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Syzygies

Fergus Henderson's The Whole Beast cookbook

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I was in London last week (picking up an award for my father who is unable to travel), and the food highlights of the trip revolved around Fergus Henderson's St John Restaurant and a pub staffed by alumni of that kitchen, The Anchor & Hope.

Well-deserved slurs aside, I've been trying to believe that British food can be truly spectacular; the signature chicken pot pie from Tamasin Day-Lewis's Tarts with Tops on was one of the best things we ate last winter. The two restaurants above are game-changers for one's perspective on British cooking, and by far the best food I've ever eaten in the UK.

There's a generational difference between the two places, in every sense: The first has white tablecloths, a Michelin star, takes reservations, and I'm not the oldest person in the room. The second has sanded wood tables, no reservations, I could be the oldest person in the room, and is a true madhouse in the evening as the 6 pm kitchen opening approaches. I was only able to get a table because a bartender spotted me through the crowd and introduced me to the list keeper as one who had kind words for their cooking at lunch time. They're alumni gunning for St John's crown, and the no reservations policy is a brilliant way to assure energy in the room. I'm still torn which place is better; if the descriptions don't bias you, why choose?

Fergus Henderson has a pair of books available in the UK, the first of which is now a paperback in the US: The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating. At the song for which it sells, I'd call this an essential cookbook. Only partly a carnivore's circus, but very on-topic for the KK crowd, with many dishes that would benefit from a bit of smoke, and lots of advice and recipes involving brines or cures. The sides also would go great with any KK fare; a bit of anchovy, caper, parsley dressing on broccoli transforms it into a dish that can hold its own at a barbecue table. More generally, I want to think of my KK as my go-to oven for that extra edge, for any dish that pops into a 375 F oven. The flavors here are certainly lusty enough to stand up to an outdoor fire.

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I waited until fresh peas were in season and then...cooked them.  They were nothing like frozen peas.  More like a robust bean.  Ironic because the notes in the recipe for Braised lamb, peas, creme fraîche and mint in The Book of St John refer to Fergus Henderson being told, by a wise old chef, to wait until fresh peas are in season and then use frozen.  That dish and many others from all of Fergus' books are well worth making.  I love the freedom he gives you by being imprecise by referring to glugs of oil, enough stock, medium oven and, best and most mysterious of all, disciplining your mint.  This is a photo of that dish on the KK when I made it in March this year. It was delicious.  

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We made the pilgrimage to St Johns Bar and Restaurant last month and I decided to tag this on to @Syzygies' post here because I know how much he loves that place.  We got there early, before anyone else, and left after most.  The sign of a good lunch.  Don't be put off by Fergus' nose to tail reputation.  This is a place to take a chance, it all tastes great.  Faced with the menu below, I imagine some of you would find it challenging.  St.JOHN Smithfield LUNCH 10.07.21.pdf

I was not so sure about the more out there stuff and so my choice was the first of each list below.  Everyone enjoyed what they had chosen and I might even be tempted to try to make tandoori cubed ox heart one day soon, the papaya marinade would tenderise it nicely.  There is something to be said for using, and enjoying, every part of the animal that died to give us that premium steak.  

Starters that we chose

Deep fried lemon sole and tartare sauce

Rabbit offal and radishes

Rolled mutton and celeriac

Smoked eel, potato and dill

Main courses to follow

Roast veal rump, carrots and trotter

Grilled ox heart, jerusalem artichoke and aioli

Grilled mackerel, peas and horseradish

Pigs tongues, butter beans and green sauce

I am not a dessert person but we thoroughly enjoyed sharing a plate of 12 warm madeleines, dipping them into the lovely sweet wine that our waiter recommended.  Heaven. Ly.

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Edited by tekobo
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Yes it arrived yesterday.
It’s excellent, I have enjoyed the principles put forward.
Basically suggesting consumers to consider where your food comes from and encouraging consumers to ask for more providence detail, and the variations in quality.
I can’t say I have always practiced this. Certainly it’s becoming a heightened awareness to me.
The recipes look good- not all nose and tail recipes. Here are a couple.
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And Tekobo I know you like duck.
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Hmmm.  I am planning a meal for later this month and have been trying to decide between duck and rotisserie chicken and was leaning towards chicken.  This duck puts the cat amongst the pigeons, so to speak.

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45 minutes ago, tekobo said:

Hmmm.  I am planning a meal for later this month and have been trying to decide between duck and rotisserie chicken and was leaning towards chicken

Well Tekebo, I'm leaning towards the chicken too, but hell do them both. Variety and choice for your guests, let them decide which is best.  You know I was looking on my bookshelf and there it sat, "The Whole Beast." So I dusted off the cover and gave it a thought, held it in my hands and slowly began to turn the pages with anticipation. When I realized there were no pictures my interest deflated like a balloon losing it's air, but then, I turned to the part where we had some rabbit and hare, then my notice peaked beyond compare. Yah, we'll have to resurrect this book and put a good foot forward, Syzygies reminder was a distant call to pull it out and take a second look aside from a recollection of guilt. 

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Looking forward to seeing how you get on with your exploration of this book @Tyrus.  I always find it a joy to cook out of Fergus Henderson's books.  

I am back in the UK and have ordered chicken for the party and a duck for us to try out @Basher's recipe.  Will report back!

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Well considered Tyrus.
I am now halfway through this book now and totally absorbed in the detail.
It presents the sourcing and culling of animals in a very pleasant way.


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And we are off!  I overshot the target temp by quite a bit.  Went over 200C, but I loaded in the grates and cranked back the top hat and bottom vent and went down to 140C within half an hour.  Now sitting happily at 130C.  Bye bye little Ducky.  See you in about six hours.  

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Working backwards from the remains of the meal...here are the empty wine bottles that I discovered when I opened up the shutters on my BBQ cupboard this afternoon.

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The four of us LOVED this duck recipe.  Even my husband who is not that keen on cooked citrus. 

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The potatoes were cooked on the 23 in the drippings from the duck cook.  The double bottom pan on the cool side of the 32 was a very good way to collect the juices and fat without burning them. 

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And here is the cooked duck sitting pretty on the 32 after about 7.5 hours' cooking.

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