What do you do, cooking-wise, with ox kidney? Aside from steak and kidney pie or steak and kidney pudding, of course. Determined to have this piece of offal for dinner, for it had been taken out of the freezer and was calmly defrosting in the fridge, I took a look in the recipe books to see what I could find.
I would not be finding anything relating to what to do with an ox kidney in our latest acquisition, a slim hardback called The Curious Cookbook by Peter Ross. Peter Ross is a senior figure at the Guildhall Library down in the City, and it has the largest collection of historical cookery books of any British public library; turns out they did an exhibition on this very subject the other year. Mr Ross has been trawling this (doubtless fascinating) collection and has come up with over a hundred recipes from all points between the late fourteenth century and the Second World War. These are from the bizarre or absurd end of Britain’s long culinary history; if you’ve ever wondered how to make ‘porpoise with wheat porridge’ (a delicacy from 1450, that one), ‘stewed sparrows on toast’, ‘a pint of gruel for invalids’ or that medieval dish where you sew the front end of a cockerel onto the rear end of a pig (a ‘cokyntryce’, in case you were wondering), then this is the book for you.
If, however, you’re just after tips on what to do with hedgehogs, badgers (“there are very few recipes for cooking badger, which has been said to taste like gamey beef”) or squirrels, or if you want to know ‘how to avoid a bitter rook stew’ (that one being from the War, a time when ‘eating crow’ was clearly more than just an expression used by the GIs) then the answers can be found within these pages. It just goes to show, as they saying goes, that the past is a foreign country and they do things differently there – as Mr Ross says in the introduction, “what we ate in the past now seems extraordinarily strange, intriguing, revolting, or just plain curious”. He’s not kidding, and having read this engrossing and thought-provoking book, I am drawn to wonder what people in the future might think about what we in the present eat, and how they might in their own minds judge us for our culinary choices. Hopefully they will have a food historian who, like Mr Ross, manages to use the commentary to put the recipes in the context of the time when they were written.
As for ox kidneys, I would need to find a recipe of a more recent vintage although as far as offal is concerned Mr Ross hits the nail on the head with his comment that “the decline in the eating of offal can be mapped in direct relation to the increase in wealth of the British population who, given the choice, will often opt for more expensive and simply prepared cuts of meat”.
I found an ox kidney recipe courtesy of Delia Smith, who explains (in Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course) that, as well as being “an essential ingredient for steak and kidney pie or pudding” because “no other type of kidney will give it the proper, traditional flavour”, ox kidney is “not recommended for grilling or frying”. However, Delia goes on to state that “it is excellent stewed, braised, or especially curried”. Curried? Hmm. Curried ox kidney (“another very economical, yet rather special, curry”) it would be, then. Most of the ingredients for that were already in the house. The ox kidney is cut into pieces and any bits of fat removed; it’s then browned and put to one side. Then some chopped onion is fried, and to that is added ground coriander, ground turmeric and cumin seeds – followed by natural yoghurt, tomato purée, water and garlic. To this, the kidney parts are added with some chopped-up green chilli and the lot is then brought to be boil and then put on simmer. Easy enough.
But what to have with it? Rice is the obvious accompaniment for curry, but I’d had enough of rice because I’d been working my way through a leftover risotto which had been my lunch for most of the week. So what else? Potatoes? I turned to Camellia Panjabi’s 50 Great Curries of India which has a tried-and-tested recipe for potatoes with peanuts – boil the potatoes in water with some salt and turmeric, then heat up some oil, add cumin seeds and a chopped green chilli, then add the potatoes and roughly-ground peanuts and stir. That would do nicely.
And as a side? How about something involving carrots, since there were some of those kicking around? I found in the Panjabi book a recipe for carrot koshumbir. What is that, I hear you wonder, is that? Well, it’s a type of cachumber which, Ms Panjabi explains, “is to an Indian meal what salsa is to a Mexican one. It provides raw vegetables with a tangy touch … In Western India, in Maharashtra and along the west coast, cachumbers are particularly popular and varied, and are known as koshumbir … They are sol tasty that they can be served as a salad or side vegetable.” I must admit I was a bit unsure about serving myself a raw vegetable as a side, but I figured I might as well have a go. All I had to do was grate up some carrot, mix it in with a small amount of dessicated coconut and add lime juice, sugar, salt and yet more roughly-ground peanuts. Then heat up some (more) cumin seeds and green chilli (to be honest I just used some of the cumin and chilli from the potato recipe) and add those.
So that’s what I did – curried ox kidney, served with potatoes with peanuts and a side of carrot koshumbir. And it was delicious.