Surely not for the faint of heart, but a great pleasure for adventurous eaters: nose-to-tail cooking. Popularized by British Chef Fergus Henderson, the concept asks cooks to honor the animal by consuming as much of it as possible. This usually translates into sausages and terrines and soups, many European specialties, but there are also some wonderful options in Asian and Central American restaurants, too. Many Americans find the idea of eating “the nasty bits,” as Anthony Bourdain calls them, revolting, but I think it’s worth our consideration as meat-eaters and ethical diners.
The duck chins, above, are Exhibit A.
At least with the larger mammals. Tiny squid? Well, it’s just pleasure to eat them whole. Above, hotaru ika sushi at Kamitori, one of the finest preparations of squid I’ve ever eaten in my life. Hotaru means firefly, and these little guys, about an inch or two long, bioluminesce in the dark water. And since I’ve long suspected that squid were ruined for me after the most exquisite experience eating ika sashimi on a boat in the middle of the Sea of Japan, freshly hauled from the water, I’m so grateful. Once again Chef Masa has filled me with unspeakable joy by serving sea creatures with respect and craft. And no eyeballs, which were kindly removed.
Also, I was honored to join some of my students for an adventure this week at Spring Garden restaurant in Springfield, where we tried some of the more unusual items on the menu, including rabbit in a clay pot with ginger, salt-and-pepper fried chicken cartilage, stir-fried elk with onions and peppers, “saliva” chicken in a spicy sauce, and a dish that will horrify the local sportsfans among us, spicy duck chins with their little tongues a-waggin’ (top photo). Below, you can see the English translation of the menu and the other dishes we enjoyed.
Spring Garden is a challenge, but it also has great possibilities on the Chinese menu even if you’re not into nose-to-tail cooking or exotic birds and reptiles. You might also, if you must, order from the American menu with all the standards. If you’re curious about the duck chins, which are of course the lower part of the duck bill, they are crunchy on the tip, and you eat the tongue, then pick at the meat at the base of the bill. The chicken cartilage was crunchy, as expected; it was chopped into chunks and deep-fried in a batter lively with salt and Sichuan peppercorn, and decorated with chiles. Saliva chicken seemed to be steamed chicken in a spicy sauce — probably my favorite of all the dishes of the night.