The Complete Nose to Tail

Eggs On The Roof Reviews

The Com­plete Nose to Tail: A Kind of Brit­ish Cooking

by Fer­gus Hende­r­son and Justin Piers Gellatly

Pub­lished by Blooms­bury — £30.00

Pho­to­graph of Pea and Pig’s Ear Soup by Jason Lowe

Fer­gus Hende­r­son writes about food in the way that Beat­rix Pot­ter wrote about rab­bits; his ingredi­ents have their own perky, slightly wil­ful per­son­al­it­ies. His quirkily anthro­po­morphic approach means that the ‘dis­cip­lin­ing of veget­ables is not to be taken lightly’, food needs con­trolling so it doesn’t ‘mis­be­have’, ingredi­ents should ‘get to know each other’, and nettles must be sieved to ‘spir­itu­ally defeat’ them. Not that this is a cute or win­some book in any way. Its ingredi­ents and its ethos are too charm­ingly bru­tal for that, with recipes con­tain­ing instruc­tions such as ‘with the tex­tural side turned inwards, find part of the stom­ach with no holes in it’ and ‘open the pig’s jaw and pull out the tongue’.

The Com­plete Nose to Tail brings together all Fer­gus Henderson’s recipes in one vast volume. The pho­to­graphy is suit­ably eccent­ric, at times even fright­en­ing; images of a pig’s head being shaved with a dis­pos­able razor, an escapee from a Mag­ritte paint­ing shield­ing him­self from showers of brains, as well as the com­plete inner organs of an unnamed beast dangling down the front of a chef’s chest. There’s shock value in some of the recipes too, espe­cially if Calf’s Brain Ter­rine or Duck’s Hearts on Toast are your idea of hor­ror movies. But there’s a coher­ence to this book, an ideo­lo­gical pur­ity that argues that noth­ing should be wasted and everything should, if pos­sible, be enjoyed.

The prose reads as though it’s been trans­lated from the Latin, with much revers­ing of verbs and nouns for emphasis. (That’s a huge com­pli­ment, by the way, in case you’re won­der­ing.) I like the way Fer­gus Hende­r­son writes very much and admire his refusal to resort to the impov­er­ished lex­icon of lesser food writers. His ethos of using the whole beast in his cook­ing extends to an insist­ence on using the whole vocab­u­lary in his writ­ing. His gen­eral shuff­ling about of nouns and objects means that Grilled, Mar­in­ated Calf’s Heart isn’t just a good dish, it’s a ‘won­der­fully, simple, deli­cious dish, the heart not, as you might ima­gine, tough as old boots due to all the work it does, but in fact firm and meaty but giving.’

I’ve never met Fer­gus Hende­r­son but whenever I see pho­to­graphs of his jaunty, pink cheeks and cir­cu­lar spec­tacles, I think what good com­pany he looks. If ever there was an advert for the advant­ages of eat­ing everything, he would be it. No doubt the med­ical pro­fes­sion would swoon in hor­ror at the thought of so much fat, car­til­age, flesh and bone being chomped, guzzled and slurped, but Fer­gus Hende­r­son cer­tainly makes it look fun.