The Complete Nose to Tail: A Kind of British Cooking
by Fergus Henderson and Justin Piers Gellatly
Published by Bloomsbury – £30.00
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.