Book review – Odd Bits

23 December 2011
Book review – Odd Bits

Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal By Jennifer McLagan
Jacqui Small, £20
ISBN 978-1906417611

It might not have the most alluring title, but Odd Bits is initially more appealing than Jennifer McLagan's previous two books, Fat and Bones.

The cover picture looks like a tray of exhibits from a crime scene, but do not be sidetracked by this offal and giblet bravado. Odd Bits is a superb book - well written, witty and full of excellent prose describing how best to tackle those animal parts usually consigned to sausage meat and pies.

The repertoire of dishes is not just heart and lungs. There is a fine, and surprisingly straightforward recipe for corned beef and another for neck of lamb with quince and turnip. These recipes, as well as the more arcane confections of testicle and brain, share a common quality: they are well explained. So make a note of the title if you are aiming to move into the Fergus Henderson territory of nose to tail eating. This one is for you.

There are five main sections with an "interlude" of three pages to discuss and advise on roasting suckling pig. These sections move from the animal's head to its tail and end with some surprisingly conventional dishes such as classic beef stew and veal shank with saffron amongst the gizzards and pigs' ears.

At the book's core though are not so much the recipes as the explanations of how to handle unfamiliar bits. There is an excellent section on blood, for instance, with good advice on black pudding and a first rate piece on black pancakes. My wife is Finnish and ate these blood pancakes fairly regularly as a child. She pronounced the instruction and advice as completely authentic. I am not one to argue.

The text is threaded with good quotes, some from cooks like Simon Hopkinson, Georgio Locatelli and Jane Grigson, some from classical literature, an extract from Homer's Odyssey and plenty from the likes of Charles Dickens and Lewis Carroll. In fact there are two quotes, not used, from "Alice in Wonderland" that are apposite. "What is the use, thought Alice of a book without pictures or conversations" and "we are all mad here".

Odd Bits is full of great conversations and fine pictures of the finished dishes, a little madness and a lot of brilliant information. If I didn't have the review copy I would buy it.
By Shaun Hill, chef-proprietor, the Walnut Tree, Llanddewi Skirrid

If you like this, you'll love these:
The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating Fergus Henderson
Testicles: Balls in Cooking and Culture
Blandine Vie and Giles MacDonogh

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