Oh how I do love Northwest cuisine. It’s easy to get excited about the culinary scene in this part of the country. Things like local, seasonal, organic, Farm to Table, slow food – and that’s just the quick rundown. Another approach to cooking that is garnering a lot of attention in our little corner of the world is whole animal cooking. If you haven’t heard of whole animal cooking before, it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Chefs are receiving entire animals, butchering and preparing them onsite, and utilizing as much as possible, the entire animal.
Scared? You shouldn’t be.
This is the art of cooking incarnate. The way it was done for many, many years. And the benefits of this approach are many: reduced waste, deeper, more complex flavors, as well as creative dishes that open the door to a whole new world of experimentation and exploration. It is the next step in a progression that solidifies the fact that chefs in the Northwest are looking backward to take their cuisine forward. The Country Cat Dinner House & Bar in Portland, Oregon is at the forefront of this movement. They typify all that makes the area’s food special. The whole animal cooking that Chef Adam Sappington brings to the Country Cat is very much the realization of a dream he has cultivated for sometime. Chef Adam creates simple, authentically American dishes. His southern roots are evident, and they highlight a menu that has been filtered through Northwest influence. Chef Adam most certainly deserved the attention he received as a semi-finalist nomination for 2012 Best Chef Northwest.
The Country Cat serves brunch as well as dinner, and on my visit I was treated to memorable dishes from both menus: An Eggs Benedict comprised of a sweet cream biscuit with smoked Steelhead, caramelized onions, preserved lemon hollandaise, wilted greens & home fries; homemade beef jerky; and of course, soups! First out was a Smoked Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese. The classic combination of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich was complimented nicely with a side of fresh, lightly dressed greens. The soup, topped with a dollop of sour cream, had all the vibrancy you would expect from tomato soup, but the addition of the house smoked tomato added character and a bit of intrigue.
As good as the first soup was the next soup was the result of a perfectly flexed culinary muscle; the Caramelized Tomato, Farro & Kale soup, with Parsley Pesto and Parmesan Cheese. The soup was a joy; an exquisite culmination of Chef Adam’s culinary sensibilities and interpretation of Northwest approach. It was all in there: inspired flavor combinations, freshness, mouthfeel, and a depth born from the use of a whole animal. It is not a logical leap to assume stocks and bases benefit from the technique.
The soups served at the Country Cat are unique. You might not think that employing an approach to food-making that is as old as humanity itself would set new culinary benchmarks. But that’s exactly what’s innovative about it. There are many ways to push boundaries. The Country Cat accomplishes it by doing things simply, doing them well, and doing them with the right ingredients – and that list of ingredients includes the whole animal.