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  • Writer's picturegfmeade7

ALL THE DUCK OR NO DINNER


I recall being presented with a menu on the continent one time with just a map of a cow illustrating all the butcher cuts and then the menu itself consisted of these said cuts only and a corresponding dish created around it. This was my first taste of nose to tail eating and in the subsequent decades it has become more common but there is still not enough of it out there. If more kitchens worked like this and bought a whole or half carcass of beef, lamb or pork then meat would be cheaper for both the restaurants to buy and the customer to pay. Most current chefs would not be able to break down a carcass now anyway.

  In bygone days we did not have the luxury of mass scale factory production to be able to eat the choice, tender cuts all the time. The tough, unpopular parts had to have their turn on the table too never mind the even more unappreciated innards and offal, heads, tails and everything in between. Previously everyone just accepted that all parts of an animal were edible and the ingenuity was there to make them palatable. Sometimes the rarer bits can be just as delicious as the expensive cuts.


Something like oxtail soup really is superb when made fresh and with the meat itself I used to have to make a rich cold terrine out of in one job which was just gorgeous to eat with a fruity relish, crisp salad and warm toasted bread. The legs and rump of an animal present all sorts of delicacies like our hams and rump steaks. Shanks of lamb, trotters of pork and shins of beef are also fantastic when slowly braised like in the famous Italian Osso Bucco dish. 


   Then it’s the loin with its prime cuts as steaks and roasts but the belly has all the nutritious organs like hearts, livers, lungs, kidneys, tripe and sweetbreads to use up never mind the blood for puddings.  When we have a good pate made from any of the livers it can be one of the nicest things to eat. The ribs can also be very tasty of course and the fat around the flank is superb for flavouring recipes too.  Pork belly is another dish that is all the rage these days. Generally the skin can be very good too, especially on pork and chicken and beef marrow has to be one of the best things one can savour.

     The shoulders move a lot and the exercise makes all these very active parts extra flavoursome, hence chicken wings are so good to eat. Tough cuts will always be tough to start with but the long cooking eventually breaking them down, the wait is well worth it.  Finally the head has all sorts of good bits like ox tongue cooked slowly and served cold is a real treat and the meat from the head is always special like in a terrine. Beef cheeks are fashionable right now and neck of lamb was essential for our Irish stew. I had to cook a house special breadcrumbed slivers of lamb brain as a free bar snack in Australia one time which were gobbled up by thirsty drinkers.


Now there are some other bits too that are not for the fainthearted but they are edible and some cultures and cuisines have made specialities out of ears, eyes, genitalia and the like. I once had deep fried pig ears and they were just like richly flavoured crisps. It’s not just animals but fish too that can be nose to tailed but that is even more uncommon in this part of the world but you will see no part of seafood wasted if you look to Asia. Sadly a lot of the fish and animal parts we do not fancy end up in waste or pet food so it means we must rear and catch even more food to meet the demand for our squeamishness.


  The cost of rearing an animal for food in the current climate crisis is becoming more and more of a hard question that has to be asked. Maybe in a hundred years agriculture will be completely changed but it has to be a very slow change to get there so that both customer and producer can adapt and farming as a livelihood can still be sustained. The formula worked well in the past when we ate nose to tail but our modern diet and ecology issues are not compatible with traditional methods of production. 

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