Nose to tail eating is just a new term for offal, which usually refers to organ meats or the intestines of an animal. It’s all the bits that are not bone or muscle, and is often discarded, or used for animal feed. This can include sheep’s head, brains, liver, pig trotters or pig’s snout, lamb fries (testicles), tripe (reticulum), or sweetbreads (pancreas). But although nose to tail eating has gotten the spotlight, many cultures have been eating this way for ages!
Although there is a hype around nose to tail eating these days, the concept is not new at all. What one culture may consider as offal, the other sees as a delicacy.
In supermarkets in Europe and the UK, there are a few offal dishes that might sound familiar to you. Steak-and-kidney pie is a popular lunch item in British supermarkets, as is brawn – a dish made from flesh from an animal’s skull, set in gelatin. In Scotland, haggis is quite popular. It’s basically a mixture of boiled liver, heart, lungs, oatmeal, fat, all stuffed into a bag made sheep’s stomach.
Iceland also have a version of haggis (called slátur) and brawn (svioasulta), which is made from sheep’s head. You’ve probably heard of black pudding too: congealed pork blood, animal fat, and oatmeal stuffed into a pig’s casing and served fried. Finland have their own version of this blood sausage called mustamakkara.
In South America, chicken parts are quite popular: chicken hearts, necks, gizzards, and feet. When it comes to beef, they use most parts of the animal. Liver can be used in stews, while beef heart is used for anticuchos, a popular Peruvian street food.
In most parts of Africa, much of the animal is used when slaughtered. Kidneys, testes, and liver can be grilled, while the head, lungs, and feet can be used to make a soup. In South Africa, a country rich in diverse cultures, a stew made with tripe (animal stomach) is especially popular. Each culture has their own twist for making tripe, but making it in a curry is most common. They also enjoy sheep’s head (called skopo or smiley), liver, and chicken feet.
The reason why nose to tail eating has recently become popular, is the movement towards less waste, better sustainability, and more respect for animals. With food processing becoming more and more detached from the consumer, food waste has been on the increase. Many chefs wanted to remove the concept that meat should only come in perfectly packaged portions. By using the whole animal, we have more respect for the life it lived, and would also be less likely to waste parts of it.
If you’re new to offal, it’s best to try it first at a restaurant instead of cooking it yourself. In this way, the dish is made by an expert, and you are more likely to enjoy the taste. Start with something that is somewhat between offal and mainstream, like bone marrow or liver pâté. When you want to move towards a stronger taste, try the heart or brain. And if you are unsure what to choose from the menu, choose the deep-fried item, most things taste better when fried!