables strewn with crumbs and well-gnawed bones, with fingers reaching for joints of fried rabbit or chocolate-sauced profiteroles. A recipe for the Queen of Puddings is accompanied by a photo of a cook wearing the pudding like a crown; one for a trifle features another cook beaming above the dessert, then planting his face in the plate. Behind a shot of the perfect chocolate ice cream, two out-of-focus cooks jump for joy. For someone who's revolutionized our notions of British cooking, Henderson does not take himself too seriously.
So if, like me, you relish the whole beast from the toot to the snoot, you need this book. If you detest offal but love hearty, straightforward food, you need this book. If you're a baker of bread, cakes or cookies, you need this book. Even if you don't cook at all, just buy the damn book. It's great fun to read, and a glimpse into the mind and heart of a brilliant chef.
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