Squeamish eaters, avert your eyes, and let me direct you here, here, or perhaps here.
For the others, those who don’t blanch at the mere mention of the words “tripe” or “beef tongue,” those who own a dog-eared copy of the nose-to-tail bible* or have it on their wishlist, here is the dish I made last weekend with the beef kidneys I’d bought from my organic butcher — an entirely uneventful visit this time, 100% free of any impulse to punch anyone.
I am an offal enthusiast myself, sweetbreads being my favorite, but this was my first time cooking anything more involved than liver, so a bit of online research was in order.
The offal fairies must have been watching over me from their flying udders, because things turned out very well in the end — an out-and-out success according to Maxence, the sauce dark and silky, the kidney slices springy but yielding.
This revealed that the kidneys of lamb and veal were milder, easier to deal with, and thus preferable to those of beef (fat lot of good that did me), but that the latter could be effectively tamed by a good dousing of vinegared boiling water (who wouldn’t). I also read that beef kidneys fared best in plats en sauce, i.e., dishes with a sauce component, but the handful of recipes I found couldn’t seem to reach a consensus on whether the kidneys should be boiled to death, or briefly seared.
I didn’t have all day, so I decided a brief searing would do.
I was a little nervous, for I rated my fiasco potential as a solid 8 on a scale of 1 to 10: I had never seen anyone cook a kidney before in my life, I was just about to launch into a relative improv, and, without getting too graphic, the smell of the raw kidneys, pre-blanching, was frankly off-putting (just think of what kidneys do for a living).
But the offal fairies must have been watching over me from their flying udders, because things turned out very well in the end — an out-and-out success according to Maxence, the sauce dark and silky, the kidney slices springy but yielding, their boldness supported by that of the mushrooms, but mitigated by the onions and the parsley — except for that one detail: rarely has my stove seen a less photogenic preparation, so you’ll have to make do with the work-in-progress pictures above.
* A masterpiece of cookbook writing, whether or not you ambition to roll your own pig’s spleen some day. I hear Henderson’s second book ain’t bad either.
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- 750 grams (1 2/3 pounds) organic beef kidneys
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- one large handful dried ceps (a.k.a. porcini; substitute other dried mushrooms)
- olive oil
- 4 small yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
- fine sea salt
- 80 ml (1/4 cup) red wine
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 3 tablespoons strong Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon crème fraîche or sour cream
- freshly ground pepper
- the leaves from a small bunch flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
- Trim the kidneys of any white bit of fat, slice thinly, and transfer to a colander set over the sink. Bring 3 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the vinegar, stir to combine, and pour over the kidneys in three successive passes, shaking the colander well between each pass. (This blanching step helps soften beef kidneys' flavor and smell.) Rinse under cold water and set aside to drain.
- Place the mushrooms in a small heatproof bowl and pour in a little boiling water to just cover them -- don't pour in too much or the sauce will be too thin later. Set aside to plump up.
- Heat a little olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, add the onions, cover, and cook until soft and translucent, stirring regularly to prevent coloring. (If you find that the onions are starting to brown, or to stick to the skillet, add a touch of water.) When the onions are cooked, transfer to a bowl, and wipe the skillet with a paper towel.
- Return the skillet over medium heat, add a little more olive oil, and when the oil is hot, add the kidneys. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with salt. Add the mushrooms with their soaking liquids, the cooked onions, the red wine, and the garlic. Bring to a low simmer and cook for 10 more minutes, uncovered.
- Stir in the mustard and cream, and cook for a minute longer (if you're using sour cream, be very careful not to let the mixture boil again, otherwise the cream will curdle). Sprinkle liberally with pepper, taste, and adjust the seasoning. Serve over fresh pasta or mashed potatoes, and garnish with chopped parsley.