Yesterday, two good friends of mine had mentioned that they had seen a book at called The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating at a store and instantly thought of me. In Vietnamese culture, as in many other cultures, when preparing an animal for consumption, often the entire animal is put to use as much as possible.
I’ve only ever grown up eating an entire chicken or parts of the pig or beef (often called offal) that you would not find in Western cuisines.
So when I went to a birthday party yesterday, I was absolutely delighted to see an entire suckling pig presented to each table at the party!
An interesting exercise that I often partake is then to observe people and how they react to an entire animal being presented for dinner. Some people were obviously alarmed as the only part of a pig that they had ever seen was a hotdog (and really… we know that a hotdog really doesn’t just have pork in it…). Others were excited with curved smiles that would make a banana jealous.
Still eating something as simple as roasted pork skin (or crackling) is an oft missed opportunity in North American cuisines, let alone the soft and succulent portions of meat found on a pig’s head (e.g. the cheek or the jaw meat).
Eating an animal from nose to tail also invites us to try our best to utilize as much of the animal as possible out of respect for the beast. Often I will eat chicken feet, the head of a chicken and chicken wing tips. I am also the first to indulge in the hearts, liver, intestines, and stomach (also known as tripe) of beef or pork.
Last year, I had the opportunity to butcher an entire wild boar and learned a valuable lesson in associating a face with what I was eating. You respect the life that was given so that you can live – and in my mind, it provides a greater sense of scarcity and resource management when you realize how much of a animal is actually capable of being eaten.
Other parts of animals that are often left uneaten or discarded include the head of fish (which makes for great soup stock or actually tastes superb grilled!), tentacles of squid or octopi, the innards of crab and lobsters, the shell of shrimp (yes you can eat that shell… and yes I know people look at me weird when I eat a whole shrimp, hehehe). Speaking of shrimp shells, they can actually be placed into a cheesecloth and tied off and boiled in water to start a nice fish/seafood stock.
Animals aren’t the only thing that can be consumed in its entirety. In Chinese herbal cuisines, the skin of mandarin is often salted and sugared in order to create a dried candied mandarin skin (which is oh so delicious!).
So next time you buy a chicken breast at a grocery store or only order ribs at a restaurant, consider thinking about how to maximize the usage of an entire animal out of respect for it but also for an enjoyable and exciting culinary experience!