Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Whole Hog: Appreciation Of The Animal Who Provides Our Food

I wanted to call this particular blog "From Nose To Tail" but I wasn't sure of the copyright laws regarding someone else's title, i.e., Fergus Henderson's The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating.  It's a wonderful book, as well as a feast.  Fergus Henderson is just one of a number of recent chefs who have brought people back to the age-old appreciation and tradition of using the entire animal that sacrificed its life for our consumption.  Other chefs include Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Chris Cosentino, and others, as well as many of the people interested in sustainable food like Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver, and Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon, authors of the 100 Mile Diet (the original link to their 100 Mile Diet website appears to have disappeared so I give you the Wikipedia synopsis - I did follow the original website and their year eating such a diet).  The list grows ever longer and now includes film as well.

But, back to "appreciation of the animal who provides the food."  I saw that "illuminating moment" while watching The Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs on Sunday, 10/30.  Maybe it was just my own personal Tipping Point, when I finally saw, with my own eyes, how a chef truly appreciated and knew, within his own ken, how to treat every part of an animal.

In the first part of this competition for the next Iron Chef, the chefs were teamed up in pairs.  Outside in the California countryside, they then had to make a fire with grill, butcher a small pig, and create two dishes that would win the competition.  The chefs came up with many very creative and delicious dishes.  I drooled over all of them.  But the genius, illuminating moment appeared for me while watching Chef Michael Chiarello.

Chef Chiarello was paired up with Chuck Hughes.  They made, for the first dish, a Crispy Pig's Ear Salad with Beets and Pork Cheeks. Their second dish consisted of Chili Maple Glazed Pork Chops with Pig Brain's Duxelles served on Grilled and Poached Potato with Grilled Pork Belly.  That illuminating moment came as I watched Michael Chiarello, using his hand, scoop the brains out of the pig's head and add them to the celery/duxelles mix, explaining that brains are "...creamy, voluptuous, and buttery."  He continued by adding that brains have "...great flavor and texture."  After seeing what he did and hearing his beautiful description I think something inside me changed and suddenly brains no longer held fear of kuru, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, or some other animal infestation of what, to my mind, however rational or irrational, is connected to mad-cow disease.  Suddenly, I understood that the brains, which are mostly fat, are very useful and contain that luscious porkiness flavor, and thick, buttery texture.

To think that only a few months ago I wondered what happened to the pig's brain while simmering the head in an aromatic broth.   Later, after an email to my internet friend, blogger, inadvertent food science mentor, and Charcutepalooza judge, I did learn that brains are mostly fat. Throughout this year, my participation in the Charcutepalooza community has taught me much about charcuterie and food in general.  I doubt that I would have appreciated Michael Chiarello's usefulness with the brains, had I not learned so much this year.

If I really want to appreciate the pig I raised, the pig whose every part I need to use in appreciation for the life that pig gave to me, I need to appreciate all the body parts offered by the pig, with the same understanding that a chef like Michael Chiarello has for the animal and the food produced by its parts. And it's not just the raising, the butchering, the use of the parts, and the ability to create great dishes from the parts, it's looking at what's at hand and using it in the most efficacious and delicious way possible.  I mean, why would I throw extra butter into a duxelles when the brains are right in front of me?   Frankly,  I think that Chef Chiarello's use of the brains were pure genius.  The other chefs used many parts, but that use of the brain, for me, was the highlight. 

And you know, I think I'd love to use the brains in a celery, wild mushroom duxelles.  Wow!  I even think that the pig would smile with me.

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