August 2011

The Nation Reviewed

Gourmet gore

By Benjamin Law
Illustration by Jeff Fisher.
Illustration by Jeff Fisher.
Our animal instincts for eating meat

Here is how you cook a pig’s uterus. First, visit your local abattoir’s Vietnamese section, where they will happily take requests for ‘special offal’ – which includes intestines, gall bladders, warm blood and reproductive organs. Sows’ uteri come blanched, with a similar colour and texture to tripe: creamy and soft but with a cartilagey bite. Braise them in pork stock, along with smoked ham bones, onions, garlic and wine. Simmer on low heat for two-and-a-half hours, add peas and butter, and serve with jus. The uteri should now have the texture of squid, with a slight crunch.

Chef Adrian Richardson goes over the recipe for me in the upstairs dining room of his 13-year-old Melbourne bistro La Luna. Richardson is recalling an evening last year when his business served a one-off menu devoted entirely to offal. A whole array of animal gizzards was provided over 14 courses. Bulls’ testicles arrived in vol-au-vents and were christened “Cowboy Shooters”. But it was the pigs’ uteri with which diners became really smitten. “They just hooked into it,” Richardson says.

Richardson has carved out a reputation as a gourmet purveyor of guts and marrow, blood and trotters. His cookbook is simply titled Meat. La Luna has always specialised in whole animal butchery; the entire beast – nose to tail, spine to hoof – is used, not just to prevent waste but to showcase what you can do with lesser cuts. It’s a trend now, a brand of thoughtful carnivorism that combines – perhaps uneasily – an ethical meditation on how we eat animals with an enthusiasm for the primal bloodlust of eating them.

Over in South Melbourne, Katherine de Niese and Andrew Lockyear – partners in business and life – prepare a goat’s carcass at their cafe, Montague Park Foodstore. The goat arrived in the kitchen yesterday, headless, skinned and gutted, since all animals have to be disembowelled at the abattoir by law. (For whatever reason, pigs arrive with heads intact but the goats come in decapitated.) Andrew uses a cleaver with easy precision to divide the animal into cutlets, legs, saddle, backstraps. One 10 kilogram goat yields between 30 and 35 meals.

Montague Park has just a modest three-door fridge, so only one beast can be used at a time and the menu changes according to the animal. De Niese writes it out on butcher’s paper in thick marker pen, and hangs it facing out of the window for passers-by to see: “Goat curry with lentil dhal (made with belly); braised goat with dill, white wine and soft polenta (shoulder); shredded goat ragu with homemade tagliatelle pasta (leg); braised goat shank.” “This week’s whole beast is goat!” says an accompanying sign. “Specials consist of different sections of the goat to ensure minimal waste from nose to tail.”

When de Niese and Lockyear worked in restaurants, they were both constantly appalled by the amount of waste in kitchens, especially of meat. It also bothered them that consumers detach themselves from the idea of meat as being part of a dead animal – not just in restaurants but at grocery shops too. “Visually, supermarkets make meat so easy to look at,” Katherine says, “so people don’t associate it with animals. But it deserves that respect.”

Jess Jenkins, manager of Collingwood’s new nose-to-tail restaurant, Josie Bones, echoes the sentiment: “An animal is dying for you to have this meal.” However, she adds, “We’re not here to scare people.” She might be joking, because Josie Bones is provocative from the start: its doorknobs are cast iron pigs’ trotters. To enter the restaurant you must first reach out and shake hands with the dead, as if making a pact. Glued above the bar is a giant photograph of a skinned rabbit, the white, webby streaks of fat making it resemble an oily, gruesome Caravaggio. The cookbook of the restaurant’s co-founder, Chris Badenoch, is also on display; the cover shows him leering over a giant roasted pig’s head, with a giant knife. If there is a unifying aesthetic to the restaurant, it’s slaughter.

“Some of them don’t like it, obviously,” Jenkins says of the skinned rabbit. “A lot of meat-eaters aren’t used to seeing what they’re actually eating. They don’t want an actual pig’s head coming through, but they love pork.” Because it’s a Wednesday night – the restaurant’s weekly whole animal roast night – there is a freshly slaughtered baby pig in the fridge. It is both very dead and very cute. I almost expect the piglet to turn its head to me and break out into song, Babe-like. It’s not every day you look into the face of something you will later eat. (The pig is delicious.)

As at La Luna, a substantial part of the Josie Bones menu is focused on offal. Roasted skin is served as “crackling of the day” in tiny white bowls. Elsewhere on the menu are tongues, heads, ears and blood. “We use offal for two reasons,” head chef Robert Taylor says. “No one else is doing it much, and also offal is very, very cheap. We can devote our magic to making offal taste really good and present it in a way that changes people’s preconceptions about what offal is.” Plus, he notes, there is a fundamental ethical obligation for carnivores to eat this stuff. “If you eat the belly,” Jenkins adds, “why wouldn’t you eat the tongue?”

Still, for all the talk about revering animals, there is another impulse at work here: the brute macho appeal of tearing an animal apart. Richardson says it’s common for groups of men to come to La Luna with one squeamish guy whom they try to provoke into eating the weirdest thing available. “They eat it, and it’s something they can cross off their list,” he says. Every time Richardson serves a roasted pig’s face, for instance, people go nuts. “They either rip off the ears and crunch on them, or they’ll cut the cheeks out,” Richardson says. When I ask Jenkins and Taylor how they go about eating pigs’ heads, Jenkins doesn’t say a thing. Instead, she closes her eyes, childlike and beatific, grins widely and makes wild, tearing motions with her hands, scooping them into her mouth. There’s nothing dignified about it. You tear the goddamn thing apart – which is to say, you eat it like an animal.

Benjamin Law

Benjamin Law is the author of The Family Law and the Quarterly Essay Moral Panic 101: Equality, Acceptance and the Safe Schools Scandal. He also co-hosts Stop Everything on ABC RN.

@mrbenjaminlaw

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