The Whole Hog

Peruse the latest selection of cookbooks and (providing their not of the raw or vegetarian persuasion), you’ll find more and more recipes dedicated to the visceral, primal pleasure of cooking and eating meat. What’s interesting is that these carnivorous recipes have a holistic theme —that is, the treatment of the animals from feed to care is largely discussed, as well as how they are used after the visit to the abattoir. It seems our collective palate is evolving beyond the common pork chop and steak, and many consumers, guided by contemporary artisan chefs and small farmers have refound lost recipes of generations past that used the whole animal —pigs’ feet, tongue, tail, and tripe, for example.

Hugh Fearnsley-Whittingsall’s River Cottage popular television show and cookbook series, for example, laud the raising of one’s very own flock of sheep or coop of chickens. His rustic, everyday recipe book includes a recipe for Headcheese, Tail and Tongue of Beef with Rich Red Wine Sauce, not to mention a diagram of lamb cuts and a whole section entitle “Killing a Chicken.” In our own backyard, Chef Mara Jernigan hosts classes at her culinary retreat, Fairburn Farm, on cooking with the whole lamb and the duck in its entirety. At Café Brio, cuts of meat your grandparents remember fondly are served up beautifully, and the deli counter at Choux Choux Charcuterie reaches from far and near to bring us Quebecois foie gras, Cobble Hill lamb, and Mill Bay rabbit. Clearly, there’s a demand for more than chicken breasts and sirloin steaks.

Shannon Hayes, author of Grassfed Gourmet and a spokesperson for the movement towards sustainably raised animals writes, “As a farmer I’m keenly aware that there’s a whole lot more of the animal attached to those parts [chicken breasts and lamb loin chops].” Hayes’ book provides a plethora of information on the benefits of eating grassfed meats. Nutritionally grassfed meats are lower in saturated fat and calories and higher in omega 3 fatty acids that are linked to blood pressure reduction, healthy brain function, and have been cited to slow the growth of many types of cancer. Her own story as a farmer is quite fascinating —after attending a dinner for chefs and farmers in the late nineties, she was discouraged to hear from the restaurant industry that most customers wanted the same banal cuts of meat. She challenged herself to cook with as many different cuts as possible —all from grassfed sources— and soon found that consuming meat on an almost daily basis led to noticeable improvements in her health. Her skin shone and hair gleamed, she had more energy and lost weight. While this is, of course, a personal account, it also sets a refreshing tone for her book devoted entirely to recipes that use all sorts of animal parts (and are provided by the farmers that raised the animals used in their recipes). And it turns the meat-producing industry—long criticized for its waste of animal parts and unsustainable farming methods—on its nose.

For me, an omnivore who over the years has been scared by atrocious feedlot stories and bacterial catastrophes into consuming less cow and more tofu, the attention to quality in raising meat and trying new cuts may go hand-in-hand with the movement towards sourcing locally. After all, if the consumers know their farmers and trust the source, they may be more inclined to try an unfamiliar cut of meat.
Local farmer and editor of Small Farm Canada, Tom Henry, raises lamb which he then supplies to local restaurants such as The Pink Bicycle on Blanshard Street (see our recipe box for a burger recipe featuring Henry’s Metchosin lamb). At the recent Food Matters Forum in Victoria, Tom Henry spoke on consumer trends of meat eating and encouraged attendees to educate fellow consumers about the seasonality of local meats and to understand that “high-value items are only part of the animal. We need to educate people to see the entire animal. It’s moving towards the more European style of using the whole hog,” says Henry. “It may be a couple generations down the road to develop these tastes, but we can start encouraging it now.”

For more information on grass-fed meats, visit this excellent online database, Shannon Hayes’ Grassfed Gourmet is available at Plenty.


Photo: Saanich pigs by Katie Zdybel

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