Expanding Our Food Horizons: Easing into Nose to Tail Eating

We love raising our own meat animals. We know that they have a healthy, as close to natural as we can provide for them kind of life. It also helps that we know what they eat and what they’re exposed to. We cull humanely and I butcher at home, trying to recover as much as I can to honor the animal I’m processing. Usually, my thoughts on this going in are to focus on eating what we can and trying to use somehow what we can’t. That’s where I found nose to tail eating.

Unfortunately there’s a lot of meat, specifically organs, that I’m just not familiar with. It doesn’t help that here in America some of the offal (internal organs) is illegal to sell, among them brains and lungs. 

Sure I’ve heard of chitlins (intestines) and had tongue (lengua tacos). I know you can eat: brain, kidney, liver, and heart. Most of those I have some vague notion of using. But what about lungs, eyes, or even reproductive parts? Yes, I know, but we DID take the animal’s life. It’s only fair to use ALL of them.

Rimakej asked me why I discarded the lungs one day while I was processing. I told her I didn’t know if they were edible, and when she asked why not I didn’t have an answer. So off to research I went; once I was done and everything cleaned up of course!

Chickens in a yard being raised for nose to tail eating

What I Found on Nose to Tail Eating

During that research I came across a notion called “nose-to-tail eating“. The concept includes using bones and bone marrow, skin, cartilage, fat, organ meats, etc. This means using normally discarded parts like chicken feet, turkey necks, fish heads, sheep testicles, pig and calf feet, tail, cheek meat, snout… 

After reading up a bit on it, I noticed that we had unintentionally begun a series of steps toward eating nose to tail. It started with processing the birds at home. Suddenly the parts I grew up eating weren’t the only parts, so I had to learn to use more of the animal. Then as I moved to process our hoofstock, I was astounded that almost ⅓ of the animal was organs. It seemed a terrible waste to not use it all, so I began to learn what I could use and how. 

Picture of HHH sheep pasture grazing.

Integrating the Practice

The first choice was to intentionally make bone broth, something I’ve been making since I began to cook as a kid. It was just natural growing up in my family to boil down the bones of a chicken or turkey carcass, or the split bones of a holiday ham, to make what I knew as stock. I make it a habit now to split fresh bones so the marrow can seep out into the broth. 

The next step was to try easier to acquire organ meats, like heart and liver. I remembered occasionally eating liver as a kid but I didn’t know enough then about how to process organs so I bought some for comparison. I quickly learned if you don’t cut out all the gallbladder or if you spill the bile the liver is essentially unusable. 

Now I regularly eat heart as a reward for my hard work processing. She gets some when I haven’t eaten it all. We’ve started to eat liver and kidney as well. Liver and onions done right works. Cook it too long and it’s like a mouthful of chalk. We like to eat kidney too, but only if it’s fresh. Frozen and then thawed the flavor became too intense. 

The next step in nose to tail eating was to venture into more unfamiliar territory and try pig stomach when we processed our mini-pig, Chia. I didn’t quite handle it right but I’m sure we will incorporate stomach once I learn how.  We haven’t tried to use any of the 4 stomach chambers from our sheep yet. Nor have we saved intestines to stuff with sausage, since I don’t have the machinery to do so. Oh well, more on the to-do list. 

Our most recent culinary adventure was testicles and lungs. Carefully peeled and fried the testicles came out a bit like a sausage with a very mild flavor. Served alongside eggs or something similar they would make a great breakfast. The texture is really soft and takes some getting used to if you don’t normally eat soft meat. And the psychology of it will definitely take a little work. Lungs are also soft but more firm than testicles, they also have a very gentle flavor profile. I simmered them until they were tender. If you’re going to do it, please note that they float and will need to be flipped. 

It’s not hard to start incorporating nose to tail eating into your diet when you raise and process yourself. It just becomes part of the natural evolution of not wasting resources you’ve put so much into. Hopefully one day I’ll be proud enough to say I can use the whole animal, but for now, I’m still learning. 

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