The idea of eating the whole animal, the movement away from 36-packs of boneless skinless chicken breasts at Costco, isn’t something dreamed up by a bunch of elitist fucks. Forget any associations you may have between the notion being closer to what you eat and the nonthreatening visage of Michael Pollan: going whole hog is about as hardcore as it gets. To wit: check out this market in Luang Prabang, Laos, which I visited as part of a cooking course. Laos has exceptional food. Truly great. With a good PR team, Laotian would become the new hot Asian cuisine, supplanting the Korean restaurant that used to be a Vietnamese restaurant that used to be a Thai place that used to be a sushi bar that once had Chinese takeout a few blocks down from me. Lao food is similar to Thai, with the following key differences:
(1) All the rice used in Lao cooking is sticky rice;
(2) Foods prepared in Laos have very little fat or oil. Just about everything is eaten by hand, with the sticky rice fashioned by hand into a sort of utensil, so the lack of oil in cooking is essential to keep the clump of rice from falling apart.
(3) Lots more leafy greens. Some western herbs not seen in other Southeast Asian cooking, like dill, feature prominently, plus just about every leaf you can pull off the banks of the Mekong are fair game.
These tweaks are a marketer’s dream! All of these are either straight-up improvements (sticky rice) or easy things to market to an eager public (Low fat! Low sugar! More roughage!). So let’s get on that.
Anyway, here’s some garden-variety offal:
I’m not good at identifying. But it seems there’s a liver, some intestine, maybe a heart. What you’d expect.
Offal, the category of meats that includes all this stuff, has nothing in common with its homophonous adjective “awful.” Except for, perhaps, the fact that nobody seems to be able to write about the former with at least one bit of low-grade punnery involving the latter. I’m fighting the urge at the moment. The word offal actually comes from the words off-fall, as in, stuff that falls off the carcass when you’re butchering it for the more highly-prized bits.
These parts are what comes to mind when I think about the difficult stages of eating a cow head-to-toe: the organs you remember from biology, or you remember because you have one too. And they’re always discrete objects that you can hold in your hand – like a brain or heart or intestines. But there’s way more to eating the whole animal than that.
Multiple choice time. Is the picture below:
(a) A delicious strawberry custard;
(b) A delicious raspberry custard;
(c) A delicious cherry custard;
(d) Delicious congealed blood?
The answer is D. It’s blood. Blood to which salt has been added; over time this coagulates the blood , which is molded into cakes that bring to mind a spectacularly-colored flan.
And the grand finale: Bile in a Bag!
I regretted not having had the opportunity to cook with the blood, if only for that spectacular color. But I’m not bile-curious. Perhaps some baby steps first.
A beef heart and liver have been sitting in my freezer for a year, ever since we bought an entire grass-fed cow and held an NBA-style draft to divide it up. This is entry-level stuff: a heart is mostly muscle, after all, like a leg or a filet mignon. And as far as I can recall from my youth, liver was being eaten everywhere just a generation ago. I haven’t had liver in a decade and can’t remember ever liking it, but my parents insist that as a toddler I didn’t just like liver – I craved it like a three-year old Pookie. So the love has got to be in my DNA somewhere.
With the 2011 Beef Draft (and another liver and heart) on the horizon, it is high time to prep the ones I have. Stay tuned next week.