The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating by Fergus Henderson

Fergus Henderson – Introduction

Nose to Tail Eating by Fergus Henderson is a small, elegant book packed full of great recipes that can be attempted in the home kitchen. While some are for the more adventurous, most are quite straightforward, yet delicious.

Many years ago we made a special detour to London to make sure that we could eat at Fergus Henderson’s St John restaurant. And we were not disappointed.

To understand this book you need to understand the place that St John restaurant (in St John Street, London) holds in the hearts and minds of chefs and food lovers. It is perhaps best summed up by Anthony Bourdain in the introduction when he says:

Chefs, foodies, food writers and cooks on sabbatical, travelling perhaps through the great multi-starred restaurants of London, France and Spain often stop there for a taste of the real.

Nose to Tail Eating – The Book

This is chef Fergus Henderson setting out both a set of incisive recipes and also, embodied within them, a philosophy about food and the enjoyment of authentic dishes.

The title might suggest that the book is just a collection of meat and offal recipes. This is not the case. In fact it is a very well-balanced survey of the cooking techniques and products used at the restaurant. There are almost as many fish recipes as there are ones involving meat – especially when you take the use of anchovies into account.

The book is organised along the traditional soup, entrée, main, dessert lines. In the soups there are a number that are very simple to prepare and rely for the flavour on the use of very good ingredients.

The leek, potato and oyster soup is little more than onion, leek and potato, however the soup is created with either fish or chicken stock and getting this stock right makes all the difference to the dish – as does the use of ultra-fresh oysters and the use of the oyster liquor.

Fergus Henderson is not afraid to set down simple peasant dishes such as his garlic and bread soup which derives its flavour from the use of fresh seasonal garlic that has not yet been dried.

Simplicity also shines through in the recipe entitled ‘How to eat radishes at their peak’. All you do is add some butter to the raw radish and then sprinkle with salt. He also urges turning the leaves into a simple salad.

And then we just loved the Skate, Chicory and Anchovy Salad! This recipe sensibly requires the poaching of the skate and then, after it has cooled down, shredding it. An anchovy dressing that combines lots of anchovy fillets and garlic cloves with some red wine vinegar and olive oil sets the scene for the base of chicory leaves combined with rocket and parsley.

Entrees move through pigs spleen and an intriguing dried salted pig’s liver dish to a section on brains.

Then we are on to the meat course which starts with one of our favourite techniques – the cooking of ham in hay. He then moves to pig’s trotter stuffed with potato, the signature crispy pigs tails and on to a great recipe for boiled beef and dumplings.

However he doesn’t forget fish in among all these aggressive meat dishes! The recipe for fish pie is a classic as is the description of the recipe for salt cod served on haricot beans.

When he moves to vegetable dishes the first recipe could be held up as a lesson for all restaurateurs – the pressed potato terrine should be widely used as a base for all sorts of strongly flavoured toppings such as anchovies or bottarga or highly reduced fresh tomatoes.

There are only eight desserts! They range from treacle tart to Welsh rarebit, but each has some intriguing aspects and should be studied by all dessert chefs. For classic purity look at the recipe for Carragheen Pudding which simply involves simmering seaweed in a mix of milk and sugar to extract the gelatinous substances which ensure that the pudding will set as if gelatine had been used.

Nose to Tail Eating by Fergus Henderson is a serious book that should be part of every food lover’s book collection. We have included it in our Foodtourist Top Fifty Cookbooks list.

Note that in the United States the book is published by Ecco under the title The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating (ISBN 0060585366). In the UK it is published by Bloomsbury Publishing under the title Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking (ISBN 0 7475 7257 7). There is also a Pan edition (ISBN: 0330484486) and a Macmillan edition (ISBN: 0333727703).

You can read more about the various St john operations on their Web site:

St John

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