Montreal has potholes the size of resort hot tubs, obsolete futuristic highways, and crumbling overpasses. But we love this city with a love the size of Texas. Why? We can buy and eat rabbit, duck, horse, or offal within a two-mile radius of wherever we are on any given day. Indeed, the Montreal diner eats and loves kidneys for the meal that they are, not on a challenging dare, but because they are simply delicious!
A few years ago, Josée di Stasio, the grande dame of Quebec food media, introduced us to Monique Duveau and Olympe Versini, who were in town from the Michelin grind for a simpler bistro approach; Monique is a lady of the table, the best kind of food patron you could wish for. When we heard they were coming, we sent one of the cooks to the Atwater Market to fetch some rognons (veal kidneys). At the time, we were into putting a salt crust on everything: wrapped them in a duxelles of chanterelles, wrapped that in caul fat, and then made the salt crust. We sculpted the crust to look like a young calf at rest on got the best of it.
Note: When it comes to kidneys, find out from your butcher what day of the week they come in; don’t wait—they get funky after a while. Ask your butcher to trim away any fat and remove the bigger nerves.
- Make the salt crust first. In a very large bowl, use a whisk to combine the flour and pickling salt. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the egg whites, then add the water slowly until a dough forms. Use your hands now to knead the dough until malleable but not sticky. Divide into 2 balls, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (overnight will work too).
- Heat the butter in a saute pan over medium heat. When it starts to foam, add the shallots and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and ham, cooking slowly over medium-low heat until the moisture is gone but before anything starts to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the brandy and reduce until the pan contents are almost dry, about 3 minutes.
- Add the parsley and mustard. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste, and set aside.
- Season the kidneys and sear them briskly in a hot pan with the oil, using two spatulas to carefully turn them over, then set aside. You want to color them, not scorch them. Transfer them, trimmed underbelly side facing up, to a paper towel–lined plate.
- Preheat the oven to 425 ̊F.
- Unroll the caul fat onto your work surface. Cut out 4 12-inch- (30-cm-) wide circles. Place two layers of caul fat on your working surface, then transfer each kidney, underbelly side up, into the center of each caul “circle.” Spoon half the mushroom mixture into each central cavity. Gather the edges of the caul up and overlap them to make a seal, maintaining the natural torpedo shape of the kidney. Repeat with the remaining kidney.
- Roll out one ball of salt dough between two sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap into a large circle about 1⁄2 inch thick. Discard the top sheet of plastic and cut out a 12-inch (300 mm) disk. Repeat with the second ball of dough.
- Place a kidney bundle in the middle of each dough circle with the cavity/mushroom side up. Carefully close, gathering up the dough, using the plastic wrap as your support system, and overlap and press together to make a seal. Turn over the package and carefully transfer to a baking sheet. Feel free to add the calf legs and head or the crest of your alma mater.
- Brush both wrapped kidneys softly with the egg wash. Insert the probe of your meat thermometer through the salt crust into one of the lobes.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the internal temperature registers 135 ̊F (57 ̊C), then transfer to a large enough, pretty enough serving platter. Pry the crust open with a blunt knife or with one of those very cool Fein saws, tableside, of course. Serve with Sauce Madère Rapide.
Excerpted from JOE BEEF: SURVIVING THE APOCALYPSE by Frédéric Morin, David McMillan and Meredith Erickson. Copyright © 2018 by Frédéric Morin, David McMillan and Meredith Erickson. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.