Fergus Henderson, the chef author of this book subtitled 'nose to tail eating' is a cult hero among foodies and among heroes of foodies such as Tony Bourdain, who writes the introduction to this new edition and Mario Batali, a major advocate himself of using the whole animal.
For several reasons, this book is likely to have little to no value to the average person who cooks and who may refer to a cookbook now and then. The recipes commonly use ingredients that are simply unavailable outside better butcher shops and farmers' markets. The recipes also commonly use techniques that are the antithesis of fast cooking and low fat cooking. There are some recipes that literally require up to two weeks to complete.
The true audience for this book aside from culinary professionals are those who religiously watch Alton Brown's 'Good Eats' , read John Thorne's books and newsletter as if they were gospels, and study books by Paul Bertolli, Eric Rippert, Judy Rodgers, and Jeremiah Tower for subtle new techniques to squeeze the last ounce of value from their primo materia.
Just to be sure it is clear to you what this book is all about, it's primary subject is preparing in a cuisine absolutely everything but the oink, as the saying goes, from a pig and other animals. To this end, the author presents us with recipes for pig's head, pigs jowls (Mario Batali's favorite guanciale), pig's ears, pig's tail, livers, hearts, tongues, and the most beloved stomach as used in preparing the old Scottish classic, haggis.
If this were the limit of the author's novelty, there would probably be little interest in the book among chefs. The author pushes this point of view to cover culinary techniques which are either not commonly used by the average chef and which are generally unknown to the average cook. The two best-known methods are brining and preserving in oil as in a comfit. Brining has probably become much better known among American foodies thanks to the efforts of Alton Brown and Shirley Corriher. It is a method of soaking meat in a solution of salt, sugar, and aromatics to impart moisture to the meat. Creating a comfit involves storing meat in fat rendered from the meat and fatty parts of the animal from which the meat was taken. The method is best known as a method for preserving duck legs, but it may be applied to many other meats. The author applies both techniques to a wide variety of foods.
If any part of this book may have use to the average reader who takes cooking seriously, it would probably be the author's lessons on the creation and use of stocks. Unlike chefs at the cutting edge of American haute cuisine such as Judy Rodgers, Henderson's stock techniques are beautifully simple. He does recommend the uncommon method of creating a raft to clarify stocks. I have not seen this method used outside of Culinary Institute of America texts, but the author presents it so simply that one need have no fear that it is too complicated for them. That is not to say it does not take time. This is an example of why the nonprofessional will want to read this book. It is just chocked full of unusual techniques, some as simple as they are unexpected. The author goes against a tidal wave of preference for the Italian flat leafed parsley and chooses to use curly leafed parsley in most recipes including an utterly simple method for flavoring salt with the herb and adding it to a simple sauce.
While the focus of the book is on meat, it does cover the very typical range of dishes with chapters on Stocks, Soups, Salads, Starters, Main Dishes (mostly the odd body parts are here), Birds and Game, Fish and Shellfish, Vegetables, Sauces, Puddings, and Baking. The refreshing iconoclasm extends even to the discussion of routine sauces where the author is clear to all that aioli is NOT mayonnaise with garlic, but a thing onto itself. He probably also breaks a few hearts by mixing olive oil for both mayonnaise and aioli in a food processor.
The book should also be a treasure for armchair foodies who get no closer to a Garland range than a read of reviews in 'Cooks Illustrated'. This chef has a way with words. You may almost think of him as a literate Jaime Oliver who suggests you put terrines 'in the fridge for 24 hours to allow it to find itself'. I sometimes find it tedious to read even good recipes. There is no such problem with this book.
Highly recommended read for all professionals and foodies. Great source of ideas, even if you never make any of the recipes.