Timid cooks and picky eaters often shy away from organ meats, because of their reputation for odd textures and funky odors. Beef kidneys are a leading offender on both counts, but only if they're poorly prepared or less than scrupulously fresh. Despite this, kidney plays a starring role in many traditional old-country dishes. If you buy it fresh, and follow a few basic guidelines, beef kidney can provide a memorably tasty meal.
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The Importance of Preparation
Kidneys are highly perishable, and should be purchased and used on the day they're packaged. Their role in the steer's body is urine disposal, but that characteristic odor should be mild in fresh kidneys. Use a sharp knife to remove any surface membrane, then split the kidney lengthwise into halves or quarters and cut out the thick core of fat. Slice the kidney into slabs. To remove its strong taste and odor, soak it for two hours in cold salted water, milk or buttermilk. Alternatively, blanch it briefly in boiling water and then let it drain in a colander for 30 minutes.
The Quick Option
Milder-tasting lamb and veal kidneys are typically grilled or sauteed, but that's a high-risk option with beef kidneys. Their strong flavor requires similarly pungent seasoning, and they must be cooked very quickly to prevent toughness. Chili heat, powerful herbs, such as rosemary and fresh sage, or the assertive and acidic bite of Worcestershire sauce are all good options. Heat any aromatic vegetables, such as onions or garlic, or any dry spices, such chilies, in the hot oil first. Then add your kidney slices and fresh herbs, and saute them quickly until just done.
The Slow Option
Like calamari, kidney can either be cooked so quickly it stays tender or so long that it becomes tender again. Long, slow cooking is the more common technique with beef kidney, because it provides ample opportunity for its naturally funky flavor to mellow. Cut the kidney into thick slabs for a braise, or bite-sized pieces for stewing. Dredge them lightly in flour and brown them slightly on the stove top, then simmer them in water or broth -- wine, cider or dark beer are good additions -- until tender. Add vegetables, if you're making stew, then thicken the broth to make a rich gravy.
Repurposing Your Kidney
Once tender, the kidney can become a meal in its own right, or it can be treated as one ingredient in a larger dish. For example, it can be combined with similarly slow-braised beef to make steak-and-kidney pie, one of the glories of British pub food. Alternatively, you can incorporate the cooked kidney into the kind of quick-cooked meal that's impossible when it's fresh. Slice or dice the finished organ meat, and employ it in a highly seasoned stir-fry. Pieces of kidney wrapped in bacon, then grilled until the bacon is crisp, make a fine appetizer. They're equally good when smothered in sauteed onions and mushrooms, as a main dish.