Sunday, 23 December 2012

Good food doesn't have to be expensive

After all that baking and prep, there was still dinner to make. So just what was on the menu?

Well, it was time for a sausage and kidney turbigo. And since I haven’t described this dish – one of those that I can cook without recourse to a book – for some time, it seemed to be an excellent opportunity to give my dedicated readers (and particularly the new ones) a little seasonal gift of an extra post/recipe.

Around 11 years ago, shortly after I’d ditched the dieting and decided that I wanted to learn to cook, I picked up a book of classic French recipes.

It was one of those with no listed author, but for a decade since, it has been close to one of my kitchen bibles.

Leafing through it, I found a recipe for a sausage and kidney turbigo – and realised that my mother had cooked a version of it, and that I’d loved that dish.

Named after the site of two French military victories in the 19th century, she’d never used onions, because she didn’t like them – apparently that was her father’s influence – so substituted some reconstituted, dried onion.

There’s no such substitution here.

The first thing to remember is that my amounts are very loose – adjust according to how many you’re feeding and what you like best.

The only thing is, if nobody you’re feeding likes kidneys, don’t try this dish. The kidneys turn a rather bland sauce into a velvety gravy that is rich and utterly divine.

The Other Half doesn’t eat offal (except in haggis) but will happily eat this: because the kidneys are simply halved, it’s easy enough to serve it so that I get them all – and he gets none of them!

For me, this is a rare dish: not only one that I don’t need to look up in a book, but also one that links both the past and the present.

Here’s my version.

Take some lamb’s kidneys and some straightforward pork sausages – go on: as many as you want. Personally, I do this for two with four sausages for The Other Half and two for me, plus four kidneys for me.

Now, core the kidneys – this is where the best thing in the world is really, really sharp. At this point, I’m going to do a rare thing and recommend a brand: Zwilling Henckels kitchen scissors are quite superb – so sharp, I’ve cut myself on my pair more than once when drying them. But that is what you want.

If you don’t know how to do this, let me try to explain.

First, carefully peel off any membrane (and fat) on your kidney. Well, not on your’s, obviously, but on the one in your hand.

Now, where the stuff (untechnical term) comes out at the top – well, that’s the top. Keeping it at the top and with the narrow end facing you, cut the kidney in half – through that top hole.

Now, you have two halves. Taking one at a time, use the scissors, almost horizontally against the kidney half, to snip carefully around the tubes and bits inside.

Got it? It’s not that difficult.

So when you’ve done that, gently melt some butter in a large sauté pan and brown both kidneys and sausages. Be gentle – you don’t want to burn the butter, but don’t worry about the juices coming out of the kidneys. They’re precious.

When the meats are browned, remove to a plate.

If there’s not much butter left, you may need to add some.

Then you want to add some baby onions (peeled) and brown them too.

When they’re brown, add some button mushroom – or, if you can’t get button ones, just halve or quarter some white mushrooms.

Cook as gently as the meats.

In the meantime, spoon about a tablespoon of cornflour into a jug and whisk it into approximately the same amount of sherry.

I’ve done this dish with cheap sherry – and not-so-cheap. Forget the Fino, this is what the cheap, sweet stuff was made for.

Add a really generous squeeze of tomato purée and then some beef stock (or chicken, as I did tonight, because I had some of my own available).

When the vegetables have browned – the butter needs to still be unburnt – pour in the cornflour-purée-sherry-stock mixture and deglaze.

It will thicken quickly. If it thickens too much, add a little boiling water.

Now season – with black pepper only.

At this point, I was tempted to tell you NOT to taste. But actually – do. It’ll be bland and boring. What happens over the following minutes is another example of kitchen alchemy. The kidney changes everything.

Pop the meats back in – and every last drop of liquid that’s on the plate they’ve been resting on – make sure it’s bubbling, lid and turn down the heat.

Now, leave for a good 50 minutes.

Go away … have a glass from the (cheap and sweet) sherry. Watch an episode of a soap opera. Read the paper. Listen to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade.

The magic will have worked when you return.

Lift the lid. Smell. Take a spoon and taste. What a difference! Rich and velvety now. You may well wish to add a pinch of salt – this is the time.

And when you’ve done that, pop a pan of basmati rice on to boil. Rice, because you will want something that will mop up every last bit of the juices.

This is a cheap dish, but a wonderful dish. There is no way that I can imagine of making it haute, but food doesn’t need to be haute all the time.

Indeed, in terms of taste – and ultimately, what else is food about – this is a stunner.

That’s without, of course, pointing out that, if you’re going to eat meat, then eating more than the supermarket-prescribed prime cuts, is a much more ethical approach.

But regardless of that – do try this dish. It’s rarely seen mentioned anywhere, but it is quite delicious.

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