The Brutal Gourmet
The most common of the variety meats is also the easiest target. The mere mention of liver perennially brings a frown to children’s faces, and even among adults with more sophisticated palates it is unjustifiably maligned. The truth is, this vitamin-packed, easy-to-extract organ is easily prepared, affordable, and quite delectable when prepared in any number of ways. In my kitchen, domestic varieties are sliced (contrary to convention) into inch-thick segments and broiled like steak, while the more exotic varieties inevitably find their way into pâtés. Baby liver is next in quality, remarkably tender but less flavorful; more seasoned specimens need to be soaked in milk for several hours. The liver is quite rich in minerals and well worth the extra time required to pound out the tough fibers. The drippings in which liver is cooked are sometimes bitter, particularly in alcoholics; watch the method in which the specimen is slaughtered before preparing, and try something light like a Béarnaise or a Lyonnaise. Wine connossieurs, please take note that a fruity Merlot is easily as servicable as the more popular Chianti.
Young kidneys, particularly those between 12 and 15 years old, are the tenderest and most delicious. Younger ones are somewhat soft but are especially suited for grilling. If the kidney has an “off” flavor, this is usually attributable to bruising, or excessive amounts of chemicals like chloroform. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of proper preparation; it’s all worth it in the tasting. We’re all familiar with classic dishes like Steak and Kidney Pie, Kidneys a la Packer, and Mommy Why Didn’t You Love Me Enough Cold Kidney Compote, but don’t ignore the possibilities that terrines, braises and stews have to offer. A Wisconsin chef of my acquaintance had great success with deep-fat frying the kidney in its delicious delicate fat and serving it with nothing more than an Old Milwaukee tallboy and some melted butter. Be creative with this delicate dish!
Many new chefs have become entirely too enamored with the modern fixation on fast food. As a result, they often go for a quick headshot, little realizing that they are wasting one of the most delicious and desirable parts of the body. It’s not for nothing that our ancestors felt that eating the brain conferred upon one the wisdom of its previous owner; many a time, I’ve come up with some of my most daring and impressive recipes after a meal of the stuff we think with. They’re also quite versatile, and can be used in any recipe calling for sweetbreads. Brains are extremely perishable, much like their host once they are removed, so be sure and use while very fresh. They are often combined with eggs in ragoût and soufflés, but because they are bland, make sure you give the dish a piquant or spicy sauce. And, pardon the pun, here’s something to “think about”: lead absolutely ruins the taste and mushy texture of the brain. Be “smart”: sometimes the old ways are best.
As is noted in The Joy of Cooking, lucky indeed is the cook with the gift of tongues! Fresh, smoked or pickled, the tongue is a delight to the creative chef, and if properly handled will generate as many compliments as it spewed forth insults, belittlement, and spurious comments about your character and mental state in its previous incarnation. Contrary to popular belief, there’s no real difference in the production of a tongue; a silver one is just as tasty as a still. However, regardless of the experiments of some of the trendier “intellectual” chefs (à la Kemper), I would avoid use of the vocal cords, which are tough and stringy even after soaking. Always to remember to cut through at the hump parallel to the base, with diagonal, deep cuts, like you used on the throat. You’ll be the “talk” of the town!
Lungs (or “lights”) are illegal. But I don’t see why that should stop you.