Jul 12, 2012|
Smith wasn’t even officially open yet and it was already packed with Bangkok’s beautiful people. But instead of serving the best, most finely marbled sirloin, or cuts of fatty foie gras, Bangkok’s current it-restaurant’s menu boasts such dishes as calf’s tongue and burger buns made with squid ink and intestines. Next month, Quince will open and its chef, Jess Barnes, has demonstrated his love for all-things-porky at a series of pop-up events held at Bed Supperclub and Opposite, where he served bone marrow, head cheese and even a chocolate mousse featuring a touch of pig’s blood.
Smith and Quince are hot on the hoofs of the global nose-to-tail trend, which refers to eating every part of an animal, not just the prized cuts. Trotter, liver, marrow, tail—you name it, these chefs will cook it. Resurrected by the St. John restaurant, in London, where Chef Fergus Henderson became renowned for his earthy, classic British recipes and local produce, the movement was then popularized by his book, Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking.
What’s all the fuss about, you might ask. As a Bangkokian, you’re no stranger to the odd chicken foot poking out of your soup, a chunk of clotted pig blood or a bit of liver. (And even in Europe, nose-to-tail never completely went out of fashion.) But the return of these lowly animal parts to the world’s top kitchens, the renewed interest in how to best prepare them and the environmental concerns propelling the movement definitely mark a new direction.
For Smith’s chef, Peter Pitakwong, nose-to-tail eating is primarily driven by the customers’ desire to reconnect with their food. But Dylan Jones of Thai restaurant Bo.lan, who has been connecting chefs and small-scale pig farmers, believes it’s also powered by diners’ constant craving for novelty. “It’s more popular now because it is seen as new and adventurous for people to eat outside their comfort zone. And for the chefs and restaurateurs, it’s more fun and challenging to cook and it’s a great way to showcase your creativity and skill,” says Jones.
Joe Sloane used to work as an executive chef at a five-star hotel’s steakhouse restaurant, here in Bangkok. After quitting his job to focus on his family, he couldn’t help but crank out sausages in his backyard, at first for friends and family only. Demand was so strong that he’s now supplying restaurants and launching an online shop at www.sloanes-sausages.com, where he sells head cheese and blood sausage alongside his range of classic sausages.
“The hard thing for me is to use all the bits in a different way to create a nice product,” Sloane says. Speaking of head cheese, Sloane adds, “It’s actually really nice, but it’s one of those things people go, ‘Urgh!’ In England, we usually call it brawn because head cheese just doesn’t sound that appealing.”
Bo.Lan chef Dylan Jones adds that the movement is also in tune with urbanites’ newfound environmental awareness: “It’s based around what’s in season, available locally, utilizing everything to its full potential and not being wasteful.”
“The world is getting more and more bizarre,” says Pitakwong. “Why waste so much [meat] when you can actually do something with it? The good thing about these cuts is also that you don’t have to fight over them. You’re getting very low prices for something like the lamb’s kidney that no one’s buying except a few chefs.”
Another common theme among these chefs is that their interest in butchering has brought them closer to local farmers. “We don’t tell farmers what we want,” says Peter. “Instead, we ask them what they have. They know their product and I have trust in them. When I learn that some wonderful Thai produce is getting exported to other countries like Malaysia, it pisses me off. Some stuff never makes it to Bangkok because people consume only the imported ingredients or things they are familiar with.”
Sloane and Pitakwong now purchase whole animals. When we last spoke, Sloane had a pig hanging in his fridge. But he only buys what he calls “happy pigs”: “It’s a big thing for me when working with the farms. The pigs must be treated in a humane way—living in a big and clean area and given organic feed. And one of the nice things with small farms, is that they’re very transparent about how they raise their animals. The big farms won’t tell you anything.”
So next time you’re tucking into a baby calf’s tongue, or munching on the heart of a little lamb, enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling of eating in a restaurant where the chefs care about the animals they serve—not to mention the great flavors. “Whether you believe in the ethical treatment of animals or not, ethical farming, without a doubt, makes for a far tastier product,” says Jones.
1. Get yourself a pig. Slaughter it. Keep the head.
2. Brine in salted water overnight. You need plenty of salt in the water.
3. Your pig head looks like a drowning victim by now. Put in stock with wine and bay leaves and all that stuff. Cook it for 8 hours.
4. The brain will liquify. The cartilege will liquify. The stock will get thicker. Pull out the head.
5. Reduce the stock.
6. Meanwhile, pick at the head. Pull out the tongue, remove the skin on the tongue. Take the meat off the pig’s giant skull.
7. Mix the meat with herbs in a terrine dish. Pour in the reduced, gelatinous stock.
8. Stuff it in the fridge overnight. Serve. Enjoy.