Pale is good when it comes to veal kidneys. If they are too dark, soak them in a mixture of milk and water overnight. The preparation of this dish is as important as the cooking process, for if the mass of white fat and its rubbery connections to the meat are not painstakingly and meticulously removed, the kidneys will be an adventure to eat rather than a pleasure.
Make a cut through the centre of the kidneys, dividing them into two equal pieces. Use the tip of a sharp knife to cut the fat and connective tissue from each kidney. Pull away the membrane that covers the outside of each one. This should leave you with pale and shiny meat. Season the kidneys with salt and pepper and brush with the olive oil.
Heat a pan and fry the kidneys quickly on both sides. They will soon produce quite a bit of liquid that will start to bubble. Remove the pan from the direct heat.
Pour the pan juices into a separate saucepan with the red wine and cassis and place over a low heat. Whisk in the butter and chives to make the sauce, then serve with the fried kidneys.
The menu at The Merchant House is market-based. It reflects the best of what was available on any specific date. Buy good ingredients and you need to mutilate them in order to produce bad meals. Buy rubbish and you need more skill than most chefs possess to produce something worth getting fat for.
I type the menu, the results of the day’s shopping and preparation, only minutes before the first person is due. There is no printed card dictating that asparagus should be on offer when artichokes are obviously in better condition, or that venison has to be on the menu when there are first-rate hares to be had.
There is a street market in Ludlow three days a week (four in summer) and this helps with supply, but in Britain there is not the same culture of buying at street markets that there is in countries such as France. If you see someone in a chef’s uniform early in the morning wandering round the stalls, you can be sure there is a photographer not far behind taking pictures for a glossy magazine or book.
In fact, most restaurant shopping is done on the phone. Dealers call and let you know what is coming in and, if pressed, how much it costs. Despite this, I think there is an advantage to walking round as many shops and stalls-as practicable, to see and touch the produce before coming to a menu decision. Each morning I tour Ludlow’s food shops to poke at the raspberries and rhubarb, eat slivers of cheese at the town’s excellent cheese shop, and assess what is at its best and what is coming to an end.
There’s no denying it makes a pleasant change, for an hour, from the small, hot kitchen, especially on a warm summer day.