Deviled kidneys after Fergus Henderson:
You cut the kidneys open, snip out the bit of gristle, toss them in flour seasoned with dry mustard, cayenne (or espelette), salt and pepper. Fry in butter, splash in some chicken stock and Worchestershire, serve on toast. A little cress salad (bought, not foraged), cool and crisp, made a nice counterpoint.
This was really pretty good. If you don't eat offal on a regular basis--and we don't--there are textures and...aromas, let's say, that are unfamiliar and not necessarily appealing, at first blush. Mary and I both started in a little tentatively, trying to decide if this was delicious, repulsive, or something in between. Our final verdict: Much closer to the delicious end. We cleaned our plates. We could have eaten more.
Next up, my own interpretation of Leopold Bloom's "liverslices fried with crustcrumbs":
I soaked the slices of liver in milk for a while. I seasoned with salt and pepper, dredged in flour, dipped in egg, coated with crumbs. Fried the slices in butter until the crumb crust was brown. To accompany, I just sautéed some red onions from the market and a bit of celery (from California) briefly, leaving it all nice and crisp, the onions sweet, the celery savory. I was pleased with the presentation, but...I just don't like liver that much. There's something unrelenting about both the flavor and texture of liver that's off-putting for me.
That said, there are some kinds of liver I do enjoy:
I found some foie gras from Au Bon Canard in the freezer, go figure. Seared and served with a dried apple-maple-vanilla compote, pretty good.
Our final offal offering was prepared a few nights later. We had some friends over for dinner, and as a starter we served an assiette of braised lamb tongue and stuffed, roasted heart (another of Bloom's favorites).
The tongue and the heart both are hard-working muscles--I'm thinking there should be something witty or trenchant to say about that physiological fact, but I'll let it go.
The tongue and the heart both are hard-working muscles, so they need a lot of cooking to become tender. The tongue was simmered in chicken stock with some garlic and thyme for a couple of hours. The heart I stuffed with breadcrumbs sautéed in butter with onions and garlic, moistened with red wine. Drape a couple slices of bacon over top, roast-braise with some chicken stock for a couple of hours.
For the sauce I combined the cooking stock from both, added some white wine, reduced. I served slices of the heart and tongue over a slick of this rich reduction, rained some chopped cornichons (our garden cukes) and some parsley over top. Being muscles, the heart and tongue tasted more like meat, less like innards. And they were good, but after our recent experiments with the edgier offal, also somewhat less interesting.
So there you have it. I wouldn't go out of my way to add any old offal to the menu. I would do kidneys again--our friend Jean-Louis, who shared the heart and tongue assiette with us, said that they're great on the grill. I would cook up another tongue, a bigger one. Heart, sure, I would give it another go.
On a trip in western France a few years ago, through the Sarthe region around LeMans, then through Normandy and into Brittany, I made it a point to try various kinds of offal. I had foie gras every chance I got, of course, and headcheese, marrow bones, veal kidneys. (About three days into a trip to France, we always notice that we've acquired "the breath of the carnivore," a ripe, carrion-like tinge in our exhalations; and we so eat salads for lunch for a couple of days.)
My biggest challenge came when I ordered "marmite de tripes Normandes," the symbolic dish of the region--tripe cooked a long time in a cocotte with vegetables. They brought the little dutch oven to the table, and ceremoniously removed the lid. As the fragrant heat rose up I leaned in to appreciate it with rich anticipation, and as the curling tendrils of steam reached my nose, my reaction was: Whoa! I think I'd like that better without the diaper! Which reaction I luckily refrained from expressing, just nodded and weakly smiled, instead, and wondered if there was a pizza joint in Domfront that might be open late....
But after that initial aromatic rush subsided, and I took a portion of tripe and vegetables on my plate, I found that it was quite to my liking, the broth rich and deeply restorative, the vegetables sweet, the tripe itself tender and satisfying, a bit like tete de veau, long-simmered veal head, a dish I love.
Expectations surely go a long way toward determining whether one is going to like a particular dish. In areas where tripe is commonly consumed, tripe is adored--Normandy, Rome, Mexico, even Philadelphia. Even with the current, somewhat faddish, appreciation of nose-to-tail eating, I don't think we're about to become a country of kidney-scarfers. I'm not a total convert to offal gastronomy, but I enjoyed our experiments with lamb innards, and I learned a lot from them. In future I'll take my offal where I find it, and be glad for the opportunity.
Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw