Some of my readers are likely to be turned off by the very name of this week’s recipe. Kidneys are not everybody’s pleasure. Even people who enjoy other organ meats, such as liver and sweetbreads, may recoil from kidneys because they sometimes carry a flavor hint of the fluids that they processed in the animal’s body.
In the past, I’ve only ever cooked them in steak and kidney pie, where their flavor doesn’t predominate. But recently I had a lovely dish of veal kidneys in a cream-and-mustard sauce in a French restaurant, so I decided to see if I could do it at home. After some research in my cookbooks, I chose Roger Vergé’s Cuisine of the South of France.
Vergé’s recipe differs from those of most other cookbooks in one significant way. In most, after an initial sauté, you remove the kidneys to a plate while making the sauce, then slide them back into the pan to be finished. With Vergé, after the sauté you transfer the kidneys to a sieve set over a bowl to drain. The thin reddish-yellow liquid they’ll exude is what carries any offensive flavors, so you discard that. Voilà! Perfectly clean-tasting kidneys.
Veal kidneys are the kind specified for this dish. They’re a bit of work to prepare for cooking. Each one is a collection of bumpy lobes, with a core of hard white fat that isn’t easy to detach. Once you’ve wrestled that out, the meat that remains is so soft that it’s not easy to cut in neat quarter-inch slices. When you’ve got that done, though, it’s a quick, easy recipe.
Sauté them quickly in hot butter – in small batches so they don’t exude any liquid yet. (Vergé’s English translator rendered this as “brown” them in the butter, but they don’t get brown; just light gray.) Set them up in the sieve and continue with the sauce. Add chopped shallots to the pan and deglaze it with Calvados. Add heavy cream and simmer for a few minutes, then strain the sauce into a clean casserole. Blend in a good dollop of Dijon mustard, add the kidneys to the sauce and bring the dish just to the simmer. (Overly long cooking at this point will rubberize the kidneys.)
It was delicious, and the sauce was equally good on the plain boiled potatoes and green beans I served with it. Another good thing about this recipe is that most of it can be done in advance. I did the sautéing and made the entire sauce well ahead of time, reheating and finishing the kidneys in the sauce just before serving.
I felt the need of a few adjustments in the recipe, however. I think no cookbook editor will ever allow a true listing of the amount of butter required in a French recipe. I had to use at least twice as much as called for, in sautéing the kidneys. Also, I could see right away that the quantities of Calvados, cream, and mustard called for would make only a stingy amount of sauce, so (already thinking of those potatoes and green beans) I doubled them all. It was the right choice.
To accompany the meal, Tom pulled a 1997 Chateau Rauzan-Ségla from the depths of his wine closet, which was also a wonderful choice. Here’s how he describes the way the food and wine matched with each other:
“A second-growth Margaux from a better-than-average but not superb vintage, the wine’s firm tannins and moderate acidity played well with the cream-and-mustard sauce, while its pronounced cabernet flavors easily stood up to the kidneys’ fleshiness. The food enhanced the wine’s fruit and freshness, and the wine tempered any assertive nostalgie de la boue the kidneys might have displayed.”