"These deep-fried, huo bao slices of kidney may just be my favorite kidney preparation."
Pictured here are lamb kidneys. By far the smallest kidneys I've had the pleasure of cooking, these organs pack a lot of aroma into one small package.
Having touted the mildness of pork and veal kidneys, my nose did a double-take at the extreme lambiness of lamb kidneys. The kidneys themselves were pungent, not with the scent of urine, but with the arresting smells of lamb approximating that which one would confront in a barn. Moreover, the fat in which the kidneys were buried smelled of grass with a certain funk at the end.
I had originally planned to grill the kidneys but after one whiff of the organ, I knew that I needed a powerful technique to counter their assertive smell. Plenty of tongue-numbing chilies and pepper, I thought, along with alcohol, would do the trick.
In her authoritative cookbook Land of Plenty, Fuchsia Dunlop provides a recipe for pork kidneys prepared in just such a manner, paired with chili peppers and a marinade of soy sauce and rice wine. The kidneys are quickly passed through the oil before being added to a stir-fry with vegetables. A cornstarch slurry finishes the dish, uniting the spicy elements of the dish.
Dunlop's recipe features the classic Chinese "huo bao" technique, which translates into something like "fire-bursted" or "fire-exploded." The terms refers more to the shape of the protein than the method itself.
The slices of meat or seafood, when scored in a crosshatch pattern, will seize up and curl into cylindrical forms. (The same huo-bao technique can be applied to squid. In Cantonese cookery, the lightly scored and battered squares of squid are deep-fried in a dish commonly called "salty baked squid," or "salt and pepper baked squid." In stir-fried dishes, the squid is quickly parboiled before being added to the wok.)
While scoring and deep-frying the kidneys seemed like an ideal preparation, I wanted to retain the crispy surface after frying. In place of the cornstarch slurry, I added a bit of turmeric and curry powder to the marinade and held the kidneys in the frying oil for half a minute longer.
Hot out of the oil, the surface of the kidneys was crisp but the interior remained perfectly tender. Prepared in this manner, the curried fritters of offal were so tasty, few actually made it to the table.
These deep-fried, huo bao slices of kidney may just be my favorite kidney preparation, which, considering my fondness for steak and kidney pie, is saying a lot.
- 1/2 of lamb kidneys, about two or three
- 1 tablespoon rice wine
- 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon chili pepper or chili pepper flakes
- 1/2 curry powder
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 cup of oil, for passing through
Remove the kidneys from the fat. Using a paring knife, cut away the rest of the fat and gristle in the middle of the kidneys, taking care to keep the organs as whole as possible. Slice off thin, 1/4 inch-thick slices of the kidneys that are approximately 3/4 to 1 inch in length.
With your knife slanted at a 45° angle, lightly score the surface of the kidneys in one direction, then in the other direction perpendicular to the first cuts. You should have a crosshatch pattern when finished.
Mix the slices of kidney with the rest of the ingredients for the marinade.
In a wok, heat the oil to 350°F for deep frying. Add a few slices of kidney at a time so as not to cool down the oil. Deep-fry for 40 seconds to 1 1/2 minutes, depending on the size of your slices. Serve immediately while the slices are hot and crispy.