Back in 2004 London based chef Fergus Henderson, owner of St John restaurant, wrote a seminal cookbook called “Nose to Tail Eating”.
It was revolutionary at the time, post foot and mouth, when we were all wary of eating meat of any kind. His book includes recipes for pea soup with pig’s ears and crispy pig tails with mustard. Most people would baulk at the idea but if you’ve eaten a commercially produced emulsified sausage you’ve eaten a lot more than those cuts...
I teach professional cooking in a college and every year I bring in whole pig’s heads for the students to debone. It requires good knife skills to follow the contour of bone to get as much meat off as possible. We then cure and tie the meat in a cylindrical shape – old fashioned butchery skills that need to be cherished. Every year there’s always one who refuses to do it but this year three students wouldn’t even contemplate it, which saddened me. If we eat meat then the least we can do is respect the animal and not allow any of it to go to waste.
A company who are putting this into practice to the ninth degree are Broughgammon Farm, based outside Ballycastle. They’re a small holding of about 40 acres but are setting a standard for food ethics. They produce billy kid goat meat and rose veal – two animals destined for the scrap heap as they’re both by-products from the dairy industry. They also have a street food stand that can be found at markets throughout the country. At the recent British Street Food Awards in Birmingham, they won the best overall snack category for their Choriz-Offal Goat Taco. Goat kidneys and liver were marinated in chorizo seasoning, served on a taco with pea guacamole, smoked beetroot, raw milk goat cheese crumbs and goat bacon bits.
I judged the Northern Ireland heat and for me this summed up the essence of great street food – a story about good, ethical food and farming, using cheaper cuts, seasonal food but most importantly, it was absolutely delicious – the sweet meat, cut through with smoky earthy beetroot, creamy cheese, crispy bacon and a soft taco. When Fergus wrote his book he said at the time “nose to tail eating is not a bloodlust, testosterone fuelled offal hunt, it’s common sense and it’s all good stuff”. I was reminded of this when I ate this elegant, exciting and sublime dish.
Pork cheeks are a forgotten cut of meat. They’re muscly and need a lot of cooking but the resulting unctuous meat is well worth the wait. I did the annual pillage of my mum’s quince tree last week and there was a bumper harvest this year of lime green, hard spheres. I’ve turned them into jelly which is perfect with roast pork, cheese or cold cuts. I still have a jar from last year and it works beautifully to braise pork cheeks with a splash of sherry added. A light, dry sherry like fino is ideal with pork and adds a complexity to the finished sauce.
My first recipe this week is for pork cheeks cooked with sherry, quince and raisins. You can buy quince jelly or substitute quince cheese. Either way it’s a touch of Spanish warmth in a cold November.
When I was growing up, liver was a staple dish but it seems to have fallen out of favour. For a while every good restaurant had calves liver on the menu but it’s a rare treat now. Liver and onions is still a nostalgic dish for me and I’ve included a recipe using liver with slow baked onions, crispy bacon and sage. All you need is some creamy mash on the side – and don’t skimp on the butter!