Offally nice recipe

The name of this dish isn’t over complicated “kidneys and rice”…simples! I believe the recipe was devised by my maternal grandmother and it’s been passed down to me, no doubt with some variations along the way…I’m not sure how long Bisto has been around, my Mum and I use it, but I doubt it was in the original. It’s probably fair to say it’s a “marmite recipe”…you’ll either love it or hate it. Give it a go, the kidney’s aren’t the strongest flavour and the bacon adds a lovely saltiness and additional flavour…you may be surprised how delicious it is. It’s a great dish for simple eating with just a fork…see I said simples!

Here’s how I make it.

The list of ingredients:

  • Pigs (or Ox) kidneys (don’t use lambs they fall apart too easily and don’t have a full enough flavour)
  • tinned chopped tomatoes
  • streaky bacon (your choice of smoked or unsmoked) chopped into small pieces
  • onions chopped
  • tomato paste
  • Bisto
  • Pepper & possibly some salt
  • Oil or butter of your choice for frying

Preparing the kidney: Slice it in half horizontally so it looks like this.

Using a sharp knife you need to cut out all the white bits as they are tough, so you are left with only the brown kidney flesh. Then chop it into small pieces, roughly like this.

Soften the onions in a large frying pan in the butter/oil, then add the chopped bacon and the kidney and fry gently for about 10 mins stiring as you go.

Add a can of chopped tomatoes, and a squirt of tomato paste, and allow the whole thing to bubble away gently for probably 15-20mins.

Whilst it’s cooking, mix some Bisto with water (sorry can’t remember how much, probably a tablespoon full, I do it all by eye).

Then add the bisto mixture to the pan stirring all the time as you do it as it will thicken straight away. If it’s too thick add more water, if it’s still sloppy do the bisto bit again! Cook gently for another 10 mins or so. Kidney should still be firm but not chewy!

We always serve it with boiled rice and peas, but you could do mash potato instead, and any green vegetable you fancy.


Cheers – Carol

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Now, I’m not massively experienced at cooking liver, but I have successfully followed a simple pate recipe once or twice. So I felt sufficiently qualified to have a bash at making pate with the liver from our pigs. Even though I have only previously made it with chicken livers, they can’t be that different, right?

As I knew I would be blogging about this I decided to eschew my usual style of cooking, which takes disorganisation and chaos as it’s central philosophies. Instead I prepared all (most of) the ingredients before even heating my pan. Here they are all neatly laid out on my chopping board.

Ooh, aren't I organised?

In the ramekin at the back is a tablespoon of dried green peppercorns and two small bayleaves soaking in two or three sloshes of whisky, then on the board is some chopped red onion, chopped rosemary, freshly picked thyme leaves and about a pound of pig’s liver. You can also just see a bit of butter at the back there. The original recipe calls for a whole pack of butter, but I had used up most of my butter making caramel the day before and forgotten to stock up. So I improvised by softening the onion in olive oil and saving the butter for cooking the livers and just a little bit to pour over the top of the finished pate. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

*inhaling deeply*First I softened the onions in a large frying pan over a medium heat, using olive oil instead of butter. Then I added the herbs and the peppercorns in their liquid, and carried on cooking until much of the liquid had evaporated. It smelt delicious, particularly the whisky and rosemary .

As it is nigh on impossible to hide from who you really are (disorganised and chaotic), I did take my eye off the onion to chop up the liver. Not too small; largish chunks seemed to work for me.

I put all the onionherbpeppercorn yumminess aside, back into the ramekin the peppercorns and whisky came out of to be honest. Then melted most of my butter in the frying pan and added the liver pieces.

Like I said before, I’m not a liver expert, but I believe liver is supposed to be slightly pink inside. So I cooked it, over a medium heat, gently turning the liver pieces over occasionally, until they looked like this when cut open.

In a flash of inspiration and spontaneity (another one of my normal cooking techniques), I decided to leave half of the onionherbpeppercorn mixture unblended to add at the end to give a little texture to my pate. I also fished out the bayleaves to use as a garnish later.

So into the blender went the liver pieces with all their buttery juices and half of the onions, and all this was blitzed until smooth. The pate seemed to be quite thick. I did have to stop in between pulses to push the liver back into the path of the blades with my trusty spatula. But we got there in the end, not forgetting to taste and season with salt and pepper as required. After mixing in the reserved onionherbpeppercorns it looked like this.

Then I transferred it to a serving dish, smoothing out the top to make it as even as possible, melted the remaining butter and poured it over the top. Ta da! Oops, almost forgot those bayleaves to make it pretty.


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Snatching Victory from the (roasted) Jaws of Defeat

So in the end I made Rilettes and, even if I say so myself, they were very successful.

For those who don’t know, Rilettes are meat (I think it’s usually either pork or duck) cooked very slowly in fat so that it poaches rather than fries. Once the meat is very tender it’s pulled into small shreds and served like a coarse pate.

Yesterday, I got the various  piggy parts out of the fridge, I had leftover shoulder from Sunday’s roast, the meat from the head and 2 bowls of rendered fat, one from each cooking process. When I dug into the bowls of fat, I was quite surprised to find the one from the head was probably 80% really firmly set gelatinous meat juice. And when I say firm, I mean firm, as in, if thrown hard enough it could fell an intruder.

I followed St Hugh’s Rillettes recipe but changed it slightly as my meat was already cooked and his starts from raw. I melted the fat and added a small amount of the really firm set meat juice (didn’t want to add too much and make it into a meaty Fruit Pastille) and some of the less firm stock/juice from the shoulder. I added the chopped meat, and a bunch of thyme and 3 cloves tied into a muslin bag and transferred everything to a slow cooker.

I cooked it on the lowest setting for 3 hours until the meat was very soft and golden in colour then I left it (with the muslin bag still in) until it was cool enough to handle. Then I used a slotted spoon to take the meat pieces out and shredded them with forks, removing any large pieces of unmelted fat at the same time. Finally I seasoned the mixture with salt, pepper, mixed spice and fresh nutmeg.

Huge recommends leaving it to mature for a few days before eating but, seeing as I’d bought crusty bread already we decided to eat it straight away. We had it with cornichons and home made Piccallili. Personally I thought it was amazing, really well flavoured despite being very subtly seasoned which, obviously, is down to the quality of the meat we’ve produced. Adam pronounced it “nice”, even when reminded it took 2 days to make he didn’t gush any further.

Would I make Rilettes again? Undoubtedly. Would I spend 2 days roasting a pig’s head to do so? Well, I won’t waste the ones in my freezer, I will cook those and would happily make rilettes for the Pork Feast. A lot of the anxiety this time round was due to the unknown, now I have a bit of experience to drawn on I’d find it much easier. I have a feeling though it may be more sensible next time to get the cheeks filleted from the head, much easier to both store and cook and still not wasting the meat.

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Staring Failure in the (roasted) Face

OK. Everything that can go wrong has gone wrong. From forgetting to light the oven to running out of foil. By Sunday night I was wibbling in the corner guzzling gin. This has not gone well.

I carried out my plan to roast the head slowly in a tent of foil and boil up the ears and trotters separately. Once I actually lit the oven, the roasting went well, I cooked it at GM 4 for about 4 hours and here she is looking, ummm …..

I was a bit anxious about it being cooked properly so I used a meat thermometer to test the internal temperature. Hugh says pork should be between 70 and 75 degrees, our little friend was about 85 so maybe it was over cooked (sigh)

While the head was cooking I made the stock, onions, herbs  etc plus trotters and ears. I boiled it for roughly 3 hrs. The recipe I had called for the ears to be chopped and added to the head meat but when I looked at them they’re 100% cartlidge and I really don’t fancy eating cartlidge so I left them out. I dismantled the trotters trying to locate some meat but didn’t find any so they were discarded too.

Once the head had cooled enough to handle I started to pick the meat off. Slicing the cheek off a pig’s face is an odd sensation and I could feel my sensibilities teetering but being northern and made of sterner stuff I ploughed on. Now I feel like I could dismember a body in the bath without blinking. The meat was all located on the cheeks and down the side of the snout, everything else was fat, skin and bone. The texture of the cheek meat was very odd, the fat and meat couldn’t really be separated as the fat seemed to run right through the meat fibres.

Here’s the remains after I’d sliced and poked about. I haven’t fitted it with a handy handle, that’s the kettle in the background.

I was very disappointed with the amount of meat that came off it, people in the past must have been exceptionally poor and desperate to go to this amount of trouble for such a tiny amount of meat. Added to which my stock was very disappointing too, it completely failed to set which is very odd considering that my normal chicken stock sets fine. Ange has told me she’s had more success with trotter stock but mine was hopeless. I do however, have a load of rendered fat from the head so I’m wondering whether to abandon brawn and go for rilettes instead. This is the trouble with blogging as I go along, I can’t get to the end and pretend it was what I intended to make in the first place!

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Adventures with a Pig’s Head.

I think all of us involved in this project are keen on the theory of nose to tail eating but we may not know how to handle the reality. To this end, I thought I’d blog about my experience of cooking the pig’s head and making brawn, hopefully everyone can learn from my (horribly public) mistakes and together we can figure out how to make this thing successful!

I have to admit to being really gung ho about the whole idea but the reality began to dawn when I got out of the car with a semifreddo  pig head tucked under my arm and saw my horrified neighbour’s face: “You’re really going to cook it???” he asked, incredulous. Ulp. What have I taken on?

First up was the obligatory Facebook opportunity:

Then was the grim reality of looking into the face of a dear friend (porcine, not marital) and setting about cooking it. Sawing the ears off was grim, there’s no two ways about it, and having ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ playing in my imagination didn’t help, cleaning out the ear wax was horrid, just horrid. Once that bit was out of the way it wasn’t too bad, the squeamishness passed really quickly as the practicalities of the project took over. Scrubbing and shaving not a problem at all.

The first source of anxiety was the fact that this is a whole, intact head and most of the recipes I’ve seen call for a halved or quartered head. This raised questions about what that meant about the brain and the cooking times. I naturally turned to St Hugh of Whittingstall, his ‘Meat’ book confirmed that pig’s brain is not deadly poisonous and is currently the only type of animal brain which can be legally sold to the public. The reason it’s hard to get hold of is due to the difficulty of getting it out of the skull intact, as there’s no demand for brains on toast, it’s just not worth the hassle. So that set my mind to rest. And the cooking time? Well I think I’m just going to have to cook it for longer and see what happens.

The next source of anxiety is the sheer size of the sodding thing. My recipe (the James Martin one if anyone wants to Google it) suggested 3 litres of brine to cover the head. Pfffft, 9 litres more like. The only container I could find big enough to submerge it in was a flexibucket from the garden which I thoroughly scrubbed and scalded with hot water. Dissolving the salt took a surprisingly long time, as did allowing the brine to cool before putting the head in it. I wedged a baking tin on top of the head to try and keep it submerged – in hindsight that was a mistake what with salt being corrosive and all. My baking tin is in a sorry state now!

The final source of today’s anxiety: What am I going to cook it in? None of my pans were big enough, not my jam pan or my stock pot. Ruth and Carol offered me use of their stock pots but, no, still not big enough. The only solution I could think of was to slow roast it instead of boiling it. My plan is to put water in the bottom of the roasting tin and cover it with foil to keep the steam in. I’m hoping this will produce meat which is as tender and juicy as boiled would be. Then I will make a separate stock using some trotters and the ears and use that to make jelly around the picked head meat. Hopefully that will work but it’s an adventure for tomorrow …..

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