The inside story: Mark Hix tackles offal

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Many people won't even try offal. Yet it can be turned into very tasty dishes, says our man in the kitchen

Our fear of offal is unwarranted and it baffles me that most people who declare they don't like certain types – or indeed any offal – have never actually tried it.

I totally understand why the green-tinged, over-cooked liver served by our grandparents, say, or in school canteens, is enough to put most off ever trying it again, but take my word for it that a flash-fried or grilled slice of liver from any animal, served nice and pink, is a glorious piece of meat.

Sweetbreads are a type of offal that are widely misunderstood and people's understanding of what they actually are ranges from testicles to lungs; in fact they are the thymus gland.

A few years ago I did a demo at the Abergavenny Food Festival and ordered lambs' sweetbreads for it; when I was checking my ingredients beforehand I opened a package and six lambs' testicles were staring me in the face – apparently in Wales that's what sweetbreads are! I must say it got a few laughs when I told the story while cooking them.

Veal kidneys with peas, orange and carrots

Serves 4

You can actually use lambs' or calves' kidneys for this dish; lambs' are easier to get hold of and cheaper but the calves' have a more subtle flavour. Always make sure the kidneys haven't been previously frozen, as the texture somewhat deteriorates.

350-400g calves' kidneys
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 5-6cm long matchstick pieces
2 large shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
2-3tbsp rapeseed oil
The finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange
150ml white wine
250ml chicken stock
180-200g podded weight of peas
1tsp granulated sugar
1tsp cornflour
A couple of good knobs of butter

Cut the kidneys into 3-4cm nuggets, removing any fat or sinew as you cut them. The kidneys have natural segments that can be cut, if you like.

Heat a tablespoon of the rapeseed oil in a saucepan and gently cook the shallots and orange zest for a couple of minutes until soft. Add the wine, chicken stock and orange juice and simmer until it's reduced by half, then mix the cornflour with a tablespoon of water and stir into the sauce until it slightly thickens.

Meanwhile, cook the peas in boiling salted water with the sugar for 3-4 minutes or until tender; drain, reserving the liquid. Add the peas to the sauce then stir in a knob of butter, season to taste and put to one side.

Season the kidneys, heat the rapeseed oil in a frying pan and cook the kidneys on a fairly high heat for 3-4 minutes, turning them in the pan as they are cooking and keeping them nice and pink. While the kidneys are cooking, cook the carrots in the same water you cooked the peas in for a minute or so, so they still have a bit of bite, then drain.

To serve, reheat the sauce and spoon on to warmed serving plates, then arrange the kidneys on top and scatter the carrots over.

Herring milt, bacon and samphire salad

Serves 4

You can occasionally buy fresh herring roes, but most of the time they have been pre-frozen – they actually withstand sub-zero storage very well, compared to meat offal.

1tbsp vegetable or corn oil
120-150g piece of streaky bacon or pancetta, cut into 1cm chunks (or buy pre-cubed)
150g herring roes, fresh or frozen, rinsed and dried on kitchen paper
Plain flour for dusting
100-120g samphire, trimmed of any woody stalks and washed
A handful of small salad leaves, washed and ried
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the dressing

1tbsp cider vinegar
2tsp Tewkesbury or Dijon mustard
2tbsp groundnut oil
2tbsp rapeseed oil

Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy-based frying pan and cook the bacon on a medium heat, turning the pieces as they are cooking for 3-4 minutes, until nicely coloured. Remove with a slotted spoon, leaving the fat in the pan. Season and lightly flour the herring roes and fry in the same pan as the bacon on a medium heat for 4-5 minutes, turning them until nicely coloured. Remove and drain on some kitchen paper. Keep them warm with the bacon.

Blanch the samphire in boiling water for 20 seconds, then drain. Whisk all of the ingredients together for the dressing and season.

To serve, arrange the herring roes, bacon, salad leaves and samphire on serving plates and spoon over the dressing.

Lamb sweetbreads and prawn curry

Serves 4

The delicacy of lamb or veal sweetbreads is a perfect partner to shellfish, especially in a curry like this. You can use either, but lamb sweetbreads are much better value. You can also replace the prawns with lobster or scampi tails, depending on how extravagant you are feeling.

4tbsp vegetable or corn oil, or ghee
2tsp fenugreek seeds
1tsp fennel seeds
1tbsp fenugreek leaves
1tsp cumin seeds
½tsp caraway seeds
1tsp nigella seeds
1tsp turmeric
1tsp mustard seeds
The black seeds from 10 cardamom pods
2tsp ground cumin
2 medium red onions, peeled and finely chopped
3 medium cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
A small piece of root ginger, scraped and finely grated
A good pinch of saffron
½tbsp tomato purée
500ml beef or chicken stock
A handful of curry leaves
3 tomatoes, roughly chopped
200-250g plump lambs' sweetbreads, trimmed of any sinew
16 or so large raw prawns, peeled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A handful of coriander, roughly chopped, and some more leaves to garnish

Heat 3 tablespoons of the vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan, add the dry curry spices, and cook on a low heat for a minute or so, stirring as they are cooking. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, saffron and curry leaves and continue cooking on a low heat for 3-4 minutes, with a lid on, until soft. Add the tomato purée and stir well, then add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Blend one third of the sauce in a liquidiser, until smooth, then return to the pan.

Meanwhile, season the sweetbreads, heat the rest of the vegetable oil in a frying pan and sauté them on a high heat for a few minutes, turning them as they are cooking until they are nicely coloured. Add them to the sauce and simmer gently for 20 minutes.

Cut a slit down the back of the prawns, a few millimetres deep, and give them a good wash and remove the dark vein, then add to the sauce and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Add the coriander and simmer for another couple of minutes; remove from the heat. Serve with basmati rice and scatter with the sprigs of coriander.

Lamb's liver with herb freekeh

Serves 4

Freekeh is green toasted wheat often used in Lebanese cooking. If you can't find freekeh then you could replace with couscous.

50g freekeh, soaked in cold water for a couple of hours
3-4tbsp chopped parsley
2-3 spring onions
2tbsp chopped mint
2-3tbsp olive oil
The juice of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable or corn oil for brushing
8 slices of lamb's liver weighing about 50-60g each

Cook the freekeh in simmering, salted water for about 15 minutes, or until tender, then drain. Once cool, mix with the herbs, olive oil and lemon; season to taste.

Heat a ribbed griddle pan or heavy frying pan until almost smoking, season the liver slices and brush with the oil. Cook for literally 15-20 seconds on each side, then remove from the pan. Spoon the freekeh on to serving plates and place the liver on top.

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