For some cultures in the world, staring into the faces of their dinner as it sits in front of them is a common feat, but it certainly is quite unusual in modern America — until now that is.
The nose to tail cooking movement has been gaining momentum all over the United States. From New York City to Chicago and now even here in Boulder, chefs are attempting to embrace this new culinary challenge of serving the whole animal to their guests, leaving no parts out.
Eating offal, or the internal organs and entrails of a butchered animal, can be seen as a delicacy, especially in different parts of Asia and Europe. Chicken feet, cow’s tongue and pork bellies are regarded as some of the most exquisite and delicious parts of the animal.
Here in Boulder, SALT the Bistro on Pearl Street has decided to jump on the bandwagon and is now serving up an interesting array of dishes consisting of different parts of an animal.
Alex Krill has undertaken the brave and innovative task of serving Boulder’s insatiable palates with this unusual dining experience. Krill has been the executive chef at SALT the Bistro for the past three years.
In the past, Krill has had the chance to work with whole animals like pigs, salmon and even lamb. He says his interest in cooking like this came from his time studying abroad in France, where he had the chance to see how butchers and cooks utilized every part of the animal.
“One of the things I remember we used was a fish dish and it was a soup and we basically just took whole, tiny fish, like little rock fish and just threw them in a pot and boiled them with veggies and just blended it up,” says Krill. “So nothing was wasted; you would just skim it and take all the bones out.”
The idea of eating an entire animal may be a little daunting for some people but Krill says some of the best parts of the animal are the ones that are rarely used.
“For me, nose to tail eating is all about utilizing parts of the animal that are always overlooked, or mostly overlooked,” says Krill. “A pig is the best example to use because you can pretty much eat every single part of the pig, literally from the nose to the tail.”
Krill vouches for braised pig’s heads and tails, saying that if rightly prepared and cooked, they can be one of the most delicious dishes.
Krill says that he and his team oversee it completely, from the butchering to the plating.
“We get a whole pig in, we break it down into all the parts that people are used to like the ham, the pork shoulder, and chops, and then using those other parts like the head, and the tail, and the feet and all of the bones, and even the intestines to do sausage with or the liver to do pâté with,” he says.
“Our first one was actually with a pig and we did a charcuterie plate using all of the off cuts, so we did deviled kidneys and pork rillettes using all of the leftover kind of stuff and we did grilled heart,” says Krill. “Surprisingly everyone really liked the kidney; it doesn’t really taste that great on its own but with what you put it with, you can make it taste really good.”
Also in Boulder, Blackbelly Catering’s owner and chef Hosea Rosenberg has incorporated nose to tail cooking into some of the farm dinners he’s hosted. He says that nose to tail cooking meant finding a new way to cook.
Hosea Rosenberg | Photo courtesy of Blackbelly Catering
“The more you work with the animal, the more you know that this is the way it’s supposed to be,” Rosenberg says. “It’s kind of a lost art, but it’s getting trendier.”
Rosenberg says people are often surprised to find out they’ve been eating unusual parts of pigs, like crispy pork ears and fried pork feet served as hors d’oeuvres.
“I had this group of girls that told me they would never try it but I served them some without telling them what it was,” Rosenberg says. “The next thing I know, they were eating handfuls of it.”
Utilizing the entire animal is a way of showing respect to it, he says, in addition to producing a higher yield of food from the animal.
Diners can expect not only a unique experience, but also one that is delicious and educational, he says.
“I like to talk about how the food is prepared and the animal I’ve raised,” he says. “It is going be educational.”
Steve Redzikowski, head chef for Oak at Fourteenth, does what he calls quarterly roasts, where he roasts a whole animal once a season and pairs the meal with a type of spirit.
“The one in the winter that’s coming up is cider, so just think about that crisp apple cider going along with the pig,” Redzikowski says. “That will just be awesome.”
In the past, Oak has paired its roasts with champagne and bourbon. The restaurant typically serves 60 to 80 people per event and guests have been returning every time Oak puts on another roast, Redzikowski says.
“Every time they come, we’ll do a different preparation of the pig, try to present it differently,” he says. “At the same time, too, we want them to come back and try something new, so we change the beverages.”
The dining experience also offers something more than just sitting at a table and eating good food.
“It’s really casual,” he says. “We do some of the courses family style, and what we’ll do is that in a room we’ll put the tables together so that it’s communal seating, and then you really get to interact about the food, you get to meet new people as well; everyone’s there for the same thing, and it turns into a really nice buzz.”
If you’re still doubtful about eating kidneys or unconvinced that grilled heart could possibly be one of the better dining experiences of your life, Redzikowski says to take a chance.
“It’s a weird saying but, you only live once, why not try something?” he says. “I mean, this is the foodiest town in America, so why not give it a shot?”