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.

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20 thoughts on “The Complete Nose to Tail

  1. I tried to look at this book in Waterstone’s yes­ter­day but it was covered in plastic. I think you have per­suaded me. Incid­ent­ally, talk­ing of offal, did you see Lucy Worsley’s pro­gramme on Dorothy Hartley and her book Food In Eng­land on Tuesday?

  2. The book looks and sounds pretty scary. Are you meant to eat that shark’s fin of a pig’s ear pro­ject­ing from the pea soup. It looks like culin­ary Jaws to me. Sus­pect your review might be more enter­tain­ing than the book.

    • The shark’s fin of an ear is for pho­to­graphic pur­poses only — one of the tamer pic­tures in the book, actu­ally! You don’t sound eager to cook from this book, but I think you might enjoy read­ing it.

  3. I love this review, as I’m sure I’ll love the book. My mother, who was taught to cook by her grand­mother on a farm, has always been a “nose to tail” cook and as kids we were served fried veal brains with the prom­ise of “Eat it, it will make you smarter”. Now that we’re older and well on our way to mas­ter sar­casm, we’ve learned to respond with “As smart as that cow was, right?”. Boiled tongue, cockscombs, stuffed duck necks, kid­neys and liv­ers of vari­ous ori­gin, all of these if prop­erly pre­pared can be deli­cious as long as you keep an open mind. It would be great to teach mom a few new tricks :D

  4. No impov­er­ished lex­icon at use in this review. As a fas­cin­at­ing read it sounds com­pel­ling; whether it would tempt me to get out a dis­pos­able razor and tackle a pig’s head is another mat­ter. I believe in nose to tail eat­ing and this book presents the real­ity; wel­come as a bal­ance to the dis­con­nect that exists in super­mar­kets of sterile por­tions in poly­styrene trays.

    • Dis­pos­able razors aside, I think you’d find plenty of inspir­a­tion in this book, Sally. And it cer­tainly has the added merit of being distinctive.

  5. Charlie, I am shar­ing this review all around because it may be the most bril­liant and best-written review I have ever read on a blog. You are magic with words and lan­guage. I would never ever have ima­gined want­ing to read a cook­book like this — I am not a tail, ear, tripe kind of girl no mat­ter how many years I have lived in Europe, but you make the read­ing of this one sound like pure enter­tain­ment. Stun­ning. Again.

    • That means a lot, Jamie — thank you so much for your gen­er­ous praise. I’m thrilled if my writ­ing has an impact. The review was enter­tain­ing to write and if it’s enter­tain­ing to read, I couldn’t be more delighted. Thank you too for shar­ing it with other people.

  6. I love the writ­ing in these books but never real­ised how squeam­ish I was until I picked up nose to tail eat­ing and real­ised I would never will­ingly cook any­thing that I needed to shave first. I also real­ised it was the pre­par­a­tion that put me off more than the food which cer­tainly high­lights the dis­con­nec­tion from the animal that a mildly adven­tur­ous home cook can feel. I like a book that chal­lenges me a bit, and there are plenty of rewards with Hende­r­son too (his chocol­ate ice cream recipe is brilliant).

    • There are some excel­lent salad and veget­able recipes in this book too, along with a great sec­tion on bread and pud­dings. On days when you’re feel­ing a little del­ic­ate, these might be the ones to go for. There are cer­tainly some very scary recipes that I will most def­in­itely be avoiding.

  7. The prose reads as though it’s been trans­lated from the Latin, with much revers­ing of verbs and nouns for emphasis” — what a joy­ous idea! I still some­times find myself think­ing back to Latin lec­tures on freat Roman orators when I write my posts — pretty sure that is where I picked up my habit of using three phrases to build ten­sion in a sen­tence! I am not a hugely adven­tur­ous pre­parer of food, although I will eat most things, but this book sounds like a lin­guistic joy!

    • Three phrases to build ten­sion — the per­fect ingredi­ents for the best polit­ical speeches. I don’t think this is a book you would want to cook from, but I think you’d enjoy read­ing it.

  8. It’s very rare to find some­thing that so duti­fully con­veys the abso­lute pleas­ure of a book in the simple and refined way you have here. What a beau­ti­ful thing to read, Charlie. And the book is beau­ti­ful too, in all ways. I haven’t man­aged more than an in-store flick so far, but it is so good: Fer­gus is a very fine writer, and one with a yet finer brain. And I think Jason was allowed to respect St John as faith­fully in col­our, with all the same shock and awe, as he did in the mono­chromed beauty of that first book, so many years ago in. It is close to a per­fect bit of publishing.

    • I’m touched by your response, Matt — thank you. And from your pub­lish­ing per­spect­ive, I can see why you rate this book so highly. I hope that Jason Lowe is as delighted with the book as Fer­gus Hende­r­son — it’s a dar­ing piece of work.

    • I love your idea of ‘as your humor meets his’ — it sounds like a poten­tially messy affair as the two col­lide. The image made me laugh!
      Thank you, Karin — I appre­ci­ate your com­ment very much.

  9. I agree, a bril­liantly writ­ten review, but I am more than a little scared at the pro­spect of buy­ing this book. I’m not sure whether the pho­to­graphs or the sub­ject mat­ter would make me whince more, though I admire the philo­sophy of eat­ing from nose to tail. In Pol­ish cook­ing, my grand­mother would often fry brains for break­fast. If that didn’t put me off eat­ing her food noth­ing would. I’ve also eaten lambs testicles in a Lebanese res­taur­ant and they were good! I’ve yet to visit St John, but hope to one day. As to whether the cook­book makes my Christ­mas list — well, per­haps your review just inched it a bit closer!

    • Your grandmother’s break­fasts sound very hard­core, Ren — no won­der you’re a little tent­at­ive about this book. You’re braver than me — the Lebanese lamb’s testicles sound slightly alarming!

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