If you knock an animal on the head, its only polite to eat all of it

Reading this article reminds me of all the very tasty traditional Filipino dishes I enjoyed growing up. Living in Australia, I hope to enjoy these dishes again through the help of a well known Filipino chef.  I hope to share the experience with my Australian born friends and associates. However, I am not too sure how to approach them in a way where they become comfortable enjoying the food.

From the Sydney Morning Herald

Champing at the bits

Kirsten Lawson
February 21, 2012

What are you thinking when you order the crumbed brains or the devilled kidneys? The skewered hearts? Are you daring yourself, or establishing your general sophistication?

Or perhaps you’re well into the second half of life and, for you, the odd bits on the menu are simply what’s familiar, the tastes that take you back to childhood.

This is pretty much where it started for Jennifer McLagan, a former Melburnian who now lives in Canada and has made a career out of writing food books that challenge. Her first was Bones. Then Fat (which she loves and celebrates as highly healthy). Now it’s Odd Bits, a book that, in glorious detail and marvellous straight-talking, plunges right into the midst of spleens, stomachs and intestines, gizzards, brains, lungs, feet, cheeks and ears.

There is a dare factor, McLagan recognises, in the growing interest in the lesser cuts. But those who eat offal and other confronting bits of animals for the thrill of the weird are only part of the picture. For people such as McLagan, it’s about respecting the animal, not wasting tasty and useful food and doing things the way her parents did.

”As a child, I ate a lot of odd bits,” she writes in her book. ”My mother made wonderful soups from bones and hocks, unctuous oxtail stew and home-made meat pies filled with a palatable mixture of odd bits. I sucked the marrow from bones and ate ox tongue set in wobbly jelly every Christmas.”

It wasn’t all good. Tripe (stomach) in white sauce and crumbed lamb’s brains she remembers with anything but fondness. Sunday-night brains were no better and McLagan says her habit was to eat the breadcrumb coating, then slip the brains into her dressing gown pocket to throw out later.

She now counts the throwaway cuts among her favourites. Her tripe epiphany was in France, at the home of a child she tutored, when she ate tripe before knowing what it was. It was the beginning of a journey that took her into head cheese, intestines, pig’s feet and blood sauce, all the way to brains – which she didn’t try until much later, thanks to a chef friend in Toronto (where she lives with her husband).

”It’s a moral issue when it comes down to it,” McLagan says over the telephone, quoting London’s Fergus Henderson as saying, ”If you knock an animal on the head, it’s only polite to eat all of it.”

”We can raise an animal well and slaughter it quickly but the most respect we can show is to use all of it and not waste any of it,” she says. ”If we start throwing bits away … that’s kind of immoral.”

People have short memories, she says, pointing out that British menus, as well as those in the US, were full of offal a few decades ago. Hugely influential US cookbook The Joy of Cooking has a recipe from the 1980s for cockscombs.

Cockscombs? Why would we eat cockscombs? Their shape makes them a fabulous garnish, McLagan says, and they are very gelatinous. They’re fiddly. You need to soak them in salted water for a few hours to remove any blood, then blanch, then while they’re still hot, rub off the membrane that covers them, using a towel and coarse salt to help. Then you cook them slowly over a few hours and they take on the flavour of their cooking liquid. It doesn’t need to be savoury. McLagan recalls eating cockscombs as part of dessert in Montreal, where they had been simmered in the juice of blood orange. It tasted, she says, like an orange jelly bean.

Take chicken’s feet, for which McLagan would have you use scissors to cut off their nails, then ”if there are any hard or rough pieces of scaly outer skin, hold them over a gas flame or use a propane torch to blister and loosen the pieces and then rub them off with a towel”.

Pig’s ears also require patient work. First, you need to singe or shave off any hair and clean them thoroughly inside, then you need to salt them for two days before poaching them for a couple of hours in a court bouillon. You then flatten them by weighing them down in the fridge overnight. Finally, you’re ready to roast or grill them, or just use as is, sliced in a salad. Ears make up for a lack of meat with crisp or chewy skin (depending how you cook them), she says, and with crunchy cartilage.

To McLagan, heart, liver, spleen, kidneys, stomach, intestines and caul fat are no less than an ”exotic treasure trove” but she acknowledges it’s easy to lose sight of the fact she’s dealing with what to many people are the most difficult parts of the animal to eat. ”The truth is that some parts, while tasty, have very challenging textures,” she says.

But she puts much of our distaste at odd bits down to cultural differences. What’s unusual in one culture is everyday in another.

She’s not big on insects, she says, but recognises that oysters are eaten alive, as are witchetty grubs.

”Some things are much more challenging than others to eat just because you’re unfamiliar with them,” she says.

McLagan notes that pork belly, not in the least fashionable only a few years ago, is now the darling of the restaurant menu and working its way into home kitchens. Asked what might appear next on the popular plate, she nominates blood, which is appearing on menus in North America in the form of blood sausage. Australian diners will also be finding it on menus, even in desserts, for which McLagan offers a couple of recipes.

McLagan traces the disappearance of odd bits to the rise of the supermarket and the switch, as she puts it, to ”people going to buy their meat at the same place they buy their toilet paper”.

Odd Bits by Jennifer McLagan (published by Arum, distributed by New South Books), $40.

This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/cuisine/champing-at-the-bits-20120218-1tfdt.html


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