I am thinking offal thoughts lately – largely because it is the theme of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery in 2016, and hence there is a lively discussion going on around the topic amongst food writers and historians and other interested parties via the Wonderful Web. The definition of ‘offal’ is actually very large, and is not confined to the internal organs of animals, but includes waste of many kinds, such as “that which falls or is thrown off from some process, as husks from milling grain, chips from dressing wood, etc.; residue or waste products. ” I think we can assume a wide range of interesting papers and some lively discussion at the symposium next year!
One of the random realisations triggered in my brain after reading some of the pre-symposium discussions was that I have not (if I remember correctly) focused on the edible kidney in any post to date. This is surprising, as I love them myself.
Interestingly, in its primary definition of ‘kidney’, the Oxford English Dictionary sees fit to include, after its anatomical and physiological descriptions, that it is also an article of food.
1a. One of a pair of glandular organs situated in the abdominal cavity of mammals, birds, and reptiles, which excrete urine and so remove effete nitrogenous matter from the blood. Also a gland with similar functions found in some animals of lower organization. The kidneys of cattle, sheep, and pigs are an article of food.”
Unfortunately for those of us who have a recipe-focus, in spite of making this point, the OED does not offer a single reference which points to a specific culinary use of the kidney, except in the compound form ‘kidney pie.’
Compare this with the entry on liver, in which its use as food justifies a separate (second) usage:
1b.The liver of an animal used as food, medicine, an object of divination, etc.; (as a mass noun) the tissue of an animal's liver as food.
So, enough said about offal words for the time being. Here is my selection of recipes from Australian newspapers of the past that take the kidney beyond its usual breakfast partnership with bacon, or its best supporting role (along with steak), in a pie.
Kidneys with Walnuts.
To 6 kidneys allow 4 chopped walnuts (pickled,) 1 teacup walnut pickle liquor, 3 tablespoons butter, pepper and salt to taste. Split, wash and skin the kidneys. Melt butter in stewpan, add kidneys and fry till nicely cooked, take out and keep hot. Add the chopped walnuts, seasoning and pickle liquor to the gravy, and heat it till it froths, stirring all the time. Pour this sauce over the kidneys and garnish with fried cro[u]tons and a border of mashed potatoes. The sauce must not be made in a metal saucepan.
The North Western Courier (Narrabri, NSW) 29 July 1937.
Kidneys and Vermicelli.
Split and skin eight or ten sheep's kidneys and cut in slices, saving a few entire for the top. Cook for a few minutes in butter. Add two sliced onions and fry. Add one tablespoonful flour, one teaspoonful lemon juice, two cupfuls stock or water, salt and pepper. Stew In a casserole until tender. Place cooked vermicelli over the top of the dish and garnish with the unsliced kidneys. Reheat and serve.
Examiner (Launceston, Tas.) 22 January 1927
Kidneys and Cheese.
Peel 3 large potatoes and cut in halves. Scoop out enough centre so that a sheep's kidney will fit into the hole. Skin the kidneys, dip each, in warmed butter, pepper well, put one into each piece of potato, sprinkle with a little grated nutmeg and cover with breadcrumbs. Bake in a shallow tin, in a hot oven, and when cooked sprinkle, with grated cheese
The Daily News (Perth, WA) Saturday 7 January 1922
Kidneys and Macaroni.
Ingredients :— 6 sheeps kidneys; 1 dessertspoonful flour; 1 pint stock; 2ozs macaroni; loz butter or dripping; 1 teaspoon beef extract; 2 eschalots; salt and pepper ; ¼ teaspoonful mustard and sugar; chopped parsley.
Method. — Put stock onto boil, and when boiling break macaroni and add to it. Split kidneys in halves, skin them, make butter or dripping hot, and fry them gently with the cut side down; take out and cut up small, chop eschalots finely and fry, sprinkle in dry flour, salt, pepper, sugar and mustard, and brown it without burning. Add half pint of stock (which has been strained off), macaroni, beef extract, half the maaroni finely chopped and kidneys, stir till it boils, and cook gently for 10 minutes, Dish on a hot dish, and put remainder of stock and macaroni round it and a little chopped parsley on top,
Gosford Times and Gosford and Wollombi Express (NSW) 22 September 1905
Mince the kidney of a roast loin of veal, and also half its fat; season well with pepper and salt, chopped shallots, parsley, and a small of quantity of green sweet basil; mix the whole together with the yolk of eggs, and lay it on slices of bread of an equal thickness cut into any shape you please, and smooth over with a knife dipped in egg; strew over, the mince and bread crumbs, put them into a baking dish on thin slices of bacon, and set them in an oven. When sufficiently baked drain off the fat, and wipe the bread with a linen cloth. Serve with a little gravy under them.
Leader (Melbourne, Vic.) 25 January 1868