I still remember the day clearly. I was at the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery and Tom Jaine had just beaten me to buying a beautiful tripiére at the bring & buy stand. We started talking about offal and I told him I was keen to write a book about it. Tom thought it was a great idea but I didn’t really do much about it until quite some time later when I got a call from my then agent to say she had a publisher wanting a book on offal and Tom, who she had approached to write it, said she should speak to me.
I was thrilled but unfortunately my excitement was short-lived. I don’t remember exactly how long it was after I had started working on the book that the BSE crisis started but this meant that we had to shelve the book. It wasn’t until a few years later that The Fifth Quarter was finally published, a beautiful volume with stylish illustrations but no photographs. Of course, it wasn’t a bestseller but a lot chefs and food writers loved it. And now, I have a brand new edition that is just out with lovely photographs and extra recipes from various chef friends.
When my friend Bruce Palling heard about the new edition, he said he would write about it. I asked him and his lovely wife Lucinda over for an offal dinner and I prepared three dishes: what I call the acceptable face of offal (foie gras), the in-between (tongues) and the not so acceptable (lamb’s head). It didn’t occur to me that the main course would be such an ordeal for him. You can see it in the picture, with him sitting in front of his lamb’s head looking quite forlorn at the idea of having to gouge out an eye — he didn’t!
In a way he is right. The lamb’s head looks more scary than appetising but that is more because the Turkish butchers in Green Lanes skin it and take most of the meat off, not to mention the bizarre practice of chopping its nose off which has the effect of giving it a middle horn after cooking. Quite gross! I am sure Bruce would have found it less of an ordeal if I had bought the head from a Syrian butcher like the one in the picture below who leaves the heads pretty intact apart from shaving them and singing the last bits of fur hence the burn marks.
In any case, here is Bruce’s piece. I promised to make up for the head by cooking him a delicious Lebanese meal next time they come over. I will also remember his aversion to milk. I added insult to injury by giving him my Arabic goat’s milk ice cream with salep, mastic and rose water. One version was plain and the other had added slivers of Persian pistachios but the pistachios couldn’t hide the milk. Oh, and here is a picture of the lamb’s tongue which I had spiked with pistachios. I learned that trick from the chef at Zmorod, one of Aleppo’s finest restaurants. I wonder how they’re doing these days with all the tourists gone and most people staying home.