We had the most sweet and succulent Spring Lamb for Easter from our local butcher Michael Cuddigan. Michael, a third generation butcher buys his meat on the hoof and keeps the animals on his own farm until such time as he judges they are ready. Some of his land has never been tilled in living memory – virgin soil, full of wild flowers and a wide variety of grasses and herbs. He knows the farmers who rear the animals and what they have been fed on, this is real traceability, local food for local people. Michael, and I completely agree with him, favours the traditional Irish breedfs, fed on grass, for premium flavour, Aberdeen Angus, or Aberdeen Angus crossed with Shorthorn or Pol Angus, or Hereford. Sadly, he can’t always get these breeds nowadays because of the general shift towards continental breeds. Like many other local butchers, he kills maiden heifer grass fed beef and hangs it for about fourteen days. The result is worth every penny, tender, with a rich beefy flavour – delicious. His simple butcher’s shop is in Cloyne, Co Cork, close to the Cathedral and Round Tower. Like many family butchers he knows his customers and their needs, sometimes even what they want for dinner. One little lad ran into his shop the other day and just asked for chops for the dinner – Michael didn’t even hesitate, he took down a loin of lamb from the hook and cut the chops on the ancient wooden butcher’s block – he seemed to know how many would be for lunch, and exactly what type of chop they’d expect – now that’s service for you! I was calling to get some lambs livers and kidneys. At this time of the year, lambs liver, kidneys and sweetbreads are at their very best, so make the most of them. Incredible value, hugely versatile, full of vitamins and minerals and cooked in minutes Lamb sweetbreads are also delicious at the moment, so seek them out in the next few weeks while they are still young and sweet. Here’s a recipe I used to enjoy at Arbutus Lodge when Declan Ryan was chef.
A warm salad of sweetbreads and walnuts
4 lamb sweetbreads
1 small carrot
2 sticks celery
1 pint (600 ml chicken stock
butter and oil for sauteeing
A selection of salad leaves eg. Iceberg, oakleaf, butterhead, raddichio, sorrel, endive, rocket, watercress, French beans, cut in julienne, blanched and refreshed
1 tablesp. white wine vinegar
1 tablesp. arachide or sunflower oil
2 tablesp. walnut oil
1 teasp. Dijon mustard
salt and freshly ground pepper
8 freshly shelled walnuts
Garnish: Chive flowers
Soak the sweetbreads in a bowl of cold water for 3 hours. Dice the carrot, onion and celery and sweat in butter, add bouquet garni. Bring the chicken stock to the boil, add the vegetables. Poach the sweetbreads gently for 20 minutes. approx. Remove the gelatinous membranes and any fatty bits carefully. Prepare the salad. Wash and dry the lettuces. Slice the sweetbreads into escalopes, dip in seasoned flour and then in beaten egg. Saute in a little foaming butter and oil in a heavy pan until golden on both sides. Whisk together the ingredients for the dressing. Toss the salad leaves and walnuts in the walnut dressing, divide between four plates and lay the hot sweetbreads on top of the salad, sprinkle with chive flowers and serve immediately.
Lambs Liver with Caramelized Onion and Scallion Champ
4 pieces of lambs liver allow 5oz (140g) per person
salt and freshly ground pepper
4 onions, sliced
1/2 – 1 oz 15-25g butter
2 tablesp. olive oil
Mashed potato or Scallion Champ
Melt the butter and olive oil on a hot pan, add the onions and cook until soft and slightly golden. Just before serving dip the liver in well seasoned flour. Shake off the excess. Melt a little butter in a pan, add the liver and cook for just a minute or two on each side. Transfer to a hot plate, add the onion to the pan, add a dash of balsamic vinegar and allow to bubble and heat through. Spoon onto the plate beside the liver. Serve with fluffy mashed potato or scallion champ.
A bowl of mashed potatoes flecked with green scallions and a blob of butter melting in the centre is ‘comfort’ food at its best.
3lb (1.5kg) 6-8 unpeeled ‘old’ potatoes e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks
4oz (110g) chopped scallions or spring onions (use the bulb and green stem) or 45g chopped chives
10-12 fl oz (350ml) milk
2-4oz (55-110g) butter
salt and freshly ground pepper
Scrub the potatoes and boil them in their jackets. Chop finely the scallions or spring onions or chopped chives. Cover with cold milk and bring slowly to the boil. Simmer for about 3-4 minutes, turn off the heat and leave to infuse. Peel and mash the freshly boiled potatoes and while hot, mix with the boiling milk and onions, beat in the butter. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve in 1 large or 6 individual bowls with a knob of butte melting in the centre. Scallion champ may be put aside and reheated later in a moderate oven, 180C/350F/regulo 4. Cover with tin foil while it reheats so that it doesn’t get a skin.
Lambs Kidneys on Rosemary Skewers
This is a delicious recipe for the barbecue, but it can also be cooked under a grill.
4 lambs kidneys
fresh herbs, eg. rosemary, thyme, parsley or marjoram
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 rosemary sprigs about 6 inches (15cm) long
garlic and parsley butter- see below
Remove the fat and membrane from the kidneys. Open out flat into a ‘butterfly’ shape. Spear each kidney with a rosemary sprig, put them on a plate, drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with a little chopped herbs. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Preheat a grill or better still pop them onto a barbecue. Sprinkle the kidneys with salt. Cook for 3-4 minutes on each side depending on size. Serve immediately with a tiny blob of garlic and parsley butter melting into the centre of each.
Garlic and parsley butter
2 ozs (55g/4 level tablesp.) butter
4 teasp. finely chopped parsley
squeeze of fresh lemon juice
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
Cream the butter, stir in the parsley and a few drops of lemon juice at a time. Add the crushed garlic. Roll into butter pats or form into a roll and wrap in greaseproof paper or tin foil, screwing each end so that it looks like a cracker. Refrigerate to harden.
Lambs Kidneys in Grainy Mustard Sauce
Serves 2 as a starter
4 lambs kidneys
a little butter
2 dessertsps. of Irish wholegrain mustard
150ml) full cream
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Remove the skin and membrane from the kidneys and cut into bite-sized pieces. Saute in a little butter on the pan, turn occasionally until nicely cooked, approx. 5 minutes on a medium heat. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the cream and mustard, bring to the boil and simmer for 3 or 4 minutes until the sauce thickens slightly. Taste and correct seasoning. Serve immediately.
Liver with Dubonnet and Orange
1 tablesp. olive oil
1 oz. (15-30g) butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 lb (450g) lamb’s liver
2 tablesp. fresh orange juice
8 tablesp. red Dubonnet
1 tablesp. finely chopped parsley
a little grated orange rind
finely grated rind of 1 lemon
Garnish: Flat parsley
Heat the olive oil and butter together in a deep frying pan, sweat the finely chopped onions and crushed garlic over a very low heat until soft but not coloured. Cut the liver into slices about * inch (1 cm) thick, coat with seasoned flour. When the onions are cooked, add the slices of liver to the pan in a single layer and continue to cook over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Turn the liver over, reduce the heat and cook for a slightly shorter time on the other side. The cooking time will depend on the thickness of the liver as well as on personal taste, but don’t overcook it or it will be leathery. Transfer the liver and onions to a warm plate. Add the orange juice and Dubonnet to the juices left in the pan, scraping the bottom of the pan with a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for a couple of minutes until the sauce has reduced by almost half. Add the parsley, a little orange and lemon rind and give it a final stir and taste. Pour over the liver, garnish with flat parsley and serve immediately.