Echoes and Mementos

Thoughts and pictures about cooking, eating, reading, writing, and living.

Tag: butcher

Fried Kidneys

This week I followed a recipe from my grandmother. It led me to an Italian butcher in Hoboken, Truglio’s, where the sound of cleavers splitting bone came from the main room, and where the back room’s floor was sprinkled with woodchips and sawdust. The owner had called me. My order had arrived. I paid $1.45 for some two pounds of meat, thanked him, and within 10 minutes had my stove set to medium.

The meat was kidney. If you are as off-put by offal as my girlfriend was, then you should think about what fills the skin around a sausage, the buns around a burger: the same stuff as kidney. We are used to eating one, unused to the other. While eating game in Alaska, writer John McPhee asks, “To a palate without bias… which would be more acceptable, a pink-icinged pop tart with raspberry filling (cold) or the fat gob behind a caribou’s eye?” The answer: probably the food closer to the earth. (Note: that does not mean you should cook these foods to woo your girlfriend or anyone else.)

I cooked the kidney in olive oil and onion, adding water when the meat started to sizzle, and throwing in a few bay leaves as the recipe ordered. The result was a food more gelatinous in texture than I am used to, though tasty. I don’t know if I’ll make the dish again. Even so, $1.45 and 20 minutes is a paltry price to pay for exploring the past, widening comfort zones, and finding a butcher who sells cuts of cow for osso buco.

Recipe Cards

When you read books of fact someone is telling you about the past. You are mostly passive, a listener. When you read recipes you are actively reconstructing and exploring the past. I once read a few Roman recipes. They were from the empire, and they were translated from Latin. Pasta had not yet evolved. Romans instead ate a polenta made from wheat; corn was stuck in the Americas, and so was a favorite jungle-fruit of mine: the tomato. Cooks seasoned food with garum, a fermented fish sauce, similar to the condiment popular in Southeast Asia today. People and foods change; through old recipes we can imagine how we used to be.

My grandparents recently sent me some recipe cards. Mostly, they come from my great-grandmother, who herself came from Avellino, Italy (near Naples) to New York by way of Albania and Budapest. (Recall: the woman who gave me the idea for eggles gnocchi.) She settled in the West Village. Here is a curious fact, for in the West Village I have idled away some Saturday afternoons, slinking into shops, wandering, buying tea and cheese. I am interested in the recipe cards for the food, yes, but also for the portal to Italian-American New York of a century past.

“Christofer,” my Nanni recently asked, “where do you get your tripe?” I don’t know where I get my intestines for cooking, because I don’t know anyone who will eat them with me, except maybe Shadow, but now that I have a recipe for the spongy organ I will search for a butcher who carries it.

Look for some of these foods in the coming weeks and seasons.