A Thumbs Up Book Review
The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating
By Fergus Henderson
Review by Sally Fallon
We don’t often review cookbooks in these columns, simply because there are so few we can recommend. So it’s a pleasure to come across a cookbook on which we can bestow our blessings. The writer is an architect-turned-chef who owns St. John, a wildly successful restaurant near the Smithfield meat market in London.
The Whole Beast is dedicated to recipes on organ meats. The delicious array includes warm pig’s head, ox tongue, roast bone marrow, calf’s heart, brawn (headcheese), jellied tripe, rolled pig’s spleen, duck neck terrine, duck hearts on toast, many recipes for lamb’s brain, sweet breads, blood cake (made with 1 quart of pig’s blood), pig’s cheek and tongue, gratin of tripe, haggis, deviled kidneys, lamb’s kidneys and giblet stew. The one notable omission is steak and kidney pie.
The recipes are exotic (or so they seem to us–they were once standard fare for Britons) but also simple. Henderson’s signature dish is Roast Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad, which calls for marrowbone, parsley, shallots and capers, with a dressing of lemon juice and olive oil–that’s all. The ingredient list for Duck Hearts on Toast is minimal: duck hearts, chicken stock, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, butter and toast.
Many pages are devoted to preserving meats, including an intriguing recipe for dried salted pig’s liver. Others include brine-cured pork belly, corned ox tongue, cured beef or venison, pickled herring and a variety of animal parts preserved in rendered fat.
And the book contains other treasures: many recipes for game birds, rabbit, venison, crab, eel, mussels and salt cod; creative vegetable concoctions, wonderful soups and unusual salads.
Henderson understands the value of stocks, makes pastry crust with suet and uses real butter and cream.
The desserts look fantastic and can be readily altered to include unrefined sweeteners.
Henderson includes several recipes for chutneys and pickles. They are preserved in vinegar but can easily be adapted to lacto-fermentation.
Henderson includes no discussion of the health benefits of the foods he serves, but with the exception of white sugar used in a few dessert recipes, and white bread crumbs in a few soups recipes, The Whole Beast is the quintessential health food cookbook; its principles will confer more beauty, strength and happiness on mankind than the thousands of fatuous lowfat tomes that lecture us about the evils of rich diets and promise the mecca of good health on a diet of skinless chicken breasts and soy smoothies.
Critics contend that Henderson’s food is too extreme for Americans. Henderson replies: “My experience is that every time someone comes to the kitchen at St. John to say how much they enjoyed our Pig’s Head or Rolled Spleen, they are always American, so I have no doubt that the strong gastronomic spirit of adventure in the United States will carry them through the recipes in this book.”
Whether you are a timid eater or a courageous one, this book needs to be in your kitchen, and not kept pristine on the shelf, but reverently used. You’ll need to find a real butcher or a farmer to obtain many of the basic ingredients, which is all the better, because as we learn to eat the whole beast, we hasten the revolution that is underway in America: the return to real food produced on real farms.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2004.