Calf’s kidney with caramelised shallots

A constant and depressing theme in this book has been the closure of Soho’s food shops. Butchers are no exception. Soho had three superb butchers: an Italian one, Bifulco Stores on the corner of Old Compton and Frith; a French one, the butchery section of Randall & Aubin with its drunken Irish cutter; and an English one named after a firm of lawyers, Slater & Cooke, Bisney (or was it Disney?) & Jones. The last one was a forbidding place, unbelievably clean, very expensive, and the staff had masters’ degrees in sneering. The French place could be superb on its day but was slightly too picturesque, read dirty, for even me. So, Bifulco Stores it was. They were my principal butchers for nearly twenty years until their lease ran out in 1990. Their principal speciality was veal, funny that for an Italian butcher, and in particular veal offal. Brains, sweetbreads, liver and kidneys were always available, and I am sure that my fondness for cooking and eating these wonderful meats stems entirely from being privileged to shop there. The moronic response of Her Majesty’s various governments to the BSE crisis has of course denied us access to brains; they haven’t got any, therefore we can’t have any.

Make your butcher work on this one. The kidneys need their internal fat and gristle removed, which is tedious, best undertaken by a professional.

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  • 2 calf’s kidneys, prepared
  • 36 small shallots, or 8 of the big, long ones called ‘banana shallots
  • 75 g butter
  • ½ bottle red wine
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • 250 ml veal, beef or Chicken Stock (but veal is obviously best, shop-bought will do)
  • sunflower oil


Preparing the Shallots

If you can find the big shallots, simply peel them as you would an onion. If on the other hand you are faced with peeling 36 small ones, then the trick is to blanch them first. Boil a kettle and pour it over the shallots in a bowl small enough so that they are immersed. Allow to cool, then peel.

Select a pan wide enough to hold all the shallots in a single layer. Melt 25 g of the butter in this over a medium heat, add the shallots, turn the heat down low and gently fry them for 10 minutes without stirring. Turn the shallots and give them 10 minutes on another face. Turn them again to finish browning any pale bits, about another 10 minutes. Remove any shallots that brown and partially collapse during this half hour. At the end, transfer the remaining ones to a plate and allow to cool.

Preparing the Sauce

Pour the wine and vinegar into the unrinsed pan and boil until the liquids have virtually reduced to nothing. Season, add the stock, and boil until reduced by half or until syrupy. Return the shallots to the sauce and set aside while the kidneys are cooked.

Cooking the Kidneys

The kidneys are sautéed whole, left to rest and then carved and gently reheated in the sauce with the shallots. The resting period is most important for kidneys because it allows them to drain not a bad idea when you consider their function. Season the kidneys generously and fry them in a little sunflower oil until nicely brown on the outside. This should take no more than 5 minutes if done on a brisk heat. Place the kidneys in a sieve and place this over a bowl. Leave to rest for 10 minutes.

Finishing and Serving

Reheat the sauce and shallots over a low flame. Incorporate the remaining butter in small pieces by swirling the pan; don’t put all of it in at once, little by little please. Carve the kidneys into 1 cm slices, place these in the pan with the sauce and shallots, and warm gently through. The assembled dish must not be allowed to boil or the kidneys will stiffen. This dish is best with Mashed Potatoes.