Hawaii folk in particular are likely to be familiar with the idea of cooking — and eating — nearly every part of an animal thanks to the diversity of ethnicities here. Even if you don’t eat goat blood or chicken feet, for instance, you might partake of goose liver or pig’s feet.
But it takes expertise to come up with ways to prepare all the parts of one animal. This type of "nose-to-tail" cooking most often requires the skill and knowledge of a chef. And nose-to-tail cooking is shaping up to be another means for chefs to educate people about where their food originates.
"I wanted to do this since before I opened (the restaurant)," says locavore-oriented chef Ed Kenney of town restaurant, who employs the approach on pigs from Shinsato Farms in Kahaluu as well as veal and wild boar from the Big Island. "It was part of my original business plan. When people talk about sustainability, they usually focus on environmental stuff, but this is the people part. This allows the community to know where their food comes from."
Nose-to-tail cooking is among the numerous topics to be discussed Friday at "Chefs & Farmers Facing Future," a daylong forum on Hawaii’s food security at Leeward Community College. Kenney will be in attendance.
The chef has created recipes that, along with a flexible menu that changes daily, enables him to use 100 percent of the pig.
"A slow-roasted shoulder will last four nights, braised pork belly two nights, cured ham two nights," he rattles off.
With innards such as the liver and kidney, as well as the pig head, he creates terrine, pâté and sausage.
"It’s very popular," he says. "Everything I serve, the customers love."
Chef Peter Merriman, one of the founders of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, has been preparing veal in nose-to-tail fashion since he opened his first restaurant in Hawaii more than 22 years ago. (Today he runs Merriman’s Kapalua on Maui, Merriman’s Fish House Poipu on Kauai and Merriman’s Waimea and Merriman’s Market Cafe, both on the Big Island.)
"The reason I chose to do nose-to-tail cooking was because I wanted to get fresh local product. This was the only way I could get it. It was a necessity," he says. "I had gone through classical training and spent six months as a butcher, so I knew about all that stuff.
"I employ a lot of Old World, nearly forgotten techniques. Chops will always be chops, loins will always be loins. For the rest of the meat, it becomes a lot of braising, slow roasting and grinding. The tougher the meat, the longer it needs to be on the heat.
‘Chefs & Farmers Facing Future: A Forum on Food’
Panels on Hawaii’s food security, and aquaculture and beef industries:
"This type of food isn’t common at restaurants," Merriman continues. "It’s a lot easier to take the nicest, most tender cut of meat and put it on the broiler. But if you’re willing to commit the time and effort, you get wonderful flavor. Many of the most tough cuts are the most flavorful. And with a basic braise, you can create almost any flavor you want."
Nose-to-tail relates to the issue of food security, or access to sufficient food, in a couple of ways. First, there’s the bottom line: When chefs purchase a whole animal, it saves money for the farmer.
"There’s a problem when meat suppliers have an abundance of less popular parts," says Kenney. "It costs money to find storage and holds up the whole process of raising more animals."
"It’s a constant problem for people who sell beef," agrees Michelle Galimba, owner of Kua Hiwi ranch on the Big Island, which has 3,000 head of cattle on 10,000 acres. "It’s always easy to sell hamburger because of the low price. The middle meat, like tenderloin, rib eye and New York steak, is easy as well. It’s relatively difficult to find a market for the rest of the beef."
Second, when chefs get diners thinking about the origin of the food on their plate, they open the door of awareness.
"Most people buy only prepackaged meat; they don’t have a connection to where their food comes from," says Galimba. "Nose-to-tail is one way of reconnecting people to the food system."
All this is pertinent to food security because good food shines a spotlight on the value of local products. That equals support of local farms and ranches, which is key to ensuring that our isolated state can generate its own food. After all, approximately 85 percent of our food is imported. If a catastrophe cuts us off from the rest of the world, a foremost concern will be how much food is available to us and for how long.
"Consumers will have to realize that food security will cost them money," says pig farmer Glenn Shinsato, who supplies pork to Kenney, Chinatown venues and the Halekulani and Kahala hotels.
"Americans are accustomed to cheap food with empty calories. We’ve got to get away from that. Locally produced pork costs some money. McRibs cost $2 or $3. People don’t realize we’re not comparing apples to apples. Local stuff will cost more but you get a better product."
Here’s another way to look at this ball of wax: There’s huge economic potential in local agriculture.
Replacing 10 percent of imported food would translate into some $313 million annually in additional farm profits, retail sales and tax revenue, according to economists from the state Department of Agriculture and the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. It would also mean more than 2,300 jobs.
Many in the local food industry say that at some point rising fuel prices will cause some imported food to cost more than locally grown products.
Russell Kokubun, chairperson of the state Department of Agriculture agrees, and he’s optimistic that Hawaii will eventually become food-secure.
"It’s just a matter of time," he says. "It’s about education and the economy."
Ono and sustainable
Buying local meat from Hawaii farmers and ranchers contributes to food security for Hawaii. Try these recipes using locally raised beef and pork.
Ushi Nu Jubuni Nu Shimun (Oxtail Soup)
“Okinawan Mixed Plate” by Hui O Laulima
3-1/2 pounds oxtail
1/2 poung ginger, crushed
1/2 cup shoyu
1 teaspoon salt
Cut oxtail through joint. Preboil oxtail: Cover meat with water, bring to rolling boil, drain and rinse.
Fill pot again with just enough water to barely cover meat, then add 3 additional cups water. Add ginger and seasoning. Bring to boil and simmer until meat is tender and can easily be pierced. Skim constantly.
Add additional seasoning to taste. Serve with a side dish of the dip. Serves 6.
Approximate nutritional information, per serving (not including side dish of dip): 370 calories, 18 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 145 mg cholesterol, 2000 mg sodium, 8 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 44 g protein
Pork with Oyster Sauce and Garlic
Courtesy Glenn Shinsato, Shinsato Farm
1 pound fresh local pork, thinly sliced
1 cup oyster sauce
4 cloves garlic, minced
In bowl, mix pork with oyster sauce and garlic. Cover and marinate for 1 hour.
Grill meat and serve. Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 250 calories, 15 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 75 mg cholesterol, 500 mg sodium, 3 g carbohydrate, no fiber, no sugar, 23 g protein
Spicy Thai Beef Salad
“Aunty Audrey’s Big Island Eats,” by Audrey Wilson
1 pound local sirloin steak
1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
4 cups shredded Manoa lettuce or other local mixed greens
1 medium locally grown tomato, cut into 8 wedges
1/2 cup peeled and seeded locally grown cucumber, sliced into pieces 1/8-inch thick
1/4 cup onion, sliced 1/8-inch thick
1/4 cup sliced button mushrooms (about 3 mushrooms)
8 mint leaves, chopped
1/4 cup green onions (about 1 stalk)
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
2 teaspoons finely minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
1 tablespoon minced ginger
3 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
1-1/2 tablespoons chili oil
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon sugar
To make dressing, mix all ingredients and set aside.
Marinate beef in fish sauce for 10 minutes. Grill steak until done, approximately 5 minutes per side. Slice steak into thin strips across grain.
Shred lettuce into bite-sized pieces, then mound on platter or in large bowl. Arrange tomato, cucumber, onions, mushrooms and mint on lettuce. Arrange beef slices atop salad. Garnish with green onions and cilantro and serve dressing on the side. Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 250 calories, 11 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 70 mg cholesterol, greater than 1500 mg sodium, 11 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 27 g protein
Nutritional analysis by Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S.