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Serving up the whole animal: Nose-to-tail cooking

Click here to view the original article published by the National Restaurant Association.

Move over, pork chops. Nose-to-tail cooking, in which chefs use the whole animal, continues to be trendy. At Chicago’s Publican, adventurous diners can savor everything from crispy pigs’ ears to pigtail terrine. “There’s only so much you can do with a pork chop,” says sous chef James Lyons. “This lets you be creative and branch out.”

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The Publican's Charcuterie plate Photo credit: Mika Sasaki

Chefs named nose-to-tail cooking — along with root-to-stalk cooking (using the whole plant) among the top 25 Tableservice Menu Trends for 2014 in a National Restaurant Association survey. Celebrity chefs such as Chris Cosentino, winner of “Top Chef Masters,” have helped the trend gain momentum by opening the public’s mind and palate to lesser-known cuts of meat, including offal (organ meats).

Going whole hog
The modern nose-to-tail trend emerged about a decade ago with Chef Fergus Henderson’s “The Whole Beast: Nose-to-Tail Eating.” But it’s actually an age-old approach. “Farmers would raise a pig, butcher it in the fall and preserve it to last the whole winter, making use of every part,” says Chef Rob Levitt, co-owner of Butcher & Larder, a whole animal butcher shop in Chicago.

“Nose-to-tail cooking is all about sustainability,” says Levitt, who worked as the chef at Chicago’s Mado restaurant with wife Allie before opening their butcher shop. “A farmer can’t raise a pork chop. A farmer can’t raise a leg of lamb. You have to raise a whole pig, a whole lamb.”

The approach also slashes food costs. By purchasing a whole pig, restaurants get pork chops at a fraction of the market price. “At Mado, we would sell all our pork chops in one night and recover the price for the whole pig,” says Levitt.

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Pork Rinds at The Publican Photo credit: Mika Sasaki

He served the remaining parts in a variety of dishes, including pork rillettes, sausage, pork shank and a warm salad with slow-cooked pig’s head atop mustard greens. “There’s very little you can’t use,” he says. “Even the connective tissues enriched our stocks.”

Today’s guests crave the variety that whole animal cooking offers, says Levitt, whose offerings at Mado included beef heart and hanger steak. “Foodies get tired of the same old cuts of meat. There will always be a place for rib eye on the menu, but a large and growing part of the population is trying different cuts.”

Make it an event

Locanda del Lago in Santa Monica, Calif., capitalizes on the whole animal movement by offering a monthly “Morso Della Bestia” or “Bite of the Beast” five-course dinner. Each month spotlights a different animal. The April event started with a salad topped with crispy lamb belly, followed by an appetizer of sautéed lamb offal and an entrée of pappardelle pasta with lamb shoulder ragu. For the main course, the chef carved baked leg of lamb.

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Lamb from Locanda del Lagos Photo credit: Emmanuela Cottu

By using the whole animal, there’s no waste,” General Manager Megan Heritage says. “That’s popular in Santa Monica, where there’s a big push to be green.”

The event’s rotating schedule has featured pig, lamb, boar, rabbit, halibut and more. Pig roasts prove to be most popular, so much so that the restaurant is adding a “Dig the Pig” five-course dinner, available any day to parties of 10 or more who reserve in advance.

Nose-to-tail know-how
Go piece by piece. If you’re new to nose-to-tail cooking, start by experimenting with one or two new cuts. Build up your repertoire before taking on a whole animal.

Get a demo. Check out Levitt’s butchering demonstration Saturday, May 17 at the NRA Show in Chicago, in the Foodamental Studio.

Talk with the farmers. You often can get a deal if you’re willing to take whatever parts they haven’t sold. Levitt recommends this approach with beef, because it’s difficult for restaurants to handle whole cows.

Mix things up with a presentation that showcases several animal parts in one dish. The Publican’s “Lamb Bollito Misto” features lamb sausage, lamb chop and rolled leg of lamb.

Watch your wording. Craft a menu that encourages guests to try new items. “Sometimes it helps if you use the Italian name for a dish,” suggests Chef Jonathan Luce of Bellanico in Oakland, Calif. Some guests might find it easier to order “Porchetta di Testa” than “Pig’s Head.”

Train your servers. Teach your staff how to explain your dishes in a clear and positive way. Make sure they’re prepared to talk about the preparation methods and the flavor profile. “You need to have them try it,” says the Publican’s Lyons, “so they know what they’re talking about.”

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