Who Are You Calling Ugly?

by Sam Bilton on January 13, 2017 No comments

Ugly Food: Overlooked & Undercooked (Book Review)


“Waste not want not” is a mantra many of us chant. It is a sad fact that 7 million tonnes of food and drink are thrown away from our homes every year in the UK. But what of the items that never even make it to the supermarket? The less attractive food or bits and bobs left over from processing an animal that nobody seems to want?

In the past we could not afford to be so fussy. Centuries ago nothing was wasted. Simply speaking we operated a nose to tail policy with regards to the consumption of livestock. The Romans were particularly fond of brains and they crop up and all sorts of their recipes. In mediaeval times umble pie was popular. Umbles refer to the offal from a deer or any other type of animal and gave rise to the expression ‘to eat humble pie’. Since the mid 20th century we have become sniffy about offal. Despite the efforts of chefs like Fergus Henderson things like kidneys, liver and hearts rarely find their way onto our dinner plates. Even less familiar fish and seafood like gurnard and octopus are snubbed. This is something Richard Horsey and Tim Wharton are seeking to redress in their book Ugly Food: Overlooked and Undercooked.

What is the essence of the book?

“The food industry, like the fashion industry, seems driven by the pursuit of impossible perfection.”

The point that authors Richard Horsey and Tim Wharton want to make in this book is that much of the food that is ignored by the supermarkets is tasty, sustainable and cheap. Each chapter covers an ingredient which is often overlooked by consumers, providing an explanation as to why we should be eating it, from its nutritional benefits to how to raise your own rabbits. They begin with octopus, move onto cheeks and feet and to have multiple suggestions for how to cook squirrel. There’s even a section on ugly veg (mangel-wurzel, anyone?). The recipes are sourced from all over the world and periods of time. So you’ll find Hawaiian Octopus Poke and Alexis Soyer’s Toad in the Hole between its covers. An eclectic but thoroughly delicious mix.

About the authors

The authors backgrounds are as eclectic as the contents of their book. Tim Wharton is a linguist at the University of Brighton but has also been songwriter, butchers boy and English teacher. Richard Horsey has a doctorate in cognitive science and has worked for the United Nations fighting forced labour. They are also accomplished cooks.

Who will like it?

This book will appeal to intrepid cooks. Not because the recipes themselves are especially complicated, but more because the ingredients will require some ingenuity in sourcing. If you have a penchant for the slightly unusual then this book could be for you.

Who won’t like it?

If you really can’t get your head around eating gizzards or trotters then you probably ought to give this book a wide berth.

What do I like about the book?

I really appreciate the time they have taken at the beginning of each chapter to explain some of the history and folklore behind the consumption of these so-called ugly foods. Did you know, for example, that a remedy for teething babies was to rub their gums with squirrel brains? This means the book is a pleasure to read as well as potentially cook from. They manage to keep the prose informative and entertaining without lecturing the reader, although their aim is clearly to open our minds and palates to these foods
Is there anything I’m not so keen on?

I could have taken much more ugliness especially on the offal front (being a lover of kidneys). However, given that much of the public is squeamish about these matters the areas discussed make complete sense from a publishing perspective.

Would I cook from it?

Their Rabbit Ragu is on the menu this weekend.

Where can you buy it?

Ugly Food: Overlooked and Undercooked by Richard Horsey and Tim Wharton (Hurst, £25)

Sam BiltonWho Are You Calling Ugly?

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