Don't judge this book by its cover. The cover of Zakary Pelaccio's cookbook Eat With Your Hands simply has the book's title and an image of a cleaned bone. It looks like a chicken bone, which is likely homage to Pelaccio's first restaurant, Chickenbone Café. The book cover looks more like something you'd expect from a Paleo (a.k.a. caveman) cookbook, not a book filled with the flavorful food of Southeast Asia. But in the pages of EWYH, Pelaccio packs in pantry tips, travel tales, kitchen lore, and recipes from his Fatty family of restaurants in New York City: Fatty Crab, Fatty Cue and Fatty Snack.
The book is divided into chapters on meats ranging from frog, bunny and goat to lamb, beef and pork. There are also chapters on poultry, fish, shellfish, salads, stocks, condiments, snacks, pickles and preserves, and noodles. For dessert however, a colorful two-page spread simply says, "Eat Fresh Fruit!" If Malaysian food is new to your repertoire, the glossary includes several photos, plus lengthy descriptions of various chilies, spices, vegetables, condiments, herbs, and other aromatics common in the Malay pantry.
In Eat With Your Hands Pelaccio talks a great deal about his travels throughout Southeast Asia, other culinary inspiration and his kitchen philosophy. Before you assume these are all sophisticated endeavors, you should know that inspiration for his Cuban sandwich was from being really high one night, and that music and booze fuel inspiration for Pelacccio every day. And he likes to curse.
Recipe headnotes and sidebars include anecdotes and travel tales, or how Pelacccio serves a dish at one of his restaurants. There are helpful cooking tips as well, like how to skin a frog, substitute ingredients, and serving suggestions. Drink recommendations are included for each recipe and range from Singha beer in a can, specific vintages and producers of wines, and original cocktails like the Bone Shot by David Wondrich (a fiery concoction of rye, simple syrup, Tabasco, and lime). When cooking the Beef Rendang, the recommended drink however is Tecate because, "What are you going to do, drink bourbon? You'll get too drunk and fuck the dish up!" Need some music to cook to? Musical suggestions are next to each recipe as well. For cooking the smoked trotters with cured shrimp, play My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Brian Eno and David Byrne. For Otak-Otak, a dish of fresh fish and fish paste cooked in banana leaves, listening to Frank Zappa is recommended.
This isn't a cookbook you'll likely cook from for a weeknight dinner. While many ingredients are easy to find at a well-stocked supermarket, a trip to an Asian grocer will likely be needed for many ingredients. Things like pork jowls, rabbit, fresh sardines, Vietnamese mint, ramps, and lamb heart aren't always readily available either. And many recipes include several steps and additional recipes for condiments or sauces. Many recipes can be made in advance however, such as the base recipe for brine that can be used to quick pickle just about any hearty fruit or vegetable.
So why the title Eat With Your Hands? Much of the world does in fact eat with their hands. Pelaccio admits that he prefers it (and eats salads with his hands as well) and that utensils would just slow him down. But he also thinks of it as a personal philosophy and as a metaphor for life.