TOAST. Discuss. At the café, our range of ‘things on toast’ is always popular.
The British have a particular liking for serving all manner of things on a slice or two of hot buttered toast, be it as simple as a few spoonfuls of scrambled egg or baked beans, to something more substantial like tomatoes and grilled sardines or creamy garlic mushrooms.
I know that toast and its many possibilities got me through university, just as it did for generations of students before me. The combination of something hot and saucy with the crunchy, buttery toast just hits all the right buttons.
It’s fast, tasty and texturally interesting, which is crucial. We’ve already covered devilled kidneys before, and it’s still a big favourite, but I thought of a recipe I’d not made in years the other week, as I was heating not only a pan of the aforementioned spicy devilled kidneys, but grilling a couple of sausages for a breakfast teacake. Instantly the combination of sausage and kidneys leapt into my mind and this week’s recipe was sorted – Kidneys Turbigo. This is a wonderful combination of quickly-sautéed lamb’s kidneys with sausages, caramelised shallots, tiny button mushrooms and a rich brown stock sauce scented with white wine, Madeira and bay leaves.
It’s a proper old-school haute cuisine staple, and would have been seen in fancy French restaurants across the world back in the late 60s and through the 70s. Often it would be made at the tableside by a dinner-suited maître d’, on one of those brilliant guéridon trolleys that I wish would make more of a comeback.
The theatre of such dishes is almost as magical as the taste – I mean, who wants Crêpes Suzette if they just come through a door from the kitchen? We need the flames, the smells, the dramatic flourish of the spoons – the performance. ‘Rognons Turbigo’, for that is their given name, are thought to have originated in a brasserie on the Rue de Turbigo in Paris, which was named after a famous battle in the town of Turbigo, close to Milan. The ingredients certainly don’t strike one as Italian in origin, so it’s presumed that it was just the work of an enterprising chef in one of the many ‘bouchons’ in the Troisième, around the Place De La République.
These little stew-y recipes are classic traditional brasserie fare, using cheaper cuts and ingredients to maximum effect (coq au vin, boeuf Bourguignon, poulet sauté Normande, canard à l’orange) and providing the diner with a hearty, filling dish in one course, especially when served with potatoes, noodles or, in the case of the kidneys, buttered rice.
You are more than welcome to try this alternative with your kidneys, just as you may want to try other starchy goodies like creamy mash or grilled polenta. But a slice of toast works just as well, and makes the dish a nice easy supper to plate up in a hurry.
Now, for the offally-squeamish, I’d say that you could always use more sausages as an alternative, or perhaps even some meatballs instead. They’d work well with the soft mushrooms and caramelised shallots. But it’s worth having a try with the kidneys – a taste of yesteryear that’s quite simply delicious, and one of the very best things you can do to a humble slice of toast. Aprons on!
For the kidneys:
12 fresh lamb’s kidneys
8 good-quality pork sausages
24 button onions or 6 large banana shallots
24 button mushrooms
50g plain flour
4 tbsps Madeira
150ml white wine
150ml veal or chicken stock
2 tsp tomato puree
2 tbsps chopped curly parsley
Maldon salt & fresh black pepper
a good-quality fresh white loaf
a little butter
Peel the baby onions by plunging them into boiling water for a few seconds, then pulling away the ‘paper’ with your fingers, keeping the root intact. If you’re using long banana shallots, simply slice them in half through the root, and peel off the outer layer.
Heat the butter and gently fry the onions/shallots until golden and caramelised, then remove and reserve, keeping the butter in the pan. Prepare the kidneys by either smiling sweetly at your butcher, or tackling them yourself.
With a sharp knife, cut the kidneys in two along their length, and trim out the white core with either scissors or the sharp point of your knife. Rinse quickly under a cold tap, then set the kidneys to drain in a sieve over the sink.
In the butter, sauté the kidneys and sausages quickly – you’re after colour only here, not to cook them through. Pop them in the sieve again to allow the juices to drain off into a bowl. In the same pan, quickly fry the mushrooms, then add the flour and tomato purée, and cook this for a minute or two to remove the raw flour flavour.
Add the Madeira and reduce by half, then tip in the wine, the stock and the kidney juices. Add the bayleaves and bring the liquid to the boil, then reduce to a bare simmer and add the onions. Cook very gently, stirring as little as possible, for 10 minutes, then add the kidneys and sausages.
Cook for a further 5 minutes, then check the seasoning and keep the pan warm while you attend to the toast. To serve, slice the bread to your preferred thickness, toast to the correct shade, smear with a little butter, and serve a good portion of kidneys on top. This dish is exactly what lightly-chilled Beaujolais was made for.