I LOVE vegetables and fresh salads and could certainly live on them without feeling even remotely deprived. Having said that I am totally not a vegetarian — I love good meat and fish. However I am not interested and I certainly don’t feel comfortable eating either meat or fish that has been reared in cramped, inhumane conditions all for the sake of providing cheap food.
Every animal and bird deserves a noble end. If we kill an animal for food then we should at least do them the honour of using every possible bit, served up as a nourishing celebration in a restaurant or on the family table. Every scrap from the nose to the tail can be utterly delicious once we understand how to cook the cheaper cuts and the ‘variety meats’ as Americans delicately call offal. The latter is so inexpensive every butcher in the country has a surplus because so many people are squeamish about unusual bits of animal.
The mere mention of offal has many people wrinkling up their noses in disgust. We don’t know what we’re missing. If you feel brave enough to try something other than the recognisable prime cuts — this is the very best time of the year, for lambs kidneys, sweet breads and liver — so chat up your local butcher.
Lambs are still young and milk fed so the offal is sweet, tender and mildly flavoured. Sweetbreads are even less familiar but so delicious. They can be either the thymus or pancreatic gland (maybe you don’t need to know that!). Isaac’s Restaurant in Cork city has been serving them on their menu in recent weeks much to the delight of some Californian foodie friends. Canice Sharkey shared his recipe with me.
Food costs continue to rise yet we still waste more food that would feed whole nations. Seeking out offal is one good way to live better for less.
Salad of Warm Sweetbreads with Potato Crisps, Anchovies and Wild Garlic
Sweetbreads are definitely a forgotten treat. The salty tang of the anchovies in this recipe gives another dimension and adds lots of complementary flavour without compromising the sweetness of the sweetbreads.
4 lamb or 2 veal sweetbreads
1 small carrot
2 celery stalks
25g (1oz) butter
600ml (1 pint) homemade chicken stock
A selection of salad leaves (little gem, oakleaf, sorrel, watercress and wild garlic leaves and flowers)
Plain flour, well seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper
Beaten organic egg
Butter and oil for sautéing
For the Dressing:
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¼ tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Homemade potato crisps (see recipe)
Wild garlic flowers (or chive flowers depending on the season)
To prepare sweetbreads: Put the sweetbreads into a bowl, cover with cold water and let them soak for 3 hours. Discard the water and cut away any discoloured parts from the sweetbreads.
Dice the carrot, onion and celery and sweat them in butter; add the bouquet garni. Then add the chicken stock and bring to the boil.
Poach the sweetbreads gently in the simmering stock for 3–5 minutes or until they feel firm to the touch. Cool, then remove the gelatinous membranes and any fatty bits carefully. Press between 2 plates and top with a weight not more than 1kg (2lb) or they will be squashed.
Prepare the salad. Wash and dry the lettuces and salad leaves and whisk together the ingredients for the dressing.
Slice the sweetbreads into escalopes, dip in well-seasoned flour and then add in beaten egg. Sauté in a little foaming butter and oil in a heavy pan until golden on both sides.
Toss the salad leaves in the dressing, divide between 4 plates and lay the hot sweetbreads and then potato crisps on top of the salad. Sprinkle with chopped anchovy and wild garlic flowers or chive flowers and serve immediately.
Lambs Liver with Beetroot
Alistair Little introduced me to this delicious combination.
1 lb (450g) Spring lamb’s liver, cut in (1 cm) slices
1 lb (450g) cooked baby beetroot
16 fl oz (475ml) homemade chicken stock
5 fl oz (150ml) cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper
A squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Coarsely chopped parsley
Cut the beetroot into (5 mm) thick batons. Toss the liver in well-seasoned flour. Melt the butter in a hot frying pan, and as soon as it foams add the liver in a single layer. Seal quickly on one side then on the other. Transfer to a plate. Deglaze the pan with stock, boil for 1-2 minutes, add the cream and beetroot, and allow to bubble for a few minutes until the beetroot heats through. Taste and add a squeeze of freshly squeezed lemon juice if necessary. Return the liver to the pan and simmer for 1-2 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately on hot plates.
Homemade Potato Crisps or ‘Game Chips’
Making crisps at home is definitely worthwhile — a few potatoes produce a tonne of crisps and nothing you buy in any shop will be even half as delicious. A mandolin is well worth buying for making crisps — but mind your fingers! When these are served with roast pheasant they are called “game chips”.
450g (1lb) large, even-sized potatoes
Extra virgin olive oil or beef dripping for deep-fat frying
Wash and peel the potatoes. For even-sized crisps, trim each potato with a swivel-top peeler until smooth. Slice them very finely, preferably with a mandolin. Soak in cold water to remove the excess starch (this will also prevent them from discolouring or sticking together). Drain off the water and dry well.
In a deep-fat fryer, heat the oil or dripping to 180C/350F. Drop in the dry potato slices a few at a time and fry until golden and completely crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle lightly with salt. Repeat until they are all cooked.
If they are not to be served immediately, they may be stored in a tin box and reheated in a low oven just before serving.
Lambs liver with crispy sage leaves
1 lb (450g) lambs liver
White flour seasoned with a little salt and freshly ground pepper
1 clove garlic, crushed (optional)
12-16 fresh sage leaves
Cut the lambs liver into slices (1cm) thick. Dip into seasoned flour and pat off the excess. Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan, add the crushed garlic if using and cook for a few seconds and then add the slices of liver. Sauté gently for 2-3 minutes on each side, remove while they are still slightly pink in the centre.
Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, add the sage leaves and allow to sizzle for a few seconds until they crisp. Pour the oil, juices and sage leaves over the liver and serve immediately.
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