Lambs Kidneys with Anchovy and Rosemary Butter

After making a stock from pigs ears and feet a few weeks ago, I feel ready to face any part of the animal that crosses my path. The thought of eating charred, slightly pink in the middle kidney seems a trifle in comparison. The role of the kidneys is to filter excess water and waste products from the blood and for this reason I searched out the freshest organic kidneys in Norwich. I arrived at Harvey’s Organic Butchers just after the lamb delivery, so the kidneys couldn’t have been much fresher; the butcher brought them out still wrapped in their suet jackets, which he gave me for free to go in the freezer for dumplings.

The recipe I followed is from Simon Hopkinson’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories. I’ve read that veal kidneys are one of the best things you can eat, but I couldn’t find any; the lamb kidneys that I used were delicious anyway.

Ingredients

  • 50g tin of anchovies, drained of oil
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 225g butter, softened
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 rosemary sprig, leaves only
  • black pepper and salt
  • 2 veal kidneys, suet removed and trimmed of any excess fat and membrane (I used lambs kidneys)
  • Watercress and lemon wedges to garnish

*I halved these quantities to make enough for two.

Instructions; (paraphrased)

  1. Puree together the anchovies, lemon juice, butter, garlic, rosemary and pepper. Check for salt, pass through a sieve and refrigerate for at least four hours.
  2. Cut the kidneys into 5mm slices, season with salt, pepper and a little olive oil and sear on a very hot griddle for no more than 45 seconds-1 minute.
  3. Serve with a piece of the butter and the lemon and watercress.

*I served them with roast parsnips and a salad.

Searing hot griddle

Searing hot griddle

Roast ParsnipsNeeps and garlic pre-roasting

Lambs Kidneys with Anchovy and Rosemary Butter

Lambs Kidneys with Anchovy and Rosemary Butter

One of the benefits of working for a deli is occasionally using the wholesale discount we get from our suppliers. For £3.60 I picked up half a dozen local oysters to guzzle down as a starter; I had one au naturel, one with lemon juice and one with lemon juice and finely chopped parsley. The first is the purest way, an unadulterated shot of Davey Jones’ Locker, but my favourite was the third option as the lemon and parsley leave a lovely fresh taste in the mouth.

Oysters and kidneys, this was probably one of the most adventurous meals I have eaten. You might have noticed the lamb leg steak on the left hand side of the griddle; Annabel was not feeling quite so intrepid! Kidneys are a great source of vitamins and minerals and the tender, melt-in-the-mouth texture of fresh young lambs kidneys is a real treat. Because there is not much demand for offal nowadays, they hardly broke the bank; four for just £1.50.

 

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Wexford Beef Bones/ Why to eat Bone Broth

The transformation

The transformation begins

I might be flagging a dead horse by going on about the obscure bits of the animal, but everyone and their mum seems to be flogging a dead horse at the minute so I’m going to go ahead and talk about bones.

Annabel and I stayed with her parents last week on their farm in County Wexford, Ireland.  I was lucky to get to help Annabel’s Dad Servaas, her uncle Jan and her cousin Kees butcher half a cow. Amongst the cuts we made were fillet and rump steaks, topside roasting joints and majestic french trimmed beef ribs. My job was to mince about 30kg of lean meat and trimmings and bag it into 500g portions for the freezer. The pile of butchered meat rose and rose and the bone bucket filled. After an hour or so the butchery was done and we had worked up an appetite!

At work

At work

Mince man

Mince man

Tonks! What are you doing in here?

Tonks! what are you doing in here?

For lunch Annabel’s mum Frederike made french onion soup from home made beef marrow bone stock. No powdered bouillon can begin to compare to the wholesome goodness of simmered bones and vegetables. The taste of sweet and savoury caramelised onion paired with this rich meaty stock was fantastic and the dish was perfected by a soggy piece of cheese on toast floating in my soup bowl.

As I ate i could feel my immune system giving me a pat on the back. Eating bone stock boosts the health of the collagen in your tendons, ligaments and the ends of your bones. It’s good for you hair, nails and skin as well; In her book Deep Nutrition, Catherine Shanahan calls it ‘a youth serum capable of rejuvenating your body; no matter what your age.’

Gravy granules stand In opposition to this newfound holy grail of mine. They epitomise the turn our food culture has taken; away from slow, traditional processes towards ease and speed. To rub salt into the wound, the slogan “Aah Bisto” taps into a widespread emotive response to a home-cooked family meal. This emotional blackmail is propagated by Premier Foods, who also bring us Hovis, Mr Kipling and Ambrosia. The sad thing is that Bisto has won the hearts of the nation; a product that is as generic in flavour as it is devoid in nutritional value, while gravy made with real stock has been forgotten. If only the nation could taste Frederike’s onion soup, they might have tasted something worth sighing over.

Bones shouldn’t be given straight to the dog or left at the butcher’s. They should be roasted and then boiled with carrot, onion, celery and a bouquet garni. When strained, the beautiful liquid makes the best and the healthiest soups, sauces and gravies known to man. If your immune system was in the driving seat rather than your stomach, I think it would throw away the meat and use the bones instead. 

Ears, Trotters and Trimmings; a Perfectly Porky Pie

My ongoing quest to find traditional British food has lead me to a 14th century pork pie recipe in Dorothy Hartley’s Food in England; 

‘Flea Pyg and cut him in pieces, season with pepper and salt, and nutmeg , and large mace and lay in your coffin good store of raisins and currans, and fill with sweet butter and close it and serve hot or cold’.

After consulting a few more recent recipes, I decided to give it a go. I made my ‘coffin’ out of hot-water pastry moulded around a jam jar. The filling is pork trimmings and smoked bacon from my local butcher. The jelly is made from trotters and ears boiled with carrot, celery, onion, peppercorns and sea salt. This concoction is boiled for three hours and then cooled overnight. The fat is skimmed off the top and it is boiled again, before being poured into the pie through a hole in the pastry lid.

Over the last few days the kitchen has filled with a catalogue of porky smells; from the foul steam pouring off a pan of simmering ears and trotters to the delightful aroma of hot-water pastry baked in a hot oven.

The famous Melton Mowbray pork pie is made using a pastry case that has been ‘raised up’ around a pie mould or jam jar, filled with seasoned pork and topped with a pastry lid. Like Westcountry Farmhouse Cheddar and Jersey Royal potatoes, The Melton Mowbray pie has had a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) since 1993. Other pies make use of a band to prevent the bowing of the sides, or a pie tin with a removable bottom; some pies use minced, cured pork and different spices, but none of these pies can be called Melton Mowbray pies by European Law.

The jelly ingredients

The Jelly ingredients

Jam jar and pastry dough

Jam jar and a ball of pastry dough

The pastry raised around the jar

The pastry raised around the jar

Out comes the jar, in goes the pie filling

Out comes the jar, in goes the pie filling

The lid crimped, the foil belt fastened

The lid is crimped, the foil belt fastened

The finished pies

The finished pies

After cooling on a rack, the pies are refrigerated to allow the jelly to set. They should be eaten at room temperature with chutney or piccalilli.

I find it Ironic that many of today’s meat eaters shun cuts like offal and trotters while scoffing processed meat products by the kilo. This is an unsustainable way of eating meat. Using the whole animal is the best way to respect a creature that has been sacrificed for our tables and cooking from scratch is the only way to respect our own bodies. I have decided recently to eat less meat, and when I do to seek out the most weird and wonderful cuts on offer in my local butcher. If I’m going to dine on pigs ears I at least want the bragging rights of knowingly doing so.

The lesson we need to learn from the horse meat scandal is not to tighten up regulations and increase spot checks, but to stop eating processed meat all together.

Stop getting ripped off in the supermarkets; buy real cuts of real meat from a local butcher

Why does the man eating his dinner have blinkers on? Because the horse in his lasagne doesn’t need them any more.

In your local butchers you can see the animal from which your cut has come; your butcher has nothing to hide and he is proud of the contents of his shop. Try doing the same in the supermarket and you will have a different experience. DNA tests on hundreds of UK meat products are showing just how much the big meat processors are concealing from us – how much they are cheating us. The supermarket employees don’t have the answers, but they might send you to one of their suppliers, where if you are lucky you might get shown the room where the last suggestion of flesh is power-hosed from the animal carcasses before being swept off the floor and sent to be processed.

Ready meals

Ready meals

What real meat there is in the supermarkets has been marked up so much that we are forced to go for the cheaper, processed alternative.They have us on a leash, thinking that we are making our own decisions when really they are making them for us. buying real cuts of real meat is often cheaper in small butchers than in supermarkets. The difference is that your local butcher has to look you in the eye when he serves you whereas the CEOs of big meat processing companies can happily screw you from a safe distance and line their pockets with the proceeds.

Processed meat

Processed meat

As if our food culture wasn’t already the laughing stock of Europe before the horse meat scandal. According to Joanna Blythman we buy the most ready meals in Europe, and we eat more packets of crisps than all of the other European countries put together. We are so used to seeing an ingredients list that is longer than our attention span that we have learnt to switch off. As a nation we have regressed to the stage where we scoff down foods made from liquid pasteurised egg, maltodextrin and diglycerides of fatty acids, and even my spell check doesn’t recognise this last one! I’m ashamed to think what my ancestor would say; who died from eating a hitherto unknown poisonous berry so that future generations might learn what is food and what isn’t.

It is possible to eat well on any income by buying the cheaper cuts of meat from a local butcher and eating less meat in general. Kicking the processed meat habit is better for your health, your wallet, your community and the environment; just because supermarket shopping is easy doesn’t mean its good! Britain’s green and pleasant land produces some of the best meat in Europe, but the reality is that without the support of their communities local butchers will be a thing of the past. Then we will really see how expensive real cuts of real meat will become in the supermarkets. Without the competition, who is going to stop them?

Cockadoodlestew

Three or four years ago, I woke my older brother with a short phone call which went along the lines of “Tom, I tried to kill the chicken, and it went wrong!”. It was my first ever attempt and two good things came out of it. The first is that the chicken ended up in the fridge soon after that phone call and the second is that it served as an example of exactly how not to kill a chicken.

The key is to make sure you dislocate the vertebrae in the bird’s neck by pulling sharply down and backwards on the head with one hand, while holding the feet in the other hand. You can feel when the dislocation occurs, and you can feel the gap in the vertebrae after the neck has been successfully stretched. The first time round, I wasn’t sure if I had successfully separated the vertebrae so just to make sure that the chicken was dead, I put it on a log and reached for the wood axe. With the bird lying petrified on the block, I lifted the weapon and steeled myself for the fatal blow. Then just as I began my swing, the cockerel jumped up and ran off; with a slightly crooked neck, but very much still alive. Having tried and failed to enlist Tom’s help, I took to the woods alone in search of the poor frightened creature. I managed to catch it again without too much fuss, and the second beheading attempt was much more Jacobin than the first.

Though I joke about my incompetence this first time, there really is nothing funny about an animal suffering before its death. As an enthusiastic meat-eater, I value the experience of overseeing an animal’s life; ensuring it is well fed and looked after. I also value the experience of killing the animal in a stress free way. The journey from chick in the woods to stew on the table is crucial to the way I think about food; as being so much more than packages bought in a supermarket.

On a visit to my parents last Easter, my girlfriend Annabel expressed an interest in helping me skin, gut and joint two cockerels that I had killed. Now this is coming from someone will only eat a whole cooked mackerel if theres a piece of bread covering its face. With my brave assistant, we started with something that looked like this:

Two cockerels

We removed the heads, the feet and the wing tips, then carefully pulled off the skin, using a knife to nick it in places.

A foot

We were left with this:

One of the skinned birds

Then comes the gruesome part. I laid the bird on its back with its feet facing me and made a cut in the skin between the underneath of the rib cage and the  anus. This allows you to reach inside and pull the guts out. The trick is to do this without cutting the large intestine thus spilling faeces into the inside of the carcass. When all of the innards have come out of the carcass, they should still be attached at the end of the intestines. I then make a v-shaped cut around the anus to allow the innards to come free.

Having completed this step, the next is to joint it. For a stew I separate it into drumsticks, thighs, wings and breast, ensuring that I cut through the soft cartilage instead of the bone. I keep the livers for the stew, but give the heart and kidneys to Bess.

The jointed birds

Nice Bess

Back in Norwich, I will have to see if I can get some cockerels from my local butcher so that I can make the cockadoodlestew. But rest assured, as soon as I get my hands on them birds I will ask Annabel to bring her camera over and put the recipe up here.