An irregular series in which I attempt to cook every recipe in Fergus Henderson’s “The Whole Beast,” in the style of that daft movie about Julia Child.
I was thinking that what this blog needs is to be more relevant, to be part of the zeitgeist, to resonate with the youth and their pop-culture savvy. So I’ve decided to implement a running series based on an idea presented by a fairly obscure movie from 2009, of which I only watched the first half. I’ve removed the famous subject, and the well known stars, so now it’s just a mildly interesting concept involving people no one’s heard of. Shh! Do I hear advertisers knocking??
In Julie and Julia, a young woman (Julie) starts a blog with the aim of cooking every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I’m sure there’s more to it than that– she probably saves her marriage, or discovers the true meaning of Christmas– I really don’t remember. I’ve had Fergus Henderson’s The Whole Beast sitting on my bookshelf for years. If you haven’t read this magical work of art, it’s widely regarded as the bible for the nose-to-tail movement. Cheerful, joyous recipes involving every part of the animal: heads, shoulders, knees, toes, and spleens. I take it down and read it often– the recipes are delightful and weird, but always too intimidating to embark upon. Every one involves at least one thing that would have to be specially ordered from the butcher, and I’m nothing if not monumentally lazy. But then I realised something vitally important: the names Henderson and Hempton are superficially similar! Not like Julie and Julia, but phonically not a million miles apart. And these are the kind of signs you just can’t ignore. So here we go: part one of Hempton & Henderson. Tagline: He had a dream, but did he have the guts?
What better time to start this dubious project than on a day devoted to an internal organ: Valentine’s Day! This year, give her your heart: marinated, seared and served on a lovely salad… Now right away, I had to bend the rules. Fergus’s recipe calls for a calf’s heart, and all I could get was a cow’s, but my ever helpful butcher was confident of his tender heart so I pushed on. It’s quite a sight sitting patiently on your chopping board. This is not some pretty, flirtatious, blushing little tenderloin; or a posturing, swaggering T-Bone; it’s a big, impressive, no nonsense old muscle. The strong, silent type. Imagine the work this thing has done in its life, pumping blood to the far reaches of a cow. Have you ever seen a cow? They’re massive! I wonder if cows see their hearts as symbols of love? When Angus, snorting and scraping his hoof, alone in his pen, runs a bloodshot eye over the herd and catches sight of the heifervescent Daisy– long eyelashes blinking dumbly, tremendous rump catching the light, tail swatting flies with a flirtatious thwack– is it in his heart that he feels a swelling?
The only tricky part of this recipe is cleaning the big boy up. I’d never worked with a beef heart before, and there’s a lot of fat and gristle, and if you’re lucky, a couple of mysterious valves that all need to go. I might have been a tad heavy-handed because I was really guessing at what was what. But the good stuff has a very uniform look, so anything different goes in the scrap pile. Then we slice him up, marinate him for a day in balsamic vinegar, herbs, some salt and pepper, then sear in a screaming hot cast iron pan (or a barbie if you’re lucky enough to have one), and serve, as Fergus suggests, “with a spirited salad.” I stumbled upon something called Radicchio Tardivo at the market: it’s basically curly radicchio, with a similar bitter crunchiness, but shaped like alien tentacles, and therefore irresistible. That and some endive and arugula and a peppery vinaigrette seemed to fit the bill.
The heart was wonderful. Cooked to just medium rare, it was firm but giving, juicy and extra beefy, and with the salad made a perfect lunch. Ironically I’d chosen a time when Lady AHAM is out of town to open up my heart, but she’ll be thrilled to know there’s half of it waiting in the freezer when she gets home.
One recipe down, a couple hundred to go. At my usual pace this project will take years to complete, and I’m bound to lose interest before then. But for now, Hempton & Henderson is up and running, and Christmas is safe again.
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