Friday, 15 November 2013

The offal truth

Lambs' kidneys, cored
With winter coming on, warm, comforting food is a must, and with everyone watching the pennies, anything that helps to keep the bills down is also a bonus.

In which case, it’s well worth considering – or reconsidering – offal.

Cheap, tasty and healthy – what’s not to like?

Unfortunately, offal is one of those things that’s got a bad rap in the last couple of decades or so.

People shrink from the idea of organ meat or don’t know what to do with it.

Well, it’s not that difficult – and it’s not all the stringy liver you might remember from school.

Kidney has a lovely, firm, velvet texture and is wonderful for enriching gravies and sauces. It’s also quite easy to serve dishes whereby you can give the kidney lovers some, bit not anyone who doesn’t like it.

That’s how we do it at Voluptuous Villa, where The Other Half won’t eat offal (unless it’s in haggis), but appreciates the richness that it can add.

And it should go without saying that, in terms of a sustainable philosophy toward farming and eating meat, this is an essential part of the nose-to-tail approach.

So just in time for the weekend, here are a couple of dishes that use kidneys and are prefect for the darkening, cooling days.

First, a couple of notes:

Generally – and particularly if you’re not used to kidney – I’d suggest using lamb’s kidneys, as they’re milder. But it’s up to you.

You’ll possibly need to source them from a proper butcher – supermarkets cannot be relied on to supply them. Some will, some of the time. But in general, they want to sell you prime cuts – not cheap ones.

Now, how it’s done.

You’ll rarely get kidneys covered in fat, but if you do, just peel it off carefully – if you have the time or inclination, you can render that. Waste not and so forth.

Check that the fine membrane covering the kidney is gone – it’s easy to peel off if not.

Then cut the kidney lengthways through the centre – see the picture – with the hole at the top.

From here – providing you’ve got a decent pair of sharp kitchen scissors – it’s plain sailing. With the scissor blades at an angle, gently snip out the ‘core’.

And that’s all there is to it.

Now, the recipes.


Take some lamb’s kidneys and some straightforward pork sausages. I do this for two, with four sausages for The Other Half and two for me, plus four kidneys for me.

Gently melt some butter in a large sauté pan and brown both meats. 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 mushrooms or, if you can’t get button ones, just halve or quarter some white mushrooms.

Continue the gentle cooking with these.

In the meantime, spoon about a dessertspoon of plain flour into a jug and whisk it into approximately the same amount of sherry.

This is the sort of moment that cheap, sweet sherry was made for.

Add a really generous squeeze of tomato purée and then some stock – beef is probably best, but don’t panic if you only have chicken or vegetable available.

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

It will thicken quickly. If it thickens too much, add a little boiling water, but you do not want it watery.

Now season – black pepper only.

At this point, it’s worth tasting, simply to illustrate how bland and boring it is. What’s going to happen is pure culinary alchemy 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 to a gentle simmer.

Now, leave for a good 50 minutes.

After that, smell and then taste. What a difference! Rich and velvety now. You may need to add a pinch of salt – this is the moment.

And when you’ve done that, pop a pan of rice on to boil – it’s the perfect compliment to mop up every last bit of the juices.

Lancashire hot pot

Veg ready for the pot
I’ve been told off including kidneys in this elsewhere, but there are probably as many versions of this classic as there are people who ever cooked it – and while historically it sometimes contained oysters, mine includes kidneys.

Like the turbigo, they add a great deal of richness to a dish that could otherwise be quite bland.

Pre-heat your oven to 160˚C (150˚C for a fan oven).

I tend to use three almost boneless ‘chops’ for two of us, trimming most of the back fat off, but you can also use some neck of lamb (another cheap cut) if you have a friendly butcher who’ll bone it for you.

Take a couple of medium onions, peel and slice. Peel and thickly slice a large carrot.

Melt some lard in a casserole and brown the meats. Remove to a plate.

Add the onion and carrot and soften for a few minutes.

Pop in a bouquet garni (made or the ‘tea bag’ variety), plus the meats and a little seasoning, and gently mix everything together.

Add a small amount of chicken stock – it only needs to come up about a third of the contents.

Peel and thinly slice enough potatoes to cover the dish. Season and dot with butter.

Put in the oven and leave for two hours. Take the lid off and pop it back into the oven for a further 20 minutes or until the potatoes have browned and crisped up.

Serve – with pickled red cabbage, if you want to be really traditional.

The smell as it cooks is divine. The contrasts in textures and the combination of flavours is wonderful. And as with the turbigo, the kidney turns what would otherwise be a fairly generic and light jus to something a lot more special.

No comments:

Post a Comment