Welcome back to strange meats! Today we finish with pork kidney, fresh out of a Truro pig. The hunt for a local kidney aficionado was difficult, but I found one. Her name is Cammie Watson, and she buys her pork from the same place we do—the Mooney Farm in Truro. A few years back she and her brother decided to split a pig. Each family got a shoulder, some belly, some sausage, and so on. And of course, since there are two kidneys, they each got one.
Cammie is a New Englander. She was not going to let that kidney go to waste, so she called her friend Janet—the one who had raised the pig. Janet said to stew it up Portuguese-style with tomatoes and onions and potatoes, and Cammie did. To her surprise, she liked it! The next time she came across a kidney she sliced it thin and pan-seared it in butter and pepper, and she was hooked.
There is no getting around the fact that kidneys filter the animal's urine. A kidney from a very old animal or a kidney that is not fresh (or frozen immediately after slaughter) will not taste good. It will get an "ammonia tint," as Cammie put it, which I'm pretty sure is a polite way of saying it will taste like urine. So! If you're going to eat kidney, make sure it's from a young animal and very fresh, and be sure to soak it first. Most recipes I've read recommend soaking it overnight in either milk, buttermilk, or water. I think buttermilk would be good.
I've only cooked kidney once, a few weeks ago. The one I had on hand was a beef kidney, and I cut it into bits and mixed it with steak and scalloped potatoes. It cooked in the oven for several hours over low heat, and when it emerged, it was delicious. My parents were here, and my sister, and there were no upturned noses. In fact, several people asked for seconds. Success!
Cammie says she thinks the flavor of pork kidney is a little bit like chicken liver, which sounds delicious. The texture is similar to heart—firm and smooth, and not at all fibrous. And size-wise, a set of two pork kidneys weighs anywhere from three quarters of a pound to a pound.
Cammie also told me that kidney fat is what you use to make leaf lard. I've been wanting to do this for a long time—I have packages of fat tucked away in the freezer waiting for a good day—and her description of perfect white fat for pie crust might just have tipped me toward action.
What do you think—have you ever cooked with kidney or kidney fat?
SCALLOPED POTATOES WITH STEAK & KIDNEY
Thank you, Darina Allen, for another wonderful recipe. I wasn't entirely onboard with kidney, but you got me there.
1 beef kidney, about 1 pound
salt and freshly cracked pepper
1 pound boneless beef chuck or round
3 pounds potatoes, scrubbed and thickly sliced
1 large onion, chopped
4 tablespoons butter
1 and 1/3 cups beef stock, preferably homemade
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Trim the kidney—you want to remove the skin, or membrane, and cut out the white core. Cut the remaining flesh into 1/2-inch cubes and put them into a bowl of cold water with a pinch of salt to soak.
Cut the beef into 1/4-inch cubes.
Get out a large, heavy-bottomed pot—I used a big Le Creuset soup pot with a lid. Rub a little oil on the bottom, then cover it with a layer of potato slices. Drain the kidney cubes and mix them with the steak, then scatter on a layer of meat and chopped onion. Season with salt and pepper and dot with butter. Add another layer of potatoes, then another of meat and onions, and so on, seasoning each layer as you go. Finish with a layer of potato.
Pour the hot beef stock over top. Cover the pot, put it in the oven, and cook for 2-2 and 1/2 hours, or until the meat and potatoes are cooked. About 10 minutes before the dish is done, take off the top and turn on the broiler to brown the potatoes. Serve in deep bowls—biscuits make a nice accompaniment to mop up the juice.