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Book Review: The Whole Beast – Nose to Tail Eating

Fergus Henderson is a legend in the cooking world. An enthusiastic British architect turned chef, Henderson took British countryside cooking, with all its nasty bits and humble cuts, and elevated them to celestial heights when he opened St. John, his acclaimed London restaurant in 1992.

Henderson is the chef’s chef, the man who put offal on the map of haute cuisine and turned the most squeamish eaters into evangelists of tripe and organ meats. In 1999, he published Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking, a coveted cookbook that reached cult status in the UK. In 2004, the book was updated and re-released in the United States as The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating and continues to gain cult followers with its celebration of offal, innards, organs and fat.

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Anthony Bourdain writes the introduction with praises for Henderson and his “proclamation of the true glories of pork, offal and the neglected bits of animals we love to eat.” Bourdain goes on to say, “If The Whole Beast makes a statement, it’s that nearly every part of nearly everything we eat, in the hands of a patient and talented cook, can be delicious….This is fundamentally, a book about, simple good things.”

And, he’s right. Henderson writes with a child’s delight, demystifying centuries old cooking methods into an approachable handbook and, most of all, a pleasurable read.

Henderson begins with an eater’s manifesto, outlining his intent to celebrate not only the whole animal, but vegetables too, right down to the peppery tips of a radish bunch. He organizes the book into chapters featuring fundamental applications such as making and clarifying stocks and breakout sections discussing the lost art of rendering and preserving meat in fat. Other chapters include soups, starters, birds and game, fish and shellfish, vegetables, dressings, sauces, pickles, and dessert. He even dedicates an entire chapter to lamb’s brains and sweetbreads. Though a well-versed carnivore, Henderson writes with as much passion for other food and condiments (don’t miss “green sauce and its possibilities”) as he does meat.

The chapter about meat, however, is where you will find the stuff that made Henderson a household name. In this chapter, the reader will find recipes like Blood Cake and Fried Eggs, Stuffed Lamb’s Hearts, Gratin of Tripe and Pig’s Trotter Stuffed with Potatoes along with a myriad more covering the entire spectrum of animals. His recipe for Deviled Kidneys is recommended as a birthday treat and his profuse use of duck fat throughout the book will make you clap your hands. The book contains historical English dishes such as Kedgeree, a dish of smoked haddock with rice, and Welsh Rarebit, touted as a savory bite after a meal.

Henderson’s joy for the art and simplicity of cooking is expressed in his writing style which is full of candor and humor. Recipe instructions will call for the “happiest tomatoes” and directions will ask that you let the ingredients “get to know each other.”

Overall, the recipes contained in The Whole Beast call for easy to find ingredients – root vegetables, herbs, everyday spices and boiled eggs, to name a few. Some of the meat cuts can be hard to locate, but Henderson offers recommendations like heading to an international market or getting acquainted with the local butcher or fishmonger. The rest, he chalks up to the spirit of adventure.

If you’re a novice to the nasty bits, let Henderson be your fearless leader. If you’re a more experienced offal lover, this book will only deepen your love for the whole beast.


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