Whole-animal cooking: the latest in zero-waste living
A traditional backyard cookout gets a sustainable makeover with UKG.
In many of our issues, we’ve talked about small changes you can make in an effort to move towards a zero-waste lifestyle. Well, there’s a big shift in outdoor cooking that aims to avoidfood waste and utilize the entire animal. It’s called whole-animal cooking, and it’s fast becoming a trend in restaurants across the country.
But we wanted to know how to do it at home. Last year, Cucina Urbana in Bankers Hill announced a series of quarterly, reservations-required, intimate (there are only 20 seats available) “Beast Feast” dinners designed to educate diners on the whole-animal sustainability approach. So we asked Cucina Urbana’s parent company, Urban Kitchen Group’s (UKG) executive chef Tim Kolanko, known for his head-to-tail cooking, to give us some recipes that use the whole animal (plus some things to do with what we trim away or would otherwise discard).
“It’s all based on the philosophy of knowing how to use and respect the animal,” he says.
Tracy Borkum, UKG’s founder and principal, tells us how to create a relaxed and inviting family-style setting with spring’s colors and lots of layers to provide texture and comfort. “A cookout should say, ‘Come on over!’” Tracy says.
For centerpieces, she recommends starting with what you’re serving as inspiration. “There are plenty of colors and textures that can double as both ingredients and decor.” Multihued tomatoes or peppers make a simply stunning statement when grouped in the middle of the table. Or you might find flowers blooming in your garden, or in this case, at Stehly Farms Organics in Valley Center, where this event took place.
For this cookout, Tracy opted for a rainbow of florals. She placed raw-edge linen table runners down the center, then lined the table with a collection of glass, terra-cotta and stone vessels that she filled with single-variety flowers in one shade.
She mixed things up at each place setting by using a different plate at every seat. “It’s a great way to create a touch of playfulness, especially at a backyard dinner,” she says. Her tips? Stick to similar sizes while switching up the patterns, and be mindful of complementing hues when placing plates. “A vintage plate with a touch of gold along the edges goes right next to a hand-painted plate with warm yellow tones, for example.”
When mixing up plate designs, keep the rest of the table simple and uniform. Tracy loosely tied linen napkins in knots, but you could also do the complete opposite and pick casual plates and formal or vintage flatware. Whatever you do, you want to achieve balance in what Tracy calls “a yin and yang” of tablescaping.
It’s also important to fashion a cozy atmosphere in the yard. Tracy put vintage burlap sacks on wooden seats for a bit of cushioning, but pretty throws work too and can keep guests warm on cooler evenings.
Market lights add magic to the night sky, but if electricity isn’t an option, Tracy says candles in vintage cans and jars cast a gorgeous glow. “You can hang them around the yard or put them on every surface,” she explains. “I also love large-scale lanterns with groupings of multilevel candles inside.” You can pepper them around your landscape.
Tim’s menu included a slightly tangy lamb and fish simply dressed with a dash of salt and squeeze of citrus (whole-beast cooking doesn’t have to be exclusively for carnivores). He advocates finding a reputable butcher or fish monger. Tim likes Catalina Offshore Products in the Morena area, Sepulveda Meats and Provisions in South Park, Heart & Trotter in North Park, Iowa Meat Farms in Grantville and Whole Foods. Once there, he recommends talking to the butcher or fish monger about what’s in season and good. “Beef is available year-round,” Tim explains, “but you may find wild boar or game birds this time of year.”
Tim’s grilled squash, farm salad with shaved Parmesan, and refreshingly light roasted-beet side dishes, as well as the strawberry dessert, came from the just-harvested fruits and vegetables he found at Stehly Farms Organics. With a few additional ingredients, he created accompaniments that are best served at room temperature—meaning they don’t have to stay hot or cold and can sit out for hours without spoiling. “Veggies like zucchini, tomatoes, broccoli, eggplant and squash are delicious marinated, charred and served at room temperature,” he says. “You want people to sit and graze at a cookout, so I always think of dishes I can make and let sit.”
You heard the man: Make these recipes, eat, then don’t worry about cleanup just yet. Enjoy the spring evening among friends—and go back for seconds or thirds whenever you please.
Future Beast Feast dinners at Cucina Urbana in Bankers Hill feature a Beast-Less meal on April 21, Finfish on July 21 and Fowl on Oct. 14. Find more info and tickets at urbankitchengroup.com
Learn how to make Tim’s Salt-Baked Grouper here.