I have set myself a challenge. For the next few weeks I am going to cook with only the cheapest of proteins. No more beef fillet or sirloin or rump. Even oxtail and tongue are no longer cheap, so I’ll give them a miss too.
Believe it or not, it is not easy to find real cheap proteins. I have come across fresh offal only on the rare occasion, and I still have to find a butcher willing to sell me ox cheeks or pigs head. What do they do with the stuff?
Only a few days ago whilst looking for green tomatoes in a local supermarket, I found some fresh lamb’s kidneys. Eight kidneys for less than a pittance; just what I needed to start my challenge. Later, I found some pigs’ ears and trotters, so these cheap but precious items will also find their way to my kitchen table in the near future, as will the beef tendons I begged off my butcher.
With my cheap bounty laid on the table before me, I feel – not without considerable satisfaction – that I have achieved something. There are cheap proteins available, albeit not without making a considerable effort. The evidence is right here on my kitchen table.
It is quite possible that cheaper proteins are hard to find because there is little demand for it. Or, is there little demand, because so little is on offer? Maybe, these morsels are considered without real value and profitable only if added to pet food or something similar.
I have little doubt that part of my challenge will be to find the most appropriate ways to show case these ‘forgotten’ products. With the convenience of prime cuts ‘on-tap’ from supermarkets and neighbourhood butcheries, we might have forgotten how to best cook these ‘unusual’ items. Some require longer cooking times making them inconvenient choices for the already busy home cook. Others may require special treatment or tweaking to make them more acceptable to the modern palate.
Be it as it may, for this challenge I have to do my homework. I’ll have to dig deep into the local archives, plough through old cookbooks and recipe collections, and submerge myself into foreign cultures to rediscover methods of cooking cheap cuts and find ways to make them attractive and agreeable with those around me.
Let us start with the lamb kidneys. I grew up eating organs – either pan-fried with butter and onions, barbequed (pretty much as is) after the slaughter or hunt, or in a type of stew with a piquant, vinegar-based sauce. Invariably, the organs were over-cooked (everyone in my family has a fear for anything bloody on a plate).
Over-cooked organ meat is quite unpleasant in my opinion. Most organs become dry and leathery. Kidneys are no different. So care must be taken not to over-cook them.
Many people dislike the ‘urinary’ smell and taste of kidneys. This is easily avoided by soaking the raw, cleaned kidneys in milk, or yogurt for at least 30 minutes.
Kidneys must be cleaned properly. The best way to do this is to first slice the kidneys in half, lengthwise. Then the outer membrane must be removed. This easy – just grab an end with your fingers and peel it off. Next, the white core inside the kidney must be removed. Kitchen scissors work best.
If this is not removed, the kidney will curl up when cooked. Now your kidneys are ready to be soaked to remove any unpleasant smell and taste. Lamb kidneys should be cooked for no more than 2 to 3 minutes on each side. It is best done with butter and any kidney will benefit from the addition of bacon, fresh herbs (such as thyme, tarragon and parsley), cream, hot spices (chili, cayenne pepper or mustard) and some acidity (lime or lemon juice, or good quality vinegar).
For this weeks recipe I went back to Victorian England. Devilled kidneys – so called because of the addition of cayenne pepper. Anything hot, must be from the devil, or so they believed. Hence, a plethora of devilled dishes – fish, especially mackerel; and eggs – those halved hard-boiled eggs with the yolk removed, mixed with mayonnaise and cayenne pepper then piped back into the white and served to dinner guests as finger food at kitsch dinner parties.
I like devilled kidneys, especially on toast for breakfast, and to give it a Namibian twist I added some Omajova mushrooms.
Simply divine, I dare say, even though it’s the devil’s kidneys.