RICHARD CORRIGAN is one of the most highly regarded chefs in the British Isles today. Our own restaurant critic, Sophie Grigson, has described him as "the insider's secret" - it's true that he is remarkable for not pursuing fame via the usual routes of personal appearances, television series or cookbooks. Another food critic has gone so far as to claim that he is the best in London, hence in the country, maybe even the whole of Europe.
Those who have hunted him down marvel at his genius with flavour. When you take a mouthful of almost anything he has cooked, you experience the pleasure that comes with recognising nuances of colour in a great painting, or the perfect pitch of a note struck true, long, lingering and lasting.
Corrigan has been described by almost everyone who's tasted his food as a natural and instinctive cook. He certainly has an understanding like few others, a gift he puts down to his childhood in rural County Meath in Ireland. When he assumed responsibilities for shaping restaurant menus, it was not to highly-priced cliches he turned - caviare, truffles and the like - but to the robust and evocative country flavours of game and pork, and the joys of offal.
Unlike many Britons, he does not find offal awful. Those who have grown up with school liver as tough as old leather, and pies incorporating steak and rubber bullets of kidney may find this hard to understand. But offal is the basis of some of the world's most celebrated dishes from foie gras to stuffed pigs' trotters and tripe a la mode de Caen. On the opposite pages, Richard shares recipes for kidney, liver, heart and pigs' ear with us.
Are there some general rules on cooking offal he can pass on? "Well, cook offal the way you want to eat it. I like kidneys browned on the outside, and pink inside; and liver very slightly pink inside. The important thing is to let offal rest after cooking. This allows the juices which have been driven to the centre by the heat to return to the edges.
"I grill or fry kidneys for two and a half minutes on each side, then put them in a hot cupboard (such as he has in his kitchen) or covered in a warm oven." Only then does he cut them for serving. He cuts his liver thick.
Pigs' trotters need to be cooked for a very long time being, as he puts it, "an ineffable sort of meat". But worth the trouble, for flavour as much as its gelatinous nature. Heart also needs slow cooking. He would slow-roast it, or slow-braise it. It may tend to be chewy, he agrees, but the taste is superb.
Some offal may still not be palatable to the squeamish, but he would recommend that those who haven't attempted cooking tongue for themselves should give it a try, simmered or braised, and eaten hot or left to cool under a weight. When cold, slice it up and serve with mustard or pickles.
What inspired your interest in food?
It was my childhood on a farm in Meath. We were a large family; I was the third of eight children. It was our job to churn the butter every day, I used to marshal my four brothers and three sisters. We cut our own peat for the fires from the bogs every year. It was a very rustic, peasant existence.
What did you eat?
Rabbits, game birds, salmon, pike. We had an iron bath lowered into the river which we kept live eels in. My spinster aunt, Kate McEwan, had orchards with apples, pears and plums and we picked a lot of wild blackberries. Ask any child if it's not their favourite jam.
Was your mother a good cook?
She had been a professional cook with a family in Boston.
And your father?
He was a great hunter and fisherman. He was the best poacher in Ireland, he could hook or net salmon. We'd have a whole side of salmon, poached, with hot new potatoes with rough salt, mint, good butter, maybe a bit of bacon, chopped spring onions. I didn't like spring onions then, but I do now.
Do you have romantic memories of your childhood?
Yes, but I think we remember the good and choose to forget the bad. A big event was The Killing of the Pig. Everyone would help - washing and scrubbing was a whole day's job. My father would shoot the pig, it would be split and the sides salted down, the head boiled, the blood set aside for black pudding. We'd fry up strips of loin fillet till they were crisp - griskins - and share them out with the neighbours. But I wasn't very happy about it. I was quite attached to the pig. I knew his name, I used to give him half my apple.
Who taught you to cook?
I was an apprentice to a chef who was a friend of my father, at a hotel in Kylemore. I learnt a lot, he'd been sous-chef on the cruise liner Canberra.
Were you ambitious?
I was keen to get on, but I didn't want to go to England, the old enemy, you know. In Ireland you look to France and Europe. I got a job in the Netherlands.
But Holland isn't France; the Dutch aren't famous for their cuisine.
I worked in international hotels. I was at the Hilton in Amsterdam when the chef got a Michelin star. He was a complete nut case. I remember him sending me out in the middle of the night to pick herbs without a torch. We were so frightened of him. When Michelin gave him the star, all the kitchen staff went on strike.
Which chef most influenced you?
Michel Lorrain. He had a three-star Michelin restaurant in France, and was brought in by Le Meridien in Piccadilly to be the consultant for The Oak Room. I worked there for eight months.
What were his qualities?
Utter simplicity. Recognition came late for him, so he didn't care about critics, he wasn't interested in being a superstar. Sometimes he'd put a pig's trotter on a plate with nothing else and say, that's it.
Pigs' trotters from a three-star chef?
I think you should show the same amount of respect to humble ingredients and the most expensive ones.
It sounds as if you're not a great fan of haute cuisine.
I don't like food which is pointless. When it looks as if an architect has designed it. Boring. A lot of chefs can't really cook, they just learn dishes others have created and reproduce them without understanding.
How did you find your own style?
Stephen Bull was the inspiration. I worked for him at Lichfields, then became his head chef at Fulham Road (winning a Michelin star in the process). It was the first time I'd seen real intelligence in the kitchen, he had a style all of his own. He he was always experimenting. One day he took some crispy duck skin, dried it out and made little crackling pieces. He made a salad with some watercress, walnut oil, and segments of orange, peeled, without pith.
What are some of your favourite foods?
Hare. It's wonderful. Hares mate for life, so you must shoot a pair. I like rabbit. Young rabbit, boiled with carrots. I take off the meat from the bones and use the jellied stock to make a terrine. With cooked prune. I love offal, kidney, liver, tongue. If you've never had pigs' ears ...
Your favourite vegetables?
Turnips, I dream about things you can do with them. Turnips are wonderful with cinnamon. And parsnips. Sweet and soft, like apples. And swedes, marvellous, mashed with a drop of bacon fat. Or cooked with a little foie gras. Nettles, we made nettle soup at home.
A favourite herb?
Marjoram, it's savoury and perfumed, especially cooked with fillet of beef. Marjoram needs to be cooked down in a little butter first. I love flat-leafed parsley, its dry flavour, but it must be chewed to release its garden taste.
Are there herbs you dislike?
Coriander leaf used to be a great hate. In large quantities it's a disaster. It's a herb that must be added at the last minute. It needs to go with chilli.
Nutmeg has its place. It's a must with creamy, cheesy things, potatoes and gnocchi. Cardamom, but only a little and added at the last moment. It has this perfume, it doesn't want to be crushed.
The food critics seem to like you. Do you like them?
It would upset me if Fay Maschler gave me a bad review, but the rest can jump in a lake. [On the wall of the Lindsay House's back room, which he calls the Poets' Room, are quotes from Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker and others. From Brendan Behan, this: "Critics are like eunuchs in a harem. They know how it's done, they see it done every day, but they are unable to do it themselves."]
Richard Corrigan at Lindsay House, 21 Romily Street, London W1, tel: 0171 439 0450
LAMBS' KIDNEYS AND CHORIZO
A beautiful dish of rose-pink kidney against the ruby red of grilled red peppers. The chorizo is used rather as a savoury condiment, cut into thin strips.
6 lambs' kidneys, skinned
oil and butter for frying
2 aubergines and 2 red peppers
3 cloves garlic
sprig of thyme and fresh chopped marjoram
1 teaspoon cabernet sauvignon or red wine vinegar
100g/312oz chorizo sausage, cut into thin julienne strips
mixed salad leaves, rocket, frisee, young spinach leaf
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar
Preheat oven to 400F/200C/Gas 6. Roast the aubergines and red peppers with the thyme for 40 minutes until soft, and the cloves of garlic for 20 minutes. When cool enough to handle, scoop out aubergine flesh and cut into dice. Skin the peppers, removing stem and seeds. Dice. Peel the the garlic, and crush. Mix together and season. Sprinkle with marjoram.
In a little oil, fry the lambs' kidneys over a fast heat for two minutes each side, adding a knob of butter towards the end to help them brown. Remove from heat, cover, and rest for five minutes so that the juices, driven to the centre during the cooking, return to the edges.
Slice in half, crossways, and serve three halves to each person, sprinkled with chorizo, on a bed of aubergine and red pepper. Garnish with salad leaves, tossed in dressing of oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Serve with buttery mashed potatoes.
HAM HOCK (COOKED WITH PIGS' TROTTERS)
Not an expensive dish (the hock is the joint above the knee). You can order a brined hock from a good butcher.
1 brined hock of ham, 1-1.5kg/2lb 4oz-3lb 6oz
2 pigs' trotters
1 carrot, 1 onion , 1 leek and 2 sticks celery
2 cloves garlic
1 bayleaf and 6 black peppercorns
salt and pepper
butter for frying
For the sauce:
4 tablespoons cream
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
knob of butter
In large pan cover ham with cold water. Add vegetables, garlic, bayleaf, peppercorns. Bring to boil and skim. Turn heat to lowest, simmer for three and a half hours.
Remove, reserving the cooking liquid, but discarding the trotters. When cool enough to handle, extract the meat, discarding the bones, skin, fat and gristle.
Season the meat, and lay the pieces on a clean cloth (you could use a scalded J-cloth). Roll up into a thick sausage shape about 18 to 22cm (8-10in) long, twisting the ends to squeeze out moisture. You may need to unwind it and do this several times. Tie ends with string, with two or three loops around the middle to hold the shape. Return sausage to the cooking liquid. Transfer to fridge. Leave overnight in the liquid, which will set to a jelly.
To serve, pre-heat the oven to 400F/ 200C/Gas 6. Cut the sausage into rounds about 3cm (112in) thick. It's easier to cut it before you remove the cloth, as the meat is only held in place by its jelly.
In a very hot frying pan, brown the rounds on both sides in a little butter. Transfer to an oven dish and heat thoroughly for seven to 10 minutes.
Make a sauce by mixing the cream, about 50ml of the cooking liquid, Dijon mustard, and a knob of butter over heat.
CALVES' LIVER WITH CHAMP
A lavish treat. You need to buy about 1.5kg liver whole and roast it one piece.
Serves 6 to 8
one whole calves' liver, approximately 1.5kg/3lb
1lb streaky bacon
one small white onion, halved lengthwise
1 teaspoon sugar
sprig of thyme
2 gloves of garlic, peeled
12 to 16 sage leaves (for garnish)
oil for frying
For the champ:
2lb potatoes, boiled in their skins
1 bunch spring onions
150ml/14 pint double cream
Preheat oven to 400F/200C/Gas 6. Lay liver in a roasting dish, with butter, garlic and thyme. Cover with bacon. Roast for 45 minutes (or 15 minutes per pound). In a small dish roast the onion at the same time for 25 minutes, having browned it briefly in a pan with a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of sugar to caramelise surface.
Remove the liver and bacon. To make sauce, heat liver juices with the onion in a pan, and strain through a sieve. Cut the liver into 1cm (12in) slices, and fry on each side in butter. Deep-fry the sage leaves till crisp. Serve the liver with its sauce, crispy bacon and two fried sage leaves each, together with the champ.
To make the champ, peel the boiled potatoes and mash while still hot (use a mouli if you have one). Trim the spring onions, including some of the green, and chop. Simmer in the cream for a minute until they start to soften, and mix into the mashed potato. Beat in the butter until smooth. Season to taste.
SLICED TONGUE WITH BEURRE NOISETTE
At Lindsay House they brine their own tongue, but you can ask your butcher to do it. Richard uses a brine mixture which is 1 litre water to 100g salt and 50g sugar, which he brings to the boil with juniper berries, thyme, garlic, marjoram. When the sugar and salt are dissolved, he leaves it to cool, covers the tongue and leaves it for three days. Traditionally, saltpetre is also added to get the required colour, but its sale is now controlled.
Serves 6 to 8
one tongue, 1-2kg/2lb 4oz-4lb 8oz
1 carrot, 1 onion, 1 leek and 2 sticks celery
sprig each of thyme and marjoram
2 cloves garlic
oil and butter for frying
For the beurre noisette sauce:
150ml/14 pint veal jus or good stock
juice of 12 lemon
12 small capers
2 stems flat-leafed parsley
To cook, cover tongue with water, bring to boil with the vegetables and herbs, skim, then simmer for three hours.
When cool enough to handle remove tongue, and take off skin. Cut into slices 0.5cm (14in) thick, and return to cooking liquor, leaving to get completely cool.
Fry slices on both sides in a little oil, adding a little butter at the end to brown.
Heat the remaining butter in the same pan till it changes to a chestnut colour, being careful not to let it burn. Stir in the veal jus or stock, the lemon juice and capers. Taste for seasoning.
Serve two or three slices with beurre noisette and parsley, accompanied by freshly cooked, finely cut Savoy cabbage.
FILLET OF BEEF WITH OX HEART
The most expensive cut with the cheapest - it's the heart which has the flavour. Chef's touch: fillet steak lacks fat, so Richard ties a thin strip of belly of pork fat around the rim of each steak. Easy if you're a top chef, not so easy at home.
4x175g/6oz fillet steaks
250g/8oz ox heart cut into 8 pieces
oil and butter for frying
1 carrot, 1 onion and 2 sticks celery, cut into small dice
knob of butter
500ml/about 1 pint veal stock (or other good stock)
For the sauce:
6 shallots, peeled and chopped
1/2 glass port and 1 glass red wine
Fry heart in oil, finishing with butter to brown. In same pan sweat the vegetables in butter (to make a mirepoix).
Preheat oven to 325F/170C/Gas 3, and put ox heart and mirepoix in a roasting dish with the stock. Cover with foil, and cook for three hours. Remove ox heart and cut into very small dice. Press liquid from the mirepoix mixture and reserve.
In a small pan cook the shallots with the port and wine until reduced by half. Strain into the reserved vegetable juices, check seasoning, and add the ox heart.
Fry the beef fillets in oil, three minutes on each side (medium rare), adding a knob of butter at the end to brown them. Serve with the sauce and green beans.