Thursday 27 July 2017

What's eating Leopold Bloom?

Chef Liam Moloughney shows a 'squeamish' Kirsty Blake Knox how to cook a breakfast fit for Bloomsday, including the de rigueur kidneys

Hot in the kitchen: Chef Liam Moloughney rustles up kidneys. Photo: Frank McGrath
Hot in the kitchen: Chef Liam Moloughney rustles up kidneys. Photo: Frank McGrath
Kirsty with the finished kidney dish. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Banbury cakes

A plate of fried kidneys with a "fine tang of faintly scented urine" doesn't exactly whet my appetite first thing in the morning.

Animal innards are certainly a tougher 'breakfast sell' than buckwheat blueberry pancakes, smashed avocados, or maple syrup-drenched French Toast.

But, sadly for me, none of the latter feature in James Joyce's iconic text Ulysses.

Instead, protagonist Leopold Bloom wants to tuck into an early morning meal of "mutton kidneys, thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, and liver slices fried with crust crumbs".

Kirsty with the finished kidney dish. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Kirsty with the finished kidney dish. Photo: Frank Mc Grath

While sensitive souls - like me - may retch just reading that list, Joycean enthusiasts have embraced Leopold's questionable culinary tastes with enthusiasm.

Perhaps loading up on top-notch offal provides them with the sustenance they need to spend a day faffing about in boater hats and boasting (or bluffing) about reading all 18 episodes of Joyce's masterpiece.

Whatever the reason, there's a rich and meaty tradition of Bloomsday breakfasts; the first took place on the inaugural Bloomsday celebrations in Paris in 1929. Publisher Sylvia Beach invited Joyce to toast the 25th anniversary of Bloomsday by organising a Déjeuner Ulysse held appropriately at the Hotel Leopold near Versailles. The tradition has held strong since then, and, in the last several years, Dublin's Woodstock cafe has hosted Bloomsday Breakfasts in the James Joyce Centre on June 16.

And kidneys - but thankfully not the thick giblet soup - have a starring role on the menu.

This year, the three breakfast sittings sold out within a matter of minutes so co-owner of Woodstock and head chef, Liam Moloughney agreed to teach me how to create a Joycean feast in the comfort of my own home.

Leopold was a man of bold taste, and liked simply to toss the maroon organs in some spitting butter.

I, on the other hand, have never knowingly eaten offal in my life so was feeling a little squeamish at the prospectof eating buckets of the stuff.

So I was pleased (and relieved) to discover that Liam's kidney recipes have been pimped up a good deal.

We will be having two types of kidneys it appears, the first are lamb - Leopold's favourite.

As he removed them from their suet casing and snipped through the thin membrane, Liam explains that he will flambé these internal organs in Marsala wine, before adding heavy cream, Dijon mustard and some parsley.

The secret to cooking these kidneys are keeping things "hot and fast" to prevent them getting as tough as an old boot.

"Think of it as similar to cooking squid."

As he plated up, Liam told me that lamb's kidneys are more popular than pork kidneys.

"I think it's because there's less of a taste of urine," he explains, handing me cream covered kidneys sitting on a piece of golden brioche.

At this stage, I had heard the words 'kidney' and 'urine' mentioned in the same sentence a disconcerting number of times, and was half-expecting the meaty hunks to taste like the inside of an Armitage Shanks toilet bowl.

But thankfully there was no tang of pee at all - the kidneys were pink in the middle, soft and feathery with an earthy sweetness.

Next up were the pork kidneys - which are considerably heftier than the lamb ones.

To mask the 'distinctive' flavour, we made 'devilled kidneys' - a snack that was a hot favourite in the gentlemen's clubs that populate William Thackeray's Book of Snobs.

There are lots of ingredients - like sherry and cayenne pepper and a spoonful of blackcurrant jam. And, of course, more mustard and more cream.

It smelled very Christmas-y, very rich and heavy, even a little decadent.

These kidneys were harder to eat - tougher but still very tasty - I suppose anything is when you chuck that much cream and booze at it. I decided that, contrary to popular opinion (and my own expectation), kidneys are not half bad, though they're not exactly more-ish either. I couldn't imagine craving them on the bus journey home, or getting excited after spotting them on a menu.

Liam was aware of this - which is why his Bloomsday Breakfast in the James Joyce centre also consists of a traditional fry up with all the trimmings and homemade potato cake.

Aside from breakfast dishes, the book is crammed full of food - from gorgonzola grilled sandwiches (washed down with a glass of Burgundy) and crunchy salads to Plumtree's Potted Meat which Blazes Boylan enjoys in Leopold's bed.

"I think you have to get creative with it," Liam says.

"Maybe use the book as a starting point. For example we will be preparing gorgonzola tarts as part of our Afternoon Tea menu. The book can be the inspiration for recipes rather than something you strictly adhere to."

As someone with a mouth full of sweet teeth and a mild obsession with tea, I was intrigued by the afternoon teacakes and crust-free sandwiches. Out of the kitchen, Liam brought one of the treats: four Banbury buns.

Bloom buys two of the spice minced buns in 'Episode 8: Lestrygonians' and feeds them to hungry seagulls. These buns also famously featured in David Lean's epic Brief Encounter, when they were dramatically knocked from the counter to the buffet floor.

The puff pastry treats are like a less dense mince pie, and are delicious when dunked in thick, whipped double cream.

It may take a while to fully appreciate the delicacies of kidneys but Banbury buns I could eat from sunrise to sunset.

For more information visit woodstockcafe.ie or bloomsdayfestival.ie

Irish Independent

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