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Kidneys Aren’t So Offal After All

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Goat and lamb kidneys (I think the smaller grey one is lamb) from Apple Creek Farm in Bowdoinham. Surprisingly delicious if first soaked in salt water and then alcohol, to remove much of that urine-y essence.

The taste-buds of toddlers, even the most omnivorous of ones, seem to grow pickier near the age of two. That’s certainly been the case with Theo. We depend upon green smoothies, fortified with kale and carrots, to get vegetables into him now. He tends to favor plain starches, bananas and peanut butter, granola and other sweet items these days. So we were delighted to discover he had a taste for lamb kidneys and liver, and tripe soup, at a recent special Greek diner menu at our beloved Trattoria Athena here in Brunswick. I was also happy to discover I had a taste for kidneys, after my unpleasant experience with rabbit ones a while back. And pleased to discover Apple Creek Farm in Bowdoinham sold delicate lamb and goat kidneys at my Brunswick farmers’ market for an affordable $3 a pound. Apple Creek farmers Jake and Abby said the only other customers who ask for them are mothers inspired by Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions.

"Odd bits" such as kidneys are a great farmers' market find for those on a budget.

“Odd bits” such as kidneys are a great farmers’ market find for those on a tight budget.

I’ve bought lamb and goat kidneys twice from them now and found them delicious. I think the goat ones had a more off-putting barnyard aroma, but by eating time, I got confused which was which. To remove the kidneys’ urine flavor (hey, urine is sterile anyway:)), I soaked them in heavily salted water and then some beer the first time and sweet vermouth the second time I made them. For a recipe, I adapted Mark Bittman’s one for breaded veal kidneys sauteed with shallots and sherry, from his How to Cook Everything. I drained the kidneys and discarded their liquid, removed tough white membranes, sliced them into tender medallions, salted and peppered them, then dredged in flour and pan-fried in butter. I kept them warm in a 200 degree oven while I sauteed shallots with more butter in the pan, and then deglazed it with sherry and sweet vermouth and a touch a maple syrup for sweetness. That sauce goes over the kidneys. Serve warm with crusty bread.

A kidney cross-section. I realize not for the faint of heart.

A kidney cross-section. I realize not for the faint of heart.

Unfortunately, now-finicky Theo refused the kidneys both times at home. Mama sure enjoyed them as an appetizer, but their richness, like liver but with a sweeter, less metallic flavor, meant I couldn’t make a meal of them. A little goes a long way with offal. Let’s hope this kid becomes omnivorous again when he turns two in June. What happened to my keen sardine eater?

The pan-fried kidneys. They could be a pricey app at a trendy Portland restaurant. All yours for $3 a pound.

The pan-fried kidneys. They could be a pricey app at a trendy Portland restaurant. All yours for $3 a pound.

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Rabbit Kidney: Like Faintly Urine-Flavored Encased Pate

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There's a reason Julia Sunkler sells this organ meat as pet food.

Kidney Yakitori: Looks a little too good to be true. At least the dog loved it.

Let’s just say this enthusiastic “nose to tail” eater has hit her wall.  I have reservations, Anthony Bourdain. Andrew Zimmern, you’re too bizarre for me. Fergus Henderson, I can’t quite swallow the whole beast.

Tongue is no problem, whether from a cow, lamb or duck. Liver, cheek, jowl and belly I love. But kidney, at least rabbit kidney, I now know I do not. It’s one piece of offal that was pretty awful. I won’t be eager to try any animal’s kidney (lamb is used for steak and kidney pie), faintly urine-flavored and -scented as it is, again.

Why did I try it? Well, I got into rabbit for a recent article and perhaps the onslaught of criticism I received emboldened me to try some more rogue fare. I sauteed up some rabbit liver, which surprisingly tasted just like that of a chicken’s and made a delicious pate. Then I saw an episode of Treme, where the feisty but reckless chef Janette plates up rabbit kidney skewers and lamb neck when a Who’s Who of NYC chefs (David Chang, Eric Ripert) come to dine in her beleaguered post-Katrina New Orleans restaurant. And I saw Julia Sunkler had kidneys at her My Pharm stand, but in a big bag packaged for pet food. I asked her to set a pound aside for me next time she did slaughtering. It’s all about making the most of the animal.

A sweet soy marinade wasn't enough to mask the faint urine flavor. Not that I know what urine takes like.

But the dogs can have ’em. James Joyce had it right, describing his protagonist’s dietary habits in Ulysses: “Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crust crumbs, fried hencod’s roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.” Kidneys are just pretty gross. Even the soy tamari-honey-sesame oil-garlic-ginger marinade didn’t do much for their off-taste and mushy, gooey consistency. Perhaps it’s better chopped up in a stuffed than roasted whole? You wonder how many toxins you pick up with waste eliminating organs such as the liver, pancreas and kidneys, anyway. Still, when you think about it, kidneys are less gross than intestines (chitlins, tripe, and more commonly, sausage casings) that we seem to consume with relish. After all, urine is sterile. So check it off my list. Now onto chicken heart?

Rabbit liver virgin no more.

Chopped rabbit liver.

Written by baltimoregon

June 27, 2010 at 2:05 am

Silly Rabbit. What, You Chicken?

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Hope the rabbit carcass isn’t too gruesome (see before and after pictures below). But if you can’t engage with your meat in its natural state, you shouldn’t eat it, right? For me, it’s become almost a reverent experience to butcher a whole bird or beast. Especially when you meet the farmer who raised it and slaughtered it, with care, the day before bringing the fresh meat to market.

This “Mustardy Braised Rabbit With Carrots” recipe nudged me to finally try the meat I’d been eying from “My Pharm” in nearby Monroe. The farmer Julia also specializes in vivid green leeks, which we needed for the recipe. With the carrots, broth, wine and herbs, they braised into a rich, savory sauce. The meat was tender and succulent, but rather boney. We still prefer whole roast chicken to rabbit, and even free-range ones are cheaper then bunny.

I won’t make rabbit again anytime soon, but I’m glad I tried. It’s amazing we didn’t have it in Baltimore, what with all the bunnies hopping around our apartment’s front yard, especially at night, tempting us to consider them for dinner. We had a superb rabbit ragu sauce at Simpatica dining hall in Portland last fall. My few other rabbit experiences were not pleasant though. I still gag thinking about those gefilte fish-like ground rabbit logs served to us at a youth hostel in Paris, when I was there for a school French exchange trip.

Any rabbit recipes or memories to share? Or do you, like us, still prefer the other white meats? Rabbit does have slightly more protein and less fat then chicken. Any other health or environmental benefits of rabbit over other meats?

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Written by baltimoregon

February 21, 2009 at 3:14 am

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